Ten North American rabbis are set to participate in the Jerusalem Marathon this Friday, to raise money for Israeli at-risk youth.
This is the second consecutive year American rabbis will run the 10-km. race of the annual marathon, via a program called RabbisCanRun launched by not-for-profit organization Kav L’Noar across North America.
The organization helps youth at risk in Israel and their families build the relationships and skills they need to secure a more positive future.
The participating rabbis have thus far raised $78,000 for the organization.
Aside from supporting and raising awareness about a worthy cause, the initiative also seeks to encourage community rabbis to improve their health.
Program coordinator and social worker Rabbi Meir Kaniel, from New Jersey, says the activity is a unique one for rabbis, and thus has managed to garner significant attention.
“I don’t know any rabbis that are running marathons – most rabbis I know are out of shape and probably not as healthy as they should be,” Kaniel told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“So when you say rabbis are running a marathon, people look at you like you’re crazy, and that’s part of what helped us draw attention to our campaign.”
He started running some five years ago, when he was suffering from back and neck pains.
“My rabbi encouraged me to start running, and in eight months I went from not being able to run around the block to being able to run for an hourand- a-half. For me it was a tremendous accomplishment,” he told the Post.
Another participant, Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch of the Mekor Habracha Congregation in Philadelphia, was diagnosed last year with Young-onset Parkinson’s disease last year, a longterm degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system.
Physical exercise and intense fitness is the recommended treatment to help slow the progression of this condition.
Hirsch was already spending many hours involved in physical therapy and strength training on a weekly basis, when he heard about the RabbisCanRun program, and decided to join.
Through the RabbisCanRun campaign, he is increasing awareness about the potential benefits of vigorous exercise to help others like him who are coping with Parkinson’s.
Kaniel remarked that the rabbis have been amazed at how well received their endeavor was by their congregations, inspiring members not only to be health conscious but to take up other challenges they may not have previously considered.
“People see things in black and white and see a rabbi and spirituality in the shul, and sport and running in the park,” said Kaniel. “So here we put the shul in the park and made people think – it makes a statement that Hashem is everywhere,” he continued, highlighting a connection between physical development and spiritual growth.
“Running can be used to come closer to Hashem,” he asserted.
Kaniel sees running as a powerful tool for personal growth.
“It gives you confidence and capacity to do other things that are difficult in life.... You understand that you are only using a small part of what you can do, and a whole world opens up,” he reflected.