One year ago, if people had told Rabbi Ely Rosenfeld that in 2013 he would be running the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon, he never would have believed them.
But this past Sunday, not only did he finish the race, with a time of 2 hours, 8 minutes, he simultaneously helped raise money for charity.
Rosenfeld’s personal goal was to raise $13,000, or $1,000 per mile of the 13-mile half-marathon that he ran.
“Thirteen is a big number because that is the bar mitzva age, and a milestone in Judaism,” he said. “That all ties in together, so I thought that would be a great goal.”
To date, he has raised three quarters of that amount.
The money raised will benefit the Jewish Relief Agency, a charity begun in Philadelphia; Rosenfeld, co-director of Chabad Fox Chapel, was instrumental in bringing an arm of the JRA to the Pittsburgh area.
The JRA is a volunteer-run agency to help Jewish families in need, such as with pantry staples or gift cards to grocery stores.
Over the past nine months, Rosenfeld embarked on a personal healthy living journey; running five days a week was a big part of his success.
“Running is a major stress reducer, but it’s hard work,” he said. “Through my running I’ve discovered lessons in life. While running I kept thinking about getting to the end of the hill. I needed to focus on one step at a time, and that made it easier. That was a great lesson for life. You can’t look at the end quickly; you have to look at every challenge one step at a time, and if you continue to push through it, you will get to the top.”
A major part of the Chabad model is fundraising, he said. “I’m constantly fundraising, always asking people to go beyond their comfort zone, and to ask them to give more than they typically would have given in the past. I need to do something that would inspire others to do that,” he said of the motivation to run.
“If I could get out there and do something beyond myself, I can ask others to go beyond themselves. It’s an opportunity to push hard, to essentially highlight what the JRA is doing and encourage others to give of themselves more,” he added.
During his training, Rosenfeld could be seen running all over Fox Chapel. He received positive comments during that time, joking about his hand in breaking the stereotypes of a rabbi only studying and learning.
“I think they are very proud of their rabbi; taking care of yourself in a physical way is a good thing,” Rosenfeld said.
“We live and breathe with cell phones; we are on an electronic leash,” he continued. “When I’m running I’m not on the phone, it’s peaceful and no one can find me. It’s the most amazing hour of the day.”
Rosenfeld is not the only running rabbi around. The Running Rabbis began with a pair of rabbis in New York who entered marathons for charity in 2005; today, they are a group of interfaith clergy that continues to run (or walk) for a cause.
Would Rosenfeld do it again next year? Definitely, though he’d like to get more people on board and form a team.
“I had a blast; it was exhilarating. Honestly, it wasn’t nearly as hard as I imagined it. It was a great atmosphere; really everything couldn’t have worked out more perfectly.”
Want to help?
Visit chabadfoxchapel.com/rabbiruns to donate and/or to track the progress of the fundraiser.
(Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)