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This Runner Doesn’t Need Water

Marathon founder Fred Lebow and his strategically temporary statue

Miriam Krule
November 02, 2011
The Lebow statue is moved this year.(Ruth Fremson/NYT)
The Lebow statue is moved this year.(Ruth Fremson/NYT)

If you’re running the New York City Marathon this weekend, it’s all thanks to Fischel Lebowitz. The native Romanian, who changed his name to the slightly less Jewish Fred Lebow, transformed it from a small race with just 127 entrants in 1970 to the internationally recognized event we all know and love (or hate if you’re actually from New York and need to be anywhere on Sunday). According to the 2004 biography Anything for a T-Shirt, the Holocaust survivor was raised in an Orthodox home, and when it came to the race, he made sure the marathon’s path went through the Hasidic area of Williamsburg (as it still does, up Bedford Avenue) where he would reportedly even shout out “Di loifer darfen vasser”—Yiddish for “the runners need water”—from his official’s car. (A screening of the requisite documentary about Lebow, Run For Your Life, will be this Thursday at the Brooklyn Museum.)

Also! Through a loophole that would make any Talmudist proud, Central Park figured out a way to include a statue of him even though, at the time of his death in 1994, there was a moratorium on new monuments there. An article in today’s Times explains that instead of finding another location, each year a parks worker moves the 600-pound bronze some token distance, technically qualifying it as temporary. Thus it’s able to stay in the park, where every year it is a good luck charm for runners.

Lebow, already a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, will be inducted into the inaugural class of the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame on Friday.

Miriam Krule is on the editorial staff of Slate Magazine where she edits the religion column Faith-Based. Follow her on Twitter @miriamkrule.