Unorthodox: Haredi marathoner who found running while battling anorexia

Elishva Rot competed in 2022 Berlin Marathon as part of a mixed team of men and women, and says she maintains her religious beliefs no matter how many people claim she deviates from them by competing in marathons
Shmuel Munitz|
Elisheva Rot, an ultra-Orthodox accountant recently ran in the 2022 Berlin Marathon. Her path to that was anything but orthodox since the 30-year-old discovered her passion for running during one of the most difficult periods of her life.
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  • “After my first daughter was born I was dealing with eating disorders for a few years,” Rot says. “The medical team that took care of me at Hadassah University Medical Center insisted that I gain weight. I couldn’t justify this increase in weight mentally, and so started running in order to burn calories.”
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    Elisheva Rot
    Elisheva Rot
    Elisheva Rot
    (Photo: Act 3)
    Rot then fell in love with running. Today, she approaches the sport with a healthier viewpoint. “Running became something competitive, professional and challenging.”
    Her openness about her eating disorder is unique, seeing as how she grew up and lives as a Haredi woman.
    The fact that Rot is a professional athlete is surprising, but not overly so considering her background as an accountant, stylist and a very active Instagram user. Rot is a long-distance runner, and an ambitious woman who doesn’t allow mental challenges or her surroundings to weigh her down.
    In June, Rot was chosen to be part of Adidas’s ‘Speed Squad’ of 14 athletes who were supposed to represent the company at the marathon in Berlin. “Hundreds of people were interviewed for this project, but we were chosen,” she says. “It was a very intense project, we trained six days a week, sometimes as a group and sometimes alone. We were also given access to a dietitian and a physiotherapist.”
    Rot has been running with the help of a personal trainer for four years and wants to make running her full-time profession. She participated in the Berlin Marathon on the eve of Rosh Hashana, where she timed 3:24:48. “My goal was to finish in under three and a half hours. It’s my first marathon and I didn’t want to risk it, but this is only the first step for me,” she says.
    When asked about her experience in the marathon, Rot called it "amazing."
    "There was so much energy. You don’t see it in Israel, the number of runners and cheers from the locals. The support we received - it was amazing.”
    Rot usually runs wearing a skirt over her leggings or shorts. “I stay true to my values, and modesty is a part of that,” she says. “I make sure to dress up modestly, which means wearing a skirt and a long shirt. I was the only religious person on my team and I stood out, but I liked it.”
    Rot also says she has a custom sports skirt that was made for her prior to the marathon. “There are Haredi designers who make skirts, I asked my Instagram followers for recommendations. Adidas’ team also follows me, and decided to help.
    “Adidas' head designer contacted me. We met via a Zoom call, and designed a skirt that would fit all of my competitive needs - from the fabric, to the weight and comfort.”
    When asked about how religious people reacted to seeing her run alongside men, which is considered immodest in Haredi Jewish culture, Rot said: “I have nothing to say, each person can do what’s best for them. I’m not here to lecture, but to do what makes me happy, and see no issues with that. Everyone has their own rabbis, and I don’t have anything to say to those asking, ‘How can you run in a team with men?’ That’s their opinion, which is fine.”
    Talking to Rot, another runner came to mind. Beatie Deutsch, an Israeli marathon champion, had to pass on participating in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to the competition taking place on Shabbat. Deutsch’s success saw her being put on billboards, a rare occurrence for a Haredi woman.
    When asked if she took inspiration from Deutsch, Rot said: “Of course, Beatie broke through all glass ceilings. She made us believe that a Haredi woman could reach the Olympics. Beatie lives close to where I live, and our girls go to the same school. I see her during my runs in Beit Shemesh, she’s an amazing woman.”
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    אלישבע רוט
    אלישבע רוט
    Elisheva Rot in front of the German parliament, in Berlin
    (Photo: Act 3)
    When asked if she was given any tips by Deutsch, Rot said: “We follow each other [on social media], and she gave me her support when I was training for the marathon. She messaged me, saying, ‘How great it is to see you walking this path?’ She also offered to give me her own skirt when I was looking for a fitting sports skirt.”
    Rot lives in Beit Shemesh with her husband and two daughters. “I don’t have a marathon goal for the future, I need to give my husband and family some quiet,” she says. “They did a lot for me. My next goal is to participate in half marathons and local running events in Israel.”
    Rot took ballet classes for years, since she was five years old, and has always enjoyed sport. She says she went through hard times as a girl in the Haredi school she attended in Jerusalem. “It was hard for me. When someone looks just a little bit better, she’s teased and mocked,” she says.
    Rot’s daughters attend a state Haredi school. “I didn’t want my daughters to go through the same thing I did. I wanted them to receive a good education without placing too much importance on appearances, and for them to be accepted as they are,” Rot says.
    She also shares her experience with her eating disorders with her followers on social media. “Everyone who battled eating disorders tells me it's still inside of them. I don’t count calories or think about what I eat. I feel that running brings balance to the soul, and I find myself in an amazing place I didn’t think I’d be in today,” Rot explains.
    Rot says her eating disorder had gotten to a point where she was hospitalized. "I was treated in a hospital, and sought help from professionals. My mom and husband knew but didn’t pressure me. They gave me the support and space I needed. One day I woke up and called an eating disorder clinic. I decided to hold myself together.”
    She continues to work as an accountant alongside her athletic career. “I work as a comptroller for several companies, it’s a very intensive position. I’m not at home much. When I add an intense marathon training plan on top of that, it means my husband needs to be with our girls and take them to school. Our lives change, because you need to eat and sleep differently. There’s a price we all pay, which needs to be considered.”
    Rot also attended Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art in Ramat Gan, studying styling. “When I began doing styling and fashion, and realized I wanted to work in it, I had to get a diploma. I’m a perfectionist, and wanted to study in the best school.”
    When asked how her family reacts to her passion for marathons, Rot said: “My mom is a big fan. My dad thinks I’m crazy. He laughs and says ‘you’re too into this, it’ll hurt your body in the end.’ But that’s fine, you can’t understand unless you run as well.
    "My daughters are very proud. Running is a major aspect of our family, and I do my best to run with my eldest daughter, who also wants to compete. They are growing up seeing it at home, with me as their role model.”
    Rot says he goals for the future is to break her personal records. “Some are offering me to open a group for Haredi women runners, but I’m not sure about it. I have more hobbies, and it’s hard to find time for everything.”
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