Atlanta Rabbis Join Colleagues for Florida Rabbi Run

Atlanta Rabbis Join Colleagues for Florida Rabbi Run

Two Atlanta rabbis trained to get in shape and inspire others.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

The 2022 RabbisCanRun participants.
The 2022 RabbisCanRun participants.

Rabbi Ilan D. Feldman and Rabbi Menachem Deutsch proved recently that they really are rabbis who can run. The two Orthodox rabbis made the commitment to include regular exercise in their already full weekly schedules in order to join RabbisCanRun, a group of 30 rabbis from around the world who gathered on Jan. 11 in Sunrise, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale, to promote the benefits of exercise and inspire members of their families, congregations, organizations and communities.

RabbisCanRun raised funds for Olami, a global program for university students and young professional to strengthen their Judaism through classes, discussions, trips, networking and social events. Olami also organizes world-wide career-building internships and informative trips.

Feldman, the second-oldest runner in the group, went on a two-week pre-run diet of fruit and vegetables and lost seven pounds. “The idea is to beat yourself, not somebody else. It was a run, not a competitive race,” he explained.

True to the event’s spirit, medals were given out before the race. “We all won awards for doing what it took to exceed our own perceived limitations,” he said. But that doesn’t mean that a friendly challenge was off the table. Here’s an excerpt from a letter Feldman sent to his congregants:

“I will slowly be building my endurance in order to reach my training goal. It will require time, commitment and consistent running. However, I am ready for the challenge and believe that Jewish outreach and good health are worth the effort. Rabbi Menachem Deutsch, currently a major leader in Olami, will be the only other Atlantan running in the race, and I intend to outpace him.”

Rabbi Ilan D. Feldman finishes the RabbisCanRun race.

Deutsch notes, “Actually, it was Rabbi Feldman’s idea for us to participate in the run. I heard him speak after Shabbos services one day, and I was inspired. I don’t consider myself to be very competitive,” Deutsch laughs, “but, just to be honest about the results, my friend completed a 5K run and I finished a 10K!”

Above all, Feldman stressed the run’s spiritual component: “I like to run by myself in a natural outdoor setting. I am immersed in G-d’s creations and I am always enlivened and awed by the experience. In both a physical and a spiritual sense, the world is my training ground. “

Preceding the run, all participants followed a personal running guide for three months of exercise. A commitment was made to run at least twice a week to build strength and endurance, starting from one’s “base line.”

“The objective was to learn how, through discipline and planning, we could accomplish goals we otherwise would not have achieved,” Feldman explained. “I injured my knee when I participated in the Jerusalem marathon in 2017, and it was painful to run. I saw the 2022 RabbisCanRun as an opportunity to commit to a restorative program, and I sought advice from the run organizer, who himself is a serious runner. He, in turn, consulted with an orthopedist and an Olympic running coach. The coach claims that he loves to work with Nigerians and rabbis! I sent the coach x-rays of my knee and was given a special protocol to follow. Finally, I was advised to train, then run as long as I had no pain. If I had pain, I was instructed to stop.”

Deutsch notes that, unlike Feldman, he had never been an adult runner, yet he successfully completed the 10K. He was buoyed by the spirit and camaraderie of the group, wryly noting that “Even though some of the runners wore blue T-shirts among the majority of us in gray [alluding to the colors of Civil War uniforms], we were united because we had a common goal. We were all there to challenge ourselves and improve our health. At the same time, we raised money for a great cause. Many of us in the race were outside of our spiritual as well as physical comfort zones,” Deutsch continued. “Our differences in religious practice and in athletic ability and endurance were completely irrelevant.”

When Olami sought a warm-weather location for a January run, Top Run Race, a professional management firm that organizes races around the country, arranged the event in Fort Lauderdale. “They were very accommodating and worked within our budget,” Feldman said. “The Fort Lauderdale Runners Club was very supportive with water and directing runners on the track, and all RabbisCanRun participants successfully completed their run.”

Feldman and Deutsch both managed to exceed their individual fundraising goals, and Olami surpassed its goal of raising $150,000.

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