by Rabbi Benjamin David
On some mornings it does not feel like social action. At least not at first. When my knees ache and my back is sore, it feels more like a chore than a mitzvah. But by mile three or four, all of that fades away. The sun comes up. The world begins to come to life. And I realize how truly blessed I am. By the time I make it back home, with that day’s run complete, I feel both closer to God and ready to take on the day.
The URJ’s Spotlight on Health and Wellness reminds all of us that the ways we treat our bodies and the ways we conceptualize health can be highly Judaic. That is, by eating well, by exercising, and by helping others to lead healthy lives, we are paying tribute to the gifts God has instilled within each of us.
I became a competitive runner in college. I became a Running Rabbi long after that. When friend and colleague Rabbi Scott Weiner and I were training for our first New York City Marathon, we ran loops of Central Park or make our way up and down Riverside Drive. Inevitably we saw the pain of those without homes or winter coats, those without food to eat or family to help them. And we came to realize these truths: If we are to devote so much time to a singular entity, it has to be of help to others. If we preach social action from the bimah, we have to be willing to live lives of social action. If we yearn for greater community amongst people of all faiths, we have to do our part to make it a reality.
Hence, the Running Rabbis.
What began as a small, non-profit project has grown into an international interfaith vehicle that brings clergy of all backgrounds together to run, walk, hike and bike in the name of shared causes. Together we have raised money for autism research, feeding the hungry, assisting those with hearing loss, sending under privileged children to overnight camps, ending domestic violence, and more. This coming April, we will run the Boston Marathon as part of a team aiming to provide greater resources and care to families battling cancer.
We represent different ages, beliefs, places, and ideologies, but we have seen how much good we can accomplish together. In a world that can feel so heavily divided along religious or national or ideological lines, I believe these accomplishments becomes incredibly important.
People often ask me how I have the time to train for marathons. The answer is simple: I don’t have the time; I make the time.
I am thoroughly convinced that my running makes me a better dad, a better husband, and a better rabbi, to be sure. Whether it is because I come in from my runs with a head that is clear or because I come in from my runs with ideas and energy or because the runs can be humbling, uplifting, or downright awesome, my running is good for me.
Another question I am often asked is, “How does someone become a runner?” The answer there is simple, too: Just like Abraham and Moses and so many before us, all we have to do is take that first courageous step. You can do it!
Rabbi Benjamin David is the rabbi of Adath Emanu-El in Mt Laurel, NJ. His wife Lisa is the associate director of camping for the URJ. They are the parents of Noa, Elijah, and Samuel. Rabbi David is co-founder of the Running Rabbis. He has run 20 half-marathons and 13 marathons with a personal best time of three hours and 23 minutes.