Adath Emanu-El’s Ben David gets ready for Boston Marathon
While jogging the paths along the Cooper River with his rabbi father, then teenaged Benjamin David’s passions for Judaism and running first fused together. The intersection came anew when the future rabbi of Mount Laurel’s Adath Emanu-El attended rabbinical school in Manhattan. He and classmate Scott Weiner would continue conversations on biblical verse and ethical issues while looping Central Park.
It was during one of these many outings in a city of both extreme wealth and crushing poverty, where the idea of running for Tikkun Olam, “repairing the world,” took root. David, 36, is a founding member of Running Rabbis, an international network of clergy who run marathons while raising money for social causes. When he dons his high-performance shoes for the storied Boston Marathon on Apr. 15, he will have both an ambitious time to beat and a fundraising goal to achieve.
For David, a father of three young children ages five and under who started at Adath in June, the mitzvah component is what validates the many hours he devotes to training.
“The only way to justify giving this much time to something that feels so inherently narcissistic is to make it about helping other people,” said David, whose father, Jerome David, is senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill. “If we’re going to run, for it to be such a major component of who we are, it has to in some way benefit others.”
Added Weiner, the good does not end with raising money and calling attention to societal issues. Running Rabbis has helped people see their congregational leaders as real people with hobbies outside of Talmudic teaching.
“It’s been a great barrier breaker,” said Weiner, senior rabbi of Temple Israel in New Rochelle. “People don’t seem to think of rabbis as athletes. This shows that we can have lives outside of our congregations.”
Since 2005, Running Rabbis has raised more than $200,000 for a variety of charities, including autism and cancer research, ending domestic violence and to help soup kitchens, organizations addressing homelessness as well as those promoting athletics and afterschool activities in New York City.
Their homemade “Running Rabbis shirts,” earned David and Weiner spirited cheers along the five boroughs during their debut year. Early on, they were joined by Michael Friedman, associate rabbi of Central Synagogue in Manhattan.
In 2008, as word had spread in the spiritual world of their mitzvot and athletic prowess, the group attracted enough marathon-running clergy to form a minyan, allowing them to daven together before the New York City marathon.
The largest gathering was a group of 18. Their ranks included a Jewish chaplain from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis as well as a few cantors. The cantors later split off to form their own organization, Cantors Who Care.
Along the way, Running Rabbis have minted a reputation as the official word on running and Jewish spiritually. It’s Facebook page ( http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Running-Rabbis/32331624420?fref=ts) has become a repository of random questions, like whether Gatorade is kosher for Passover, about Jewish charities and even requests to perform weddings during the Las Vegas marathon.
“It’s a fun side piece we didn’t anticipate when we started,” Weiner said.
For the Boston event, the oldest continuously running marathon and one of the most prestigious races worldwide, only David and Weiner will be representing the Running Rabbis. Their goal is to raise $8,800 for the Boston-based Dana Farber Cancer Center.
Given that Boston attracts the best runners worldwide, the rabbinic duo have attacked their training regimen with the intensity of a young student studying for his or her bar/bat mitzvah. David typically is up before dawn to hit the pavement on sleepy Mt. Laurel roads well before most people’s day begins. At this point in training, he and Weiner, who talk regularly about their progress, are averaging over 60 miles per week, aiming to break 70 before the big event.
While fitting in the runs is hard, especially given the demands of his job and family life, David is disciplined. With 13 marathons under his belt, he’s hoping to break 3 hrs., 15 min. during this run, shaving eight minutes off his best run to date.
“When I leave for a run, I’m usually feeling very tired and not at all excited,” he admitted. “But I come back in a totally different place, feeling good and awake. I use it as sort of an emotional release.”
After all, marathons draw easy comparisons to b’nai mitzvah.
“After all the practice and dress rehearsal, the day comes and you only get one shot,” David explained. “The work is over at this point. You’re as prepared as you’re ever going to be. The goal is to really enjoy it and to do what you’ve trained to do instinctively.” .