The Seventeen Minute Mile.

When some of us were kids, it was conventional wisdom that no one could run faster than a four minute mile. Scientists who measured the muscles and design of the human body under all forms of stress were convinced that the barrier could not be broken. Until Roger Bannister did it! Today, records are set by runners from countries all over the world. All are under the four minute mark.

Which brings me to those of us who are walkers. We are usually considered second class citizens by the runners. But, no matter. They have their world and their high tech sneakers. And we have ours. Walking shoes of every imaginable contour are in the stores waiting for us. The manufacturers of what used to be called ‘tennis sneakers’ have graduated to a higher level of merchandising. They trumpet all sorts of computer mapped air pockets to add bounce to my step. I keep looking for an all white or black good support walking sneaker in vain. The emphasis is definitely on ‘color accents’, such as vivid purple or turquoise.

Switching from style to substance, exercise guides routinely recommend a fifteen minute mile for walkers as the threshold for cardiovascular benefits. Ah, there’s the rub.(And I don’t mean Ben Gay.) As a long time morning walker, over three decades and still on the move, I have found that the difference between the fifteen and seventeen minute mile adds up to more than two minutes. It’s more than simple arithmetic. There appears to be an existential force at work at 9:00 a.m. when I venture forth to meet the outside world.

I have timed my two mile walk over the years, first on the boardwalk and for the past 24 years on the lanes, roads and avenues in Linwood. The wooden way had the advantage of resilience and the vast changing seascape; the country byways hold an edge for variety of turns, leafy vistas and floral displays. The boardwalk was a treat for the flat straight away, easier in the legs. The country ways are more of a challenge to certain muscles with the rise and fall of the terrain. The bottom line for me is that wherever I walk, the time comes out the same. Seventeen minute miles. And the nagging question: should I be upping the speed and meeting the 15 minute mark?

I should add that I did try to up the ante in the boardwalk years. I watched the parade of athletes pumping their arms as they whizzed past me in the fast lane. What was I doing wrong? What was I doing right? The best I could achieve was an out-of wind 16 minutes
with some cheating in the count. And I would feel exhausted. I was definitely not having a good time.

Thus, I arrived at my final appraisal of the entire process. Or you may call it my rationalization — cop out. I walk for several reasons every morning. It is my way of greeting the day whether it is clear skies or rain. Unless there’s a downpour or a blizzard, I’m out there. It revs up the body and mind for me. Some of my best ideas for writing come together as I walk. I know I feel toned up even if I have not met the official cardiovascular rung on the fitness ladder. And I cover far more than the recommended 30 minutes, three times a week.

All in all, I’ve arrived at a regimen that suits me. During the winter months with temperatures in the teens and wind chills dipping too low, I do not walk outside. If the roads permit, I may drive to the nearby mall and walk my two miles along the broad aisles of the stores. Several winters ago, I came to know most of the inventory of the Burlington Coat Factory. Workers would greet me with smiles of recognition. I have been known to walk back and forth in long airport corridors, or round and round in hotel hallways to work off the morning energy. Not quite the same, but better than missing out completely,

I’ve learned that breaking the 15 minute mile is not my goal. I have set my own pace. It’s not a question of ‘Am I there yet?’ Rather, I am enjoying the clear cerulean blue skies and brisk air that I found this morning. I feel refreshment of the body, mind and spirit. For me, it’s a question of what I gain along the way — rather than how long it takes me to get there.

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Pearl Mizrahi: Woman of Valor

Pearl Mizrahi: Woman of Valor
Pearl Mizrahi lived every day of her remarkable life –from the young age of sixteen until her last days at 83 —answering Hillel’s three eternal questions: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But, if I am only for myself, what am I? And, if not now, when?”

She was indeed for herself with her incredible Determination to hold onto life. And her unbelievable Courage in overcoming daunting physical injuries and pain. She answered the second question when she gave of herself not only to her dear husband and children, but to her mother, father, brothers and sisters, friends, synagogue and community as well. Her responses were always swift and meaningful. They were the answer to Hillel’s third question. .. the clarion call for action; to do it “now” not later.

Family was always of greatest importance to Pearl. She grew up in Brooklyn in a large, close family with three brothers, two older sisters and one younger sister. Her father Saul Dayan was the bread winner and her mother Juliet Dayan was raising seven children. Saul was Syrian and spoke both Arabic and English in their home. Juliet was a traditional Jewish homemaker whom Pearl described as very lively and fun.

How Pearl met Harry is a wonderful story. ……The date was December, l948. Pearl was sixteen, in her senior year in high school in St. Petersburg Florida where the Dayan family had moved earlier. Harry Mizrahi, age 27, was in St. Petersburg helping his older brother open a linen store. He had been a pilot in the United States Navy during World War II, flying from a carrier in the Pacific Ocean low over the waves to bomb Japanese submarines. Saul Dayan met this young, handsome veteran one day and learned that Harry was also from a Syrian Jewish family . Dayan had two eligible unmarried daughters, Grace and Dorothy and he invited Harry home to lunch the next Sunday. (pause) When Harry walked into the house, he saw Pearl’s picture on the wall and asked her mother who that was. “That’s one of my younger daughters,” she answered. Harry always says , “I knew that was the daughter I wanted.”

Pearl came home from teaching Sunday school and was introduced to Harry. Then, she went into the kitchen and asked her mother, “Who is that?”.
Juliet answered, “He’s not for you.” As it turned out, after a few weeks of seeing each other every day, they had fallen in love and Harry proposed. Pearl’s parents agreed to the wedding after Pearl promised her mother she would finish her education. They were married on April 28, 1949 with the entire congregation in attendance. …… That beautiful picture of her is hanging on their living room wall today after sixty six years of marriage.

The first years of their marriage were not easy. Juliet Dayan gave birth to her eighth child Arnold on December l, 1949 . Two years later to the day, December 1, 1951, Jay Mizrahi was born. When he was only two weeks old, a closed stomach meant that he needed surgery . It was successful and Pearl fed him every hour during his recovery. Her parents had come up from Florida for the Bris. Then, tragedy struck. Her mother collapsed , returned to Florida by train and was diagnosed with cancer, lymphoma. Pearl was the one of the adult children who came to Florida for six weeks at a time during Juliet’s two year illness . Harry was at home with Jay and a caretaker. Juliet Dayan was 45 when she died in 1953.

When Pearl returned home, she found Jay seriously ill. He had developed a brain tumor. The specialist who was called said he had to operate to find out exactly where it was. Pearl asked , “Do you want to do it tomorrow?” The doctor hugged her and said, “Most of my patients say wait. I’m proud of you.” The operation was a success.

After her mother’s death, Pearl, at age 21, was faced with one of the most important decisions of her life. Her father, like many men of his times, was not equipped to raise Arnold, only three and Cecile, thirteen. Although her two older sisters were married, Arnold and Cecile came to live with Harry and Pearl in Ocean City. Harry had said, “We can’t leave them. We’ll take them both.” A year later, with their savings and a Veteran’s loan they built a house in Margate for their new family. Harry flew in the reserves on weekends. Jeffrey was born on June 23, 1956. Pearl remembered those years as happy times. …..pause….However, the happy times were not to last…..

On April 9, 1958, when the family was visiting in Tampa, Florida for Passover , they were in a catastrophic automobile accident. They were hit head- on in a blinding rain storm by a drunken driver going 60 miles an hour on a narrow country road. Harry was driving with Jeffrey at 22 months wedged between him and Pearl. He was holding a big stuffed monkey that saved his life. Jay, Arnold and Cecile were in the back. The other driver was killed instantly and Pearl was thrown forward into the broken glass of the windshield. There were no seat belts or air bags in those days. Farmers heard the crash and ran to help get them out of the car. Jaws of life were needed to pull Pearl free. They were all rescued just as the car burst into flames and burned to the ground.

At the hospital, Harry, Jeffrey, Jay and Arnold had escaped with minor injuries. Cecile suffered a knee injury and head laceration. Pearl sustained massive internal injuries, broken bones and severe facial injuries . She was not expected to live through the night. … Pearl was in and out of consciousness. At one point she saw her father standing at the foot of her bed, holding a prayer book. She called out in a loud voice, “Don’t do that, Dad! ‘I am not going to die.” And she didn’t.

Harry had to be strapped to a bed, to restrain him from going to her side while he was treated for his injuries. Finally, they brought him in a wheel chair to see Pearl. She was on the critical list for 8 weeks and hospitalized for 3 and a half months. She had blood transfusions for days and was in traction for her broken pelvis and leg. At one point, the doctor told her she would never walk again. She looked up at him and said very clearly, “We’ll see.

During her stay, she found that helping other patients was important to her recovery. The doctors sent the patients in and she would talk with them and encourage them. She couldn’t move in traction and her head was kept straight, but it became part of her routine. She was answering Hillel’s second question. Harry returned with the children to Margate in the early weeks and flew down every other weekend. The three boys came down with measles and he kept track of their meds with lipstick on the bathroom mirror.

When Pearl finally came home in July, she weighed 68 pounds. By October, she was able to maneuver on crutches and a walker. She worked hard with physical therapists to build the strength and mobility in her legs and right arm. Cecile and friends did the cooking. Harry took care of the boys when he came home from work. Two years after the accident they flew to Florida and she walked into the office of the doctor who said she would never walk again.

Pearl never forgot her promise to her mother, and in the decade that followed, she went to Atlantic Community College and took courses to receive her GED, high school diploma. It was just the beginning. In the years that followed, she would complete a four year college degree at Glassboro and work with pre-school children, first as an assistant and then as the head teacher at Friend’s School in Atlantic City. After the school closed, she taught for ten years at the Hebrew Academy. Some of you here today or your children may have been her pupils.

Pearl was active at Beth Judah and in the community. She coordinated a group of women who cooked and delivered meals to those who were ill or in a period of bereavement. According to Jewish tradition, she cared for the bodies of women who had died and sat with them for a proscribed time period. She and Harry arrived early every morning at Beth Judah to prepare the coffee and bagels for members who came to say the Mourners’ Kaddish. She also took a job at South Jersey Airways because of the perks. She wanted to travel. And they did. She called those years, “the happiest times.”

On January 30, 1992, fate intervened again.. They were in California visiting her brother Victor and sister-in law Margaret, who always said, Pearl was the most fun at family parties. They were driving in a car with a friend, Claire at the wheel. It was 8:30 at night when once more they were in a disastrous car accident. Although Pearl was wearing her seat belt , she was thrown forward through the windshield and had to be freed by the Jaws of Life. Neither Claire nor Harry in the back were injured.

Pearl was flown by helicopter to the nearest hospital . She was in and out of consciousness and joking with the men who were saving her life. She lsaid, ,“Oh, I always wanted to go for a ride in a helicopter!” . Pearl was very badly hurt but the internal injuries were not as critical as the first accident. She suffered broken bones in both legs. One ankle was smashed and one hand had serious damage. She spent weeks in three different hospitals for recovery and rehabilitation. They taught her how to walk again. She praised them because they never said she couldn’t do it.
Harry flew back and forth to be with her as he had 34 years earlier. It would be almost 4 months before she could return home. She was in a wheelchair first, then crutches and a walker. She persevered with exercise, walking and therapy in a pool. One leg was shorter than the other and she wore special shoes, but she danced at her grandson, Daniel’s bar mitzvah in l998!

Pearl had eight operations after she left the hospital in l992, including taking the metal bars out of her legs. Then, she and Harry took their first trip to Europe in l997. They visited friends in Tuscany and she walked very slowly up the steep path to Orvieto. Nothing daunted her heroic spirit!

Pearl always praised Harry and how he encouraged her through the darkest times. She said, “ He encouraged me to go back to school. He encouraged me to drive the car again after both accidents. He always was there to encourage me to overcome my fears.” During Pearl’s last long illness, she fought impossible odds to get better so she could be there for Harry. ….Her remarkable life story and his story were intertwined to the end.

Pearl Mizrahi was a true woman of valor and a very dear friend. ..She will always live in blessed memory in our hearts.

Who Shall Live? And Who Shall Die?

The words from the central High Holy Day passage are chilling and awesome. They limn the unknown future in stark terms. When I heard them each year as a child, I was frightened. There followed a list of different ways in which dying could happen. Then, at the end of the passage came the reassuring words that “Prayer, Penitence and Charity can avert the evil decree.”

The words have been changed somewhat in revised editions of the High Holy Days prayer books. But the fundamental message is the same. We each face choices in our behavior in the year ahead. On the Day of Judgment, we stand before God to reveal ourselves — our thoughts and our actions. We are asked to search our conscience and forgive others. And it is incumbent upon us to do better in the year ahead.

In the secular world, there are also questions of life and death that are a part of our mores and our laws. One of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shalt not kill.” Yet, in every society, as in ours there are circumstances where killing is not only allowed, but proscribed. The Armed Forces train members to kill with deadly weapons. When they do this with great distinction in battle, they are awarded medals. It was ever thus. In civilian life, a person attacked may fight off an assailant and kill in self defense. This is recognized as appropriate behavior for which there is no legal penalty. There are both federal and state crimes defined as capital offenses. And there are states with the death penalty states without . In certain states with the death penalty, a life sentence without parole is not an option.

How do we as individuals and citizens sort this all out? We each have our own beliefs as to whether capital punishment should ever occur. Some have the exception only in the case of heinous crimes or the death of police officers. Studies consistently show that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent. In fact, homicide rates are higher in states with the death penalty than in states without. Many homicides are crimes of passion without forethought. Today, courts in different states have complex bodies of law and criteria for presenting a case to the jury.

A recent study revealed that minority group members are more likely to face the death penalty for inter-racial homicides. Of the l77 defendants who faced the death penalty for killing a person of another race since 1955, 55 percent were African Americans, 25 percent were Hispanic, 11 percent were Caucasian and 8 percent were from other groups. Although the focus is on federal cases, the vast majority of people on death row are there under state laws. States executed 4,400 people from l930 to 1999 according to the Justice Department, compared to 33 federal executions since l930. And there were 3,433 people with death sentences in the states as of l998, compared to l9 people in federal prisons with death sentences. The issue of racial disparity exists in state cases and death penalty sentencing as well. Since l972, when the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty as unconstitutional, certain states have revised their laws and conducted numerous executions. Some are high profile. Others are not.

When we look outside the United States today, the plight of millions of Syrian refugees is front page news as they try desperately to reach European countries. They have lost their homes and possessions. They walk hundreds of miles or take boats to reach a country that will take them. The picture of a little boy’s body washed up on the beach, after his family tried to take a rubber raft to safety, shocked the world. When it capsized, only the father survived. His wife and daughter also drowned.

Our rabbi started Rosh Hashanah services with the need for members of our congregation to act now to help these people. There was a paper waiting for us in the lobby when services were over that gave the names of three organizations working to help the refugees. Phone calls and dollar donations are needed. “Charity” to join our “Penitence and Prayer”. There is also a direct link to the last two questions that Hillel posed two thousand years ago. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But, if I am only for myself, what am I? And, if not now, when?” — the clarion call to action