Monday, March 12, 2012


The past few weeks have been kind of exciting around here for a most unexpected reason: the entire shul has been gripped by Iditarod  fever.  One of our kids, Jake Berkowitz, is musher.

Now, just like being a blues man, being a musher is usually not one of the top profession choices for Jewish kids. At least, in the old days, it wasn’t. These days, we Jewish mothers are more concerned with our children’s happiness and their feelings of success and self-worth to obsess on whether or not they’re wearing business casual, casual, or a clown suit. It doesn’t matter. They just have to be passionate about what they do. And just like other folks ask after my kids, I find myself wanting to know more about what my friends’ kids  do. After all, Beth Jacob in Mendota Heights is the social center of the universe and all these kids grew up together.

picture from FB:THOUGHTS
So, Jake’s living up in Alaska and running his own kennel, but his folks are all here. And folks being folks, everyone is always asking how Jake’s doing with the dogs. I started watching for him several years ago when I found out he was living not far from the junior son on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It began with reading about the races and the racers and then learning about the skills needed to compete, to maintain a kennel, and how the it all works together.

I followed the races I could, and quietly watched as Jake competed in his first Iditarod back in 2008. I would routinely check the other races and was thrilled to bits when he won the Copper Basin last year. Knowing how much he’s grown and improved, I was really excited about this year’s Iditarod. 

If you are not familiar with sled dog races, the Iditarod's not called The Last Great Race for nothing. It's almost 1000 miles of the least forgiving terrain on the planet, all the way across Alaska from Anchorage to Nome.  There's a person, a sled, and a team of dogs. Both men and women race; there are no gender divisions. And it ain't summer out there. The weather is brutal. But people do it and love it. And, gee, if I a heartbeat!

Bib 29 - Jake and his sled
I registered at the Iditarod website, and at least three times a day, I checked the standings. It worried me that Jake, bib # 29, was hovering  in the low 20s at first, but then he started to move up. At shul on Purim, the standings were announced from the bimah. Shabbat morning, there was a roar when the rabbi announced Jake was 9th…even though I had already seen he’s moved up to 8th before I left the house. We were all so excited and everyone was talking about it. The assistant rabbi candidate who was visiting last weekend must’ve thought we were a bit strange.  By Saturday night, Jake was listed in 6th place and I was just cheering as I read the reports from the trail.

But on Sunday, everything changed.

While out on the trail, Jake was prepping fish snacks for the dogs and cut his hand badly with the fish knife. He made it into  Unalakleet on his own, and there’s a video clip of his arrival and him telling the race marshal he “nicked a vein.” He takes off his glove and shows a green bandage tied around his hand, explaining that if you untie it, it’ll still “spurt blood.”  Not a good sign.

The race marshal thought he needed to get sewn up….but after stitching it closed, the volunteer surgeon said he thought it warranted more attention than he could provide. The decision was made to fly Jake out of Unalakleet to a hospital in Anchorage where a specialist could take a look at the hand. Jake’s dad, who happens to have a more conventional profession…that of doctor…spoke to the doctor….which makes all his Jewish mothers feel a little better.

I had planned to write a smashing ending about how well Jake did and how exciting it is to actually know a real live musher who finished in the top ten of the 2012 Iditarod, but instead  I will tell you I spoke with one of his mothers this evening; she assures me he is back at home and doing well. They did not need to operate, and everyone expects a full recovery. You can hear a collective sigh of relief over Mendota Heights tonight.

I am so looking forward to Iditarod 2013! 

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
The Talmud says we need to teach our children two things:
a trade and how to swim. 
Neither comes naturally, but both are more fun when passion is involved. 

1 comment:

  1. When I was a small kid, I watched Sgt. Preston of the Yukon on TV. From that time on, I've always wanted to do this. The reality of it, of course, is much more involved than my mere fancy. I am so impressed with the endurance and drive it must take to accomplish this.