web analytics
April 25, 2015 / 6 Iyar, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Fishl’s Marathon


When 35,000 marathoners spring across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge this Sunday, November 7, at the thirty-fifth running of the New York City Marathon, they will be reenacting the dream of Fred Lebow, the heavily-accented Transylvanian who convinced the plodders and shleppers of the world that they could go the course’s 26.2 mile distance.

Before Lebow – born Fishl Lebowitz in 1932 – came on the scene, marathoning was limited to only the most skilled athletes. Now, as a result of Lebow’s vision, some 500,000 Americans annually ignore their strained Achilles tendons and sore knees in what has been transformed from an austere race into a form of street theater.

But in addition to creating the fun festival that the modern marathon has become, Lebow, whose tenth yahrzeit is observed this year, at bottom was always aware of who and what he was: a Jew.

He arrived in the United States after surviving the Holocaust as a boy and gravitated to New York’s garment industry where his entrepreneurial nature took him from an entry level position on the knitting machines to owner of his own knockoff design company. He was introduced to running as a way of improving his tennis game. Although he was never good at it – he came in next to last in the first marathon he ran – running gave him a feeling he wanted the world to share.

Having suffered through the horrors of religious persecution and separatism, he was intent on making marathoning, which had theretofore been an exclusive sport, an inclusive activity – a people’s race. His marathon included everyone: world-famous record-setting elite runners, everyday middle and back-of-the-pack shleppers like himself, valiant members of the Achilles Track Club for disabled athletes, and people such as the Vietnam veteran with no legs who took four days to finish the race “running” on his hands.

While Lebow promoted this populist vision, his shtetl background, his Yiddish, and the religious observance of his youth (which his siblings had not abandoned as he had) were always part of him. He participated in a special Passover seder for New York Road Runners Club staff and friends, and lit Chanukah candles with them in his office. He usually spent the High Holidays with his Orthodox family, mostly with his sister in Monsey, New York.

Lebow felt a special connection with the part of his marathon’s route that took him and the runners through the chassidic area of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. He would shout in Yiddish to chassidic spectators, “lommen heren (let’s hear it)” and “die laufer darfen vasser (the runners need water)” as he led his pack of runners through their streets. As soon as he recognized the need for a Shacharit service at the marathon staging area, he set up a tent for what still is the world’s only marathon minyan.

In 1992, Lebow, by then a brain cancer patient in recovery, decided to run his marathon creation for the first time in his life to prove to himself and other cancer survivors that he was able win the race within. Before the marathon’s start, he slipped away from his handlers and prayed with the minyan, donning tefillin as he asked for strength to cross the finish line.

On April 28, 1994, his cancer worsening, the New York Daily News reported that Lebow had “started the process of reverting to his original name.” Explaining his move, Lebow said, “I’ve always observed the Jewish holidays and always been proud of my heritage and it’s time I return to my original name.”

Fishl Lebow died Sunday, October 9, 1994 – the day of his marathon’s pre-race tune-up. His tombstone reflects the dichotomy of his identity – the running world impresario and the Jew from pre-war Transylvania. In capital letters on the tombstone’s slope it says, “FRED LEBOW” with the inscription “He was humble in his greatness.” And chiseled between his dates of birth and death is a big apple with a runner in the middle, the symbol of the New York Road Runners Club. 

The Hebrew lettering on the tombstone’s face shows that it is indeed Ephraim Fishl Lebowitz buried below. Beneath the Hebrew name are four Hebrew lines, each beginning with a letter from the name Fishl. Translated, the inscription reads: (F) His mouth abounded in truth; (I) He was beloved by all; (SH) His name was universally known: (L) His heart as his name, so he was. Lebow, in Hebrew, means “his heart.”

About the Author: Ron Rubin is professor of political science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. He is the author of several books including “The Unredeemed” and “Anything for a T-Shirt: Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon, the World's Greatest Footrace.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Fishl’s Marathon”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
"Killing Jews is worship that draws us closer to Allah." That's his Jihad. What's yours? - An ad campaign sponsored by  the American Freedom Defense Initiative.
MTA Hopes to Change Rule, Ban ‘Killing Jews’ Anti-Jihad Ad
Latest Indepth Stories
israeli-american flags

All GOP candidates will continue seeking – and praying – for Jewish money with greater success.

New immigrants from USA and Canada arriving at Ben Gurion Airport.

The one reason to make Aliyah outweighs all the arguments not to move to Israel.

Keeping-Jerusalem

“We returned to this Land not in order to be murdered, or uprooted. We came here to be replanted!”

Ambassador Danny Ayalon

I don’t fear for the future of our people because I believe Yeshiva University has created an “Iron Dome” of Jewish leadership

Poland’s great Jewish cities where Jewish life had once flourished and thrived, were now desolate

Chief rabbi, Rav Dovid Lau, stated that the Torah community’s turnout in the WZO election is vital.

Iran has at its core the same ideology as that of ISIS but, inaccurately, is thought a lesser threat

An early Yom Ha’atzmaut gathering for Israel’s 67th birthday with Pres. Rivlin of Israel and guests

Israel’s Memorial Day shouldn’t be a day of mourning, it’s a day to honor, not another Holocaust Day

God’s 3 part promise for Israel: to the Avot; a plentiful land; the eventual return home by all Jews

A committed Religious Zionist, he was a sought-after adviser on Zionist affairs around the world.

More important, Mr. Obama is simply acceding to Iran’s position on the timing of the lifting of sanctions.

“Texans share a lot of the same attitude as Israelis, that we say what we think and we think what we say, and that makes it much easier to communicate,” he says.

The fight against terror is a case in point…. The establishment of a collective forum for dialogue in the Persian Gulf region…is long overdue….

More Articles from Ron Rubin
Chabad-affiliated St. Petersburg Choral Synagogue,

The Jewish population of Moscow numbers well over 100,000.

Front-Page-082313

For two thousand years, Jews exiled from their homeland and lacking political sovereignty were easy targets for elitist rulers on the right and the pseudo-egalitarian mob on the left. When Emancipation came and Jews exited the ghettos, Jewish self-made pitfalls were no less horrific, as many embraced the trendy “isms” of secular society only to spiritually assimilate and disappear from history. Yet despite the persecutions, on the one hand, and the enticements of some host countries’ cultures, on the other, the Jewish nation lives.

Though the ranks of single-issue pro-Israel Jewish voters (they comprise perhaps one-fourth of the Jewish electorate) have contracted as a result of mounting assimilation, those voters have nonetheless learned a lot over the past sixteen years.

Given his swaggered walk and ineloquent delivery, George W. Bush is an easy one to underestimate. But pundits and politicians do so at their own peril, cases in point being Al Gore and John Kerry, two gentlemen who like to think of themselves as high cultivated and erudite.

Having spent earlier sabbaticals here in Israel, I knew the subject of aliyah loomed as a background issue but hardly expected the untold ways it would recast itself.

At the restaurant farewell dinner, Professor Dov Zlotnick asked the dozen or so students of his forty-year-running Saturday afternoon Talmud shiur to continue their learning despite his approaching retirement to Jerusalem.

Thanks to Fred Lebow, founder of the New York City Marathon, some 500,000 Americans will run in marathons this year. In my book Anything for a T-Shirt: Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon, the World’s Greatest Footrace (Syracuse University Press, 2004), I show how Lebow, a Holocaust survivor, changed the notion of this 26.2 mile race, which this year will be held on Sunday, Nov. 5, from a grueling, sweaty showcase for elite runners into a people’s competition.

Clichéd postmortems analyzing Israel’s failure to deal Hezbollah a clear defeat miss the point in blaming Prime Minister Olmert’s lack of military experience or native ineptness. The key reasons for Israel’s poor performance are deeper and far more ideological.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/fishls-marathon/2004/11/03/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: