Propelled by a nation, wounded Israeli soldier runs the NYC marathon

Aharon Karov said letters from Israelis of all stripes strengthened him over the course of his remarkable five-year journey from the Gaza war to the New York City finish line.

Israelis are criticized often for a lack of manners – practically driving people off the road, blithely cutting to the front of a long supermarket line, and generally making little apparent effort to be polite in public.

But when crisis hits, Israelis really shine.

Just ask Aharon Karov, whose inspiring story was reported by Rachel Delia Benaim in The Times of Israel this week.

Mr. Karov was called up to serve in the Gaza war the day after he was married in 2008. According to religious and military law, he was not obliged to go as a newlywed. But 30 men whom he had trained during his regular army service were going, and he didn’t want them to go alone.

“In Israel, if there is a war, everyone goes because there a collectivity, a community. It was clear to me, to both of us, that I had to go,” he told the Times of Israel. So he left his 19-year-old bride (he was just 22) and reported to duty.

The three-week war was brutal and involved not only heavy air strikes, but also urban warfare; in the end, the fighting killed 13 Israelis and more than 1,300 Palestinians in an operation Israel said was necessary to stem the tide of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. At one point, Karov and his men were sweeping homes for explosives when he was caught in a blast that brought the house down on him. His men cleared away the debris, but his injuries seemed so grave that Karov was nearly left for dead until someone noticed a faint pulse.

But that ended up being just the beginning of a monumental effort to help him not only survive, but to live life to the fullest. He surprised his doctors with a “miraculous” recovery, but it was tough going; he couldn’t speak at all for the first three months. Buoyed by support from all over the country, he persisted.

“All of Israel was writing me letters — haredim [ultra-Orthodox Jews], dati’im [religious Jews], hilonim [secular Israelis], people from America, France — from all over the world,” Karov told the Times of Israel. “Everyone wrote to me, they were praying for me, and together gave me the strength to say, ‘Yes, I will beat this.’”

Six months ago he finally was able to start running again, and made it a goal to run the New York City marathon with the encouragement of the OneFamily Fund, which had been supporting him and his family throughout his recovery.

He did so, and crossed the line in 4:14:31, raising some $40,000 for the OneFamily Fund, which helps those affected by terrorist attacks.

Next time someone cuts me off when I’ve been waiting in line forever, I’m going to take that extra minute of waiting to think about that popular analogy that compares Israelis to the sabra cactus – prickly on the outside, but sweet and soft on the inside. Indeed, there is something very good on the inside.

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