On an early Sunday morning on June 1st, Rabbi Shlomo Wainer, Shliach in Umhlanga Rocks, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa and his wife Devorah and family, headed out at 5:30 AM to set up a tefillin and mitzvos booth at the Comrades race on Hillcrest old main road (on the Comrades route) where they met up with Rabbi Levi Lipsker and many other supporters.
This is Chabad in Umhlanga’s 19th year supporting the Jewish runners of the Comrades Race.
They were assisted by with Mendy Wilansky, Menachem Solomon, Yoni Lewkowicz (bochrim in the smicha program in Pretoria, South Africa), Moshe Reuvain Shnieder, and Simcha Solarsh .
The Comrades Marathon is the world’s oldest and largest ultra-marathon, over a distance of approximately 90 km (56.1 miles) between the capital of the Kwazulu-Natal Province of South Africa, Pietermaritzburg, and the coastal city of Durban. It is know to many as the “Ultimate human race” where approximately 18,000 runners attempt to finish the marathon within 12 hours. Yet despite this already painful and grueling run, many participants stop at the Chabad mobile booth (approximately 60km into the race) to put on teffillin or to do a mitzvah despite their extreme exhaustion.
A total of 48 men stopped to put on Tefillin during the race despite the fact that their time for finishing the race was ticking by. 44 others stopped and acknowledged their Jewish pride and would encourage fellow ultra-marathon runners to do the same. Men and women alike stopped to say a Bracha on oranges, naartjies, bananas, peaches, and potatoes, ice cold coke and water. Many would also say Shema or recite Tehillim, put money in the Tzedaka box and even expect the friendly hug from Rabbi Shlomo.
The Shabbos leading up to the race is the beginning of the Comrades weekend, and the Wainers host a festive Shabbos dinner for the runners, their families and supporters, wanting to have a proper Shabbos before the race. A total of 105 people attended the Friday night Shabbos dinner. Chabad of Umhlanga also has a kosher bed and breakfast which was packed for that weekend.
Many of the runners related after the race that is was because of the words of inspiration they heard over Shabbos and because they stopped and put on tefillin or said a bracha where they able to finish such a mentally and physically challenging marathon like no other.
On a day which truly proved mind over matter was a day that Jews from all backgrounds and around the world, choose to unite in showing their Jewish pride. Through the encouragement of the Wainers, the runners and their supporters truly run with the motivation of spiritualizing the race, every step of the way.