I was searching in Wikipedia for pictures of famous Jews from England, to use in Ricki’s “Britain” notebook at school. I came across the name of Harold Abrahams, the noted English runner that was immortalized in the film “Chariots of Fire”.
I saw this movie last summer, when visiting my parents. They had created, along with my older brother, a list of films worth seeing, taking into account my cultural and religious differences from the rest of the family.
The film “Chariots of Fire” portrays the olympic successes of two British runners in 1924: Harold Abrahams, and Eric Liddell. The first was a Jew trying to fight against anti-Semitism, and the second a devout christian, who apparently was using his running as a way to “glorify” G-d, using his G-d given talents to the best advantage.
Parts of the film were upsetting to me: the feeling that Mr. Abrahams was fighting a losing race if he felt that winning at the olympics would impact on anti-Semitism, and his willingness to date a non-Jew. In a way, I felt that I could relate much better to the world view of the “Flying Scotchman”, Liddell, who refused to run in the 100 meter race since being in the competition would require him to run on Sunday, which as a devout christian he refused to do. (Instead, he ran the 400meter race and won.)
So why am I writing all this? Because as I followed the above link to the name of Harold Abrahams, I discovered that in 1934 he converted to christianity. It seems that running the race had not helped with the anti-Semitism after all…..
At this point it would be very easy for me to vilify him completely. We like to see things very much in “black and white”… to see things as absolute. We love true heroes and dastardly villains are easy to hate.
However, I think I pity him more than anything else. While we can learn from him that one can accomplish a lot with determination, it bears minding that the worth of that accomplishment is based on its intrinsic value. While being the best “Tiddledy-winks” player may get one into Guinness’s world records book, it has no true value in terms of making this world a better place. (And I am certainly not going to argue here on whether the 100 meter race has intrinsic value or not. That question is irrelevant to my ultimate point here.) Thus it bears keeping in mind that occasionally we need to check on what we are doing and why. What are we spending our energies on? And what are we ignoring as a result? That doesn’t mean that one can’t “waste” a bit of time with a good book. Relaxation and rejuvenation are also important. But if we are spending hours reading, day after day, when other pressing matters are ignored, that is a cause for concern.
Ultimately, Harold Abrahams may have accomplished many things with his race, but he did not accomplish anything against anti-Semitism. He simply joined the other side.