It’s Israel’s favorite military exercise. For 24 years, the Golani Brigade, the elite fighting unit of the Israeli Army, has sponsored a length-of-the-country footrace, from the Golan Heights in the north to Eilat in the south.

The main route — Golani soldiers stationed at various sites in the north join along the way — covers 593 miles over five days. Each year, the brigade’s commander leads the race.

Last week, the Golani Race took place again, and, as usual, hundreds of soldiers and civilians, from high schools and youth groups to simply interested runners, ran alongside the soldiers for a while.

“Golani Brigade has been a brigade uniting the country — a civilian brigade — belonging to all,” said Maj. Barak Brody,

Golani’s deputy battalion commander. “This run illustrates the concept of unity. It affects the whole nation, with no difference from city to city.”

The soldiers make detours from the road, visiting patients in hospitals and injured comrades in rehabilitation centers. Usually, city leaders greet the sweaty visitors.

“We embrace you with all our hearts,” said Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav during a Town Hall ceremony.
One Golani officer called the race “a tradition that we continue each year — to make contact with communities through which we run during the year.”

This year’s theme was youth groups, which supply many of the young men who apply to serve in the Golani Brigade.

“We established the run in order to arouse in the youth the awareness of the Golani Brigade. Hopefully those children that try to participate in the run will eventually join the brigade,” said Pvt. Dor Arzohan, a participant in the run.

In Ra’anana, some of the soldiers visited Nariya Biderman, a Golani soldier severely wounded in Gaza, who is recuperating in Levinshtein Hospital.

“It means a lot to an injured person from the brigade,” said Lt. Ayob Kiyuf, the company commander accompanying the soldiers. “He doesn’t want the brigade to forget about him. And the soldiers see that the brigade adopts the person who in injured and see it as a family.”

The race receives the support of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers. As part of the race itinerary, the soldiers passed through Sderot, north of Gaza, where they took part in a joint run with Sderot students. As a concession to the rocket attacks from Gaza, the race organizers did not schedule a meeting with Sderot’s mayor.