[Editor’s note: For several reasons, not least of which is the difficulty of expressing the strong emotional connection many of those involved in The Shira Pransky Project feel for its namesake, this blog and website does not contain many personal notes about her legacy. For this reason we are supremely thankful for Chaim Goldberg’s following touching thoughts containing many sentiments that we all share.]
Who Was Shira Pransky
By Chaim Goldberg
I very nearly didn’t run in the Jerusalem Marathon. A few weeks prior, I had heard that the Shira Pransky Project (SPP) had a group running in the marathon, but for better or for worse, there was a shabbaton I had previously committed to which precluded my participation in the marathon.
However, one day, it suddenly became clear that plans for the shabbaton were changing, and it would no longer be that week. Immediately, I thought of the marathon and SPP, and gave the group coordinator, Syma Davidovich, a call and found out I was within 24 hours of the registration deadline. (That’s hashgacha pratis [Divine Providence] , isn’t it?)
Aside from my preliminary interest however, I actually had no idea what the project was—not its mission, accomplishments, nor vision. As we spoke though, that spark of interest I had grew stronger and stronger, and by the time the conversation finished, I had committed to running 10K for SPP and raising money towards its cause, with all of two weeks left until March 1st (the marathon).
Raising $500 in two weeks as a yeshiva student away from home struck me as being a bit formidable of a task, but certainly within reason, and something I would just have to put the effort into.
Most daunting though, was the running. You see, I hadn’t done any rigorous exercise in over 3 months! Beyond that, even at times that I have had a regular exercise routine, I’d never run longer than about 3 ½ miles (5K). So why would I commit to something that in all probability I wouldn’t be able to do?
Because past performance was no longer relevant. Exercise, for me, had always been a decision about personal benefit, whether for health, fitness, social, or any other number of considerations.
This was entirely different. I wasn’t running for myself; I was running for Shira. And I knew, quite clearly, that the body running selflessly could reach exponentially higher heights than the one running selfishly. So with two weeks to train, I did my hishtadlus (personal effort), putting in a couple of training runs, even running longer than I ever had before – 6 ½ K!
Of course, that was still well short of what I was going to do a couple days later, but it was abundantly clear to me that my body was capable; the only question was how long my mind would be able to motivate my body. Truth be told though, that too was not a question. Here I was honoring Shira Pransky’s memory—was it at all possible that my ratzon (will) could be lacking?
Shira was a woman of unfathomable strength and ratzon. Through 9 years of incalculable hardship, both physical and emotional, she remained a beacon of light to those around her. Visitors were never denied her trademark smile, and the will to keep fighting stayed strong. Those who came to strengthen, left strengthened, and those who came to encourage, left encouraged. When there were simchas of family and close friends to attend, at times when most anyone else in her position simply would have excused themselves—justifiably so, mind you—she put forth every effort she could to be together with them.
With an angel-like figure like that driving me, is it any wonder that I finished the 10K with ease? As I neared the finish line and digested what I just accomplished, I was overtaken by emotion. My realization of having transcended all previous limits—albeit ones most physical in nature—and for whom I was doing this, connected me to the Ribbono Shel Olam in a way I had never experienced before.
So is it any wonder that I didn’t actually stop at 10K, unable to let go of the experience which characterized Shira, that of rising above one’s physical boundaries for a greater mission? For me at least, it was truly a metaphysical experience.
Notwithstanding the awe-inspiring event the marathon was, allow me to let you in on an open secret of mine: I never knew Shira Pransky. In fact, I didn’t even know who she was until nearly 4 years after her passing, just a couple months prior to this Jerusalem Marathon.
How then, you ask, could I have written all this? Perhaps—inasmuch as you don’t doubt my sincerity—I have a penchant for exaggeration, you wonder?
The answer, quite honestly, is no, there was no embellishment in this story. As to the first question, the answer for me personally is grounded in the privilege I have had of getting to know Shira’s special family and friends. They themselves are each individual towers of strength, and through them all, Shira’s presence shines through.
Authenticity, genuineness, and heartfelt emotion cannot be artificially manufactured; when talking to Shira’s close ones, that’s no obstacle, as everything is utterly sincere.
What’s important though is the reality that you need not have known Shira to become a part of the Shira Pransky Project. You need not even get to know her family or friends, though simply for your benefit, it is worthwhile do so. Beyond their own unique qualities, they will certainly open a window for you into the person Shira was and the persona she represented. But what’s important is the recognition that you can honor Shira’s memory, commit to improving the transition for Anglo olim, and support the Shira Pransky Project even as someone not personally connected to Shira.
It is my hope and prayer for those, like myself, who were not fortunate enough to know Shira, that this piece here can give you a glimpse into her world and her community. There were hundreds or thousands of people she impacted in her lifetime. But there is a growing community of those people she never knew, yet has still profoundly impacted upon them. Count me among this community, and we hope to welcome you as well.