KIRYAT HAIM, ISRAEL - American Jewish long-distance runner and Jewish Agency program member Marc Hendel, 23, is a man on a mission. Early Tuesday morning, he headed out on what he hopes will be a nearly 500 kilometer, nine-day fundraising run along Israel's coastline, starting south from Rosh Hanikra near the Lebanon border.
"I feel fresh and ready to go - 'antsy' would be a good way to describe it," he Hendel told The Jewish Agency for Israel Monday night. Little did he suspect, however, that a blistering sharav would settle over the country on Tuesday with scorching temperatures in the high 80s. It's so hot that organizers of the Tel Aviv Marathon, set for Friday, are weighing postponing the race, due to the heat.
But, "It's going really well so far – without any major hitches," Hendel said during an afternoon break to beat the heat at the town of Kiryat Haim, north of Haifa.
"I stopped at McDonalds," to eat, he said, adding a wry runner's aside allowing for eating "junk food" en route: "If the furnace is hot enough, anything will burn."
Hendel said he's "really hoping that once I start running, people will see me and go to the website, runisrael.org, and donate to great organzations like Youth Futures, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri (BBBS)."
As well, "I am also doing the run to raise awareness for the many American-Israeli sister city partnerships," like Partnership2Gether Netivot-Sedot Negev Philadelphia, Marc told Big Brothers Big Sisters, and hopes to raise at least $1,000 for the US and Israeli groups, each.
And he's off to a promising start, noting that, as of Tuesday afternoon, he's raised $600 for BBBS, and $300 for Youth Futures.
The Youth Futures program empowers disadvantaged Israeli youth, providing them with an equal opportunity to develop their academic and social skills. Operated in Partnership with overseas Jewish Federations and Keren Hayesod/UIA communities, with Israeli philanthropists, and with the Government of Israel, the program serves nearly 10,000 youth in 32 localities, primarily in the Negev and Galilee.
"I have been training for this run for the last two months," he says on his website. "I started from a base of above-average running fitness (think 18:15 for a 5K) and peppered my training with a 13-miler here and a 40-mile-day there. But I don’t expect any of that running to get me to the finish line. The joy of the last mile will get me to the finish line."
And he won't be alone on the highway," he says. "I'm really excited to get going and meet some of the people along the way." One runner is set to him at the start, and several others OTZMA program member plan to close ranks with him as he passes through Petach Tikva, near Tel Aviv.
And at the end of the run, "Camping next to the beach in Eilat will be a group of 70 children from Youth Futures," he writes.
"My crew and I will have the privilege of running along the beach, into the waters of Eilat alongside them to mark the end of the journey. After that, we’ll sing beach songs around a campfire until the sun sets."
He adds that, "During my run, if ever I am feeling week, tired, or nauseous, I will think about the power of mentorship," he writes. "I hope to enable at least one more child to know the life changing benefits of having an additional positive role model," Hendel writes, adding that "Knowing I am doing a small part in making that happen will give me the power to push on."
More than anything, though, "I'm just really excited that people are getting to know about this run," he tells the Agency.
"I really want to raise awareness for programs like the one I'm on, that bring together people from twin cities from the United States and Israel - it's really changed my life," he says with satisfaction.
And above all, "I really hope people see what I'm doing here are are motivated to do something like that themselves," Hendel emphasizes.