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Dr. Harold Brozin - Born to Run

Harold finishing his 2nd out of 13 Tiberias Marathons, 1978

It is a cold and miserable winter's morning. The rain has just stopped falling – the streets of Raanana are still streaming with the aftermath of the downpour. It is a Saturday morning and a group of "older looking" men in running shoes and shorts gather outside the entrance to the park in Raanana for the weekly Saturday run – Tony, Dave, Trevor, Arthur, Stan, Natan and others. It is the unearthly hour of 6:25 am - an hour when to all intents and purposes folks who are sane of mind are still warmly tucked in.

It is 9:45am on the Upper West Side of New York. Max has just arrived at his daughter's apartment after a 12-hour trans-Atlantic flight, a wearying journey that started 18 hours ago when he left his home in Israel. After a quick hello, he changes into his running gear and heads out for a 1-hour run around Central Park.

There is one person behind these two events – these two seemingly unrelated events – the late Dr. Harold Brozin who passed away at his home in Raanana peacefully on Yom Ha'atzmaut. In his passing, Harold left behind many who will carry and cherish his memory for many a year to come. For sure, the close circle of family, patients and friends, but not only – I refer to the hundreds and through them probably thousands of people who take to the streets, the pathways, the routes through the Orange orchards of the Sharon maybe three, maybe four or more times a week to run. Harold, in his quiet and unassuming way, introduced or should I say induced those with whom he came in to contact to the sport of long-distance running. I will never forget coming in to his surgery back in the 80s with some complaint or other. After the requisite examination, he asked me about my life style that lead me to being overweight with too little exercise. Start running, Harold said and the rest for me was history. I joined a group who throughout the 80s would gather every Saturday morning at his house in Sheshet Hayamim Street at 6:30.

The group began just after Arthur Lipshitz, who had come on aliyah in January 78 saw a person running down Ahuza Street at 6:30 in the morning. Arthur stopped to introduce himself and to inquire who he was. At that time, you could count the number of runners out at that time of day on the fingers of one hand. It was Harold Brozin, recently having moved from Omer to Raanana. There and then, they agreed to meet in the mornings to run. After a few months, Dave Weinstein, Ron Lapid, Cyril Comyns, Gordon Bloch, Tony Franklin and others, joined them. Harold got the word out to a group of young Israelis who joined the group of primarily ex South Africans. In its heyday there were 30 plus meeting every Saturday morning – there was a core but it kept changing. We would head out along well-trodden routes. No matter whether you were a faster or slower runner, you found the group that suited you. Then there was Joan, waiting for us on the front lawn to greet us with her legendary lemon juice at the end of run.

Typically, the run was anywhere between 1.5 to 3 hours dependent on the time of the year with a build up to the Tiberias marathon, which took place annually in January. For Harold and those that followed suit, running became a way of life and a cure to many afflictions. So it was, on Harold's advice, that the way to lessen the effects of jetlag was to have a good run upon arrival.

The group became known as "Ratzei Raanana". It was Harold, together with his partners in crime, Arthur Lipshitz, Cyril Comyns and others who made running fashionable in Israel. Harold and Co. were behind the first 10k run to be adopted by a local municipality – the Raanana municipality. This past year saw the 29th anniversary of the event. Slowly but surely, this affected the running scene throughout Israel. Today any "self-respecting" local authority has a 5K, 10K or more running event – thanks in a large way to Harold.

Runners in the group moved on or moved away, each spawning his own group of runners. When Harold eventually sold home and moved to Har Sinai, there were the Saturday runs with Lennie Sackstein. By the time Harold was no longer able to run for reasons of bad health, those that had come up through the ranks continued his legacy.

After Harold's funeral, I per chance met up with Avi Levin at an Independence Day braai. I told him about Harold's passing. Avi who had also been drawn into running by Harold, had his "Harold" running story to tell, one of many. This was the 1970s and they were both living in Omer outside of Beersheba. On their Saturday morning runs, they would typically head out and double back on the same route. That morning Harold suggested running towards Arad and then to call one of their wives to pick them up upon arrival. Avi looked at him as if he was crazy – "This is the desert, do you know how far it is and what are we going to do for water?" Avi asked him. "Not to worry, we will find a Bedouin shepherd or a passing car on the way," was Harold's reply. Harold never fussed when it came to water. They set out for Arad. When Avi needed water, Harold pointed to a Bedouin tending his flock of sheep who gladly gave them a drink. And when they needed more, Harold stopped at the side of the road – gesticulating to passing motorists the need to drink. An army jeep stopped and produced a jerry can of water. After three and a half hours, they reached Arad and phoned home. No reply so they called Noga Porter a neighbor – "Where are you? Half the neighborhood is out looking for you both" she said in exasperation. The message was passed on to Joan who drove the 40K's to redeem the two 'meshuganas'. Avi has done 19 marathons since he started with Harold. Harold did 13.

So it is today, when I drive to my Monday morning minyan in Kfar Saba or meet in the park on Saturday morning and I see all the runners out doing their thing or when I experience the exhilaration of having run for an hour through the fields and orchards on the weekends, I, together with all the others, say to our dear Harold – Toda Raba. You have not only introduced sedentary Israel to the sport of long-distance running, you have had a major impact on the minds and bodies of thousands of Israelis. One more time – Toda Raba. You are behind that group of 'older looking men' and many others who prefer to get out from under the covers in order to grace the byways of Israel. 

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Wednesday, 04 August 2021

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