Forever diffusing the image of schlubby Orthodox slackers who don't see much of the sun, six members of congregation B'nai David-Judea completed the Los Angeles Triathlon Sept. 10, and raised $8,000 for Israel in the process. Noam Drazin, Ivan Wolkind, David Mankowitz, Sheldon Kasdan, J.J. Wernick and Yigal Newman successfully completed the race at the Olympic level, which includes a .9-mile ocean swim, a 24-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run.
But this summer, their rigorous training schedule -- a 5 a.m. bike ride and run on Sundays, a 6 a.m. ocean swim twice a week -- began to feel frivolous as bombs fell on Israel.
"We realized that while we were spending our time running, biking and swimming, many people in Israel were fleeing their homes and fearing for their lives," said Wernick.
Newman, an Israeli, has a brother who was called to Lebanon as a reservist in the Israeli army.
The group sent e-mails to family and friends, asking them to donate on their behalf to Amit's Israel Emergency fund, a favorite charity of Wernick's recently deceased mother.
The group hopes to bring the total up to $10,000 with post-event fundraising, and they plan to continue training.
"We started with yuppies and made them int o guppies," said the team's coach, Olympian Clay Evans. "These guys came to us barely able to swim 100 meters last year and are now right up there in the middle of the pack."
To donate, or for information, visit www.amitchildren.org.
-- Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor
Gems of Wisdom for 5767
"I learned in bodybuilding that the best way to gain strength was to take my muscles to their absolute limit -- to the point of failure -- where they were so out of energy that they couldn't even lift a small amount of weight. Then, after a few day's rest, they would not only be ready to lift again, but they were now bigger, stronger and able to lift more than ever before," writes Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the new High Holiday Web site, "Jewels of Elul" (www.craignco.com/jewels.php). Craig Taubman started the project last year to provide inspirational stories -- one for every day of the month of Elul, the last month on the Hebrew calendar, to prepare for the High Holidays.
The governor wrote his under the heading "Pushing The Limits," and it continues: "Just like in bodybuilding, failure is also a necessary experience for growth in our own lives, for if we're never tested to our limits, how will we know how strong we really are? How will we ever grow?"
Taubman, a musician, entertainer and music producer of Craig n' Co., had been searching for inspiration last year, "and I wanted to find it in the time it takes to brew a pot of coffee," he said. So he gathered stories from community leaders, teachers, artists and thinkers.
"We asked people to write on a deceptively simple theme, 'What I have learned thus far...,'" Taubman said of the 29 essays.
Contributors to this year's anthology include a young Jewish soldier fighting in Iraq; a recovering drug addict; a Muslim educator; and the producer of Will & Grace, David Kohan.
"My mother tried to instill in me an ethos of toughness and self-respect through the oft-repeated aphorism, 'Never let anybody spit in your kasha.'" Kohan writes. "I have taken those words to heart and have never, not once, served kasha."
"My father showed me by example that a deeply contented life can be had if lived by the abiding principles of kindness, graciousness, respect for the dignity of others, and major denial of all things scary and bad," he continued. "I, myself, have concluded thus far that life is glorious and magnificent beyond description, and the notion that we live this life fully aware of its inevitable end is fundamentally a comic one. Laughter, therefore, seems the most appropriate response to that Universal Joke."
Most of the jewels are not as funny as Kohan's. Consider "Echoes for Eternity," by Max S. Phillips, a 21-year-old Specialist (E-4) deployed in Iraq: "Strength and honor...this world and the next. So on good days, I really do know that my life and mission make a difference for my country and my world. And on the bad days when I have been awake for 24 straight hours and the temperature in the Humvee is over 140, I still know that the guys in my truck are counting on me and counting on the way we work together and rely on each other, despite all the 'dissing.'
"Before I left, my Abba and I were considering getting matching tattoos (I know, not very Jewish). Mitzpah Genesis 31:49 says: 'For he (Jacob) said, "The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another."' We didn't need to get the tattoos on our wrists, because the words were in our hearts.
"HaShem is watching over us. We are together in this world. My life is creating its own echoes for the next."
The Jewels, which are sponsored by Mt. Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries, can also be ordered online as gifts.
-- Amy Klein, Religion Editor