Monday, January 17, 2011

Jewish Runner?

I drove into Brooklyn yesterday for a photo shoot for Runner’s World magazine yesterday. No I am not going to be one of those guys with great abs on the cover. JRunners, a group for Jewish runners, with which I am affiliated, is going to be featured in an April issue dealing with running and religion.

I found myself wondering, what exact makes me a Jewish runner? Is it the fact that I answer questions with more questions? Is it simply the fact that I am Jewish and I run?

The photo shoot took place in a shul (synagogue). The goal, I suppose, was that there should be something noticeably Jewish in the picture. I guess that taking a picture in a neutral local wouldn’t go with the vibe of the article. Still, it seemed a little artificial. When we run together, we meet in Prospect Park, not in the Ocean Parkway Jewish Center. We drink Gatorade during long runs, not Manichevitz. I’ve never eaten a deli sandwich during a run. Moving beyond the clichés, what makes me a Jewish runner?

While I was waiting for the photo shoot to begin, I was listening to the radio. NPR had a story on a new production of “Romeo and Juliet”. This production is in Yiddish. The actors are all former Satmar Chassidim who broke away from the demanding religious strictures of their community. Perhaps, this was part of my answer. Are these Jewish actors? Is their cultural connection enough to make them Jewish? Is it their language? Their common upbringing? Certainly their former community would not view what they are doing as Jewish.

I had to leave the shoot early. I had to get to prayers, which as a mourner, I need to lead. A friend found me a place to pray which was very different from my usual place of prayer. Was this the answer to my elusive question? Just as there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are, I believe, no atheists in a marathon. Who hasn’t prayed late in a marathon? Looking around the room after prayers I felt very different from those around me. Yet we had all prayed together. There was beauty in this, and perhaps, a bit of an answer.

After prayers I went for a run in Prospect Park. As I ran, I noticed many Jewish runners. I, on the other hand, wore nothing that marked me as Jewish. I ran with both happiness and sadness at my anonymity. At that moment, was I a Jewish runner?

I suspect that some religious approaches might suggest that one should use running to bring non-believers into the fold. I have no interest in converting runners into Jews. I would like to convert Jews into runners.

A student once wrote his teacher complaining that now that he had left the house of study to work, he felt like he was living a double life. The teacher wrote back that it depends on how the student approaches work. One who adds a second room to the house in which he lives, is not living a double life. One who has two houses is living a double life. Is running separate from my Judaism? A time when I can blend in, while looking like everyone else? Or is it another place where I find and serve G-d, praying with my feet, as it were?

I look forward to the article and the attention seeking side of me, would love to be in a picture. You’ll know it’s me. I’ll be the one with the contemplative look on my face.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:


  1. Terrific post. Worthy of it's own magaize piece.
    PS Running with a deli sandwich.....sounds like a great idea for an age group award

  2. This is a great question at the center of this piece. It comes up for writers, musicians, politicians. I appreciate the fodder for my contemplation (that's often a look on my face too).

    I'm curious about the place you prayed in that was different. I'm guessing it wasn't by accident that details were left out of the paragraph describing that episode.

    I struggle with this question you raise. I was once sitting in a Barnes and Noble cafe, wearing my kippa. Someone came up to me and said with great sympathy, "Terrible, what happened in Auschwitz." While I agreed with the sentiment, since then I wear a cap in Barnes and Noble.

    I like your analogy of the house and rooms. I think it may not always be an extension or a separate house, there's middle ground: rentals, time shares, and more...

    Great blog, great post, great life!