Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mar-heshvan

For me it is a bitter month, containing the yahrzeits of four influential people in my life. The first is Fred Lebow (Efraim Fishl ben Zvi), organizer of the New York City Marathon, which I ran some 20 times, who passed away on 4 Heshvan 5755. By force of personality he made big-time urban marathoning what it is. He traveled the globe helping big cities the world over put on their marathons, and if places like Chicago or London would rival New York in prestige, number of runners and/or media attention, he bore them no grudge; the more the merrier. In his honor and that of the New York Marathon coming up next week, I post the hesped that appeared in the Jewish Press shortly after he passed away:


Fred Lebow: Survivor, Impresario, Image Wrecker
by Zev Stern [Jewish Press December 16, 1994]


Fred Lebow, guiding light of the running community of New York and long-time director of the New York Marathon, passed into eternity last fall, just before this year’s N.Y. Marathon. As I sat writing this on the fourth Yahrzeit of Rabbi Meir Kahane, z”l, I reflected on parallels in the lives of these great men. Both packed more than a normal lifetime of accomplishment into a span tragically cut short, one by as assassin’s bullet, the other by cancer.

Though the two, to the best of my knowledge, never met, Fred (as he was affectionately known to the runners of the city and the world), a Holocaust survivor, provided a forum for Jewish runners from all over the world to strive for “the Reb’s” goal of wrecking the image of the soft, weak ghetto Jew. In the late 1970’s, when the race first expanded from Central Park to the city streets and I was still watching from the sidelines, I saw several runners cross the finish line in shirts bearing the slogan “Never Again!”

With Fred’s cooperation an outdoor minyan was established each year at the staging area in Staten Island. In a beautiful display of kiddush Hashem, some 100 Jews, tefilin wound around sinewy arms, daven with the Israeli flag in front of us and with Arab and German athletes, among others, looking on.

Fred was no longer with us this year, but the Marathon continued without him. He never married, but all of us runners are his children. He will continue to be an inspiration to many Jewish men and women to “wreck our image.” May he be a melitz yosher for them and us, and may his merit hasten the day when we run tall and strong to greet Mashiach.

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