Through Marathons and More, Jewish Organizations Make the Miles Matter

Written by Emma Murray on . Posted in Features

Local Jewish organizations provide therapeutic, recreational, emotional, and social services to thousands of people each year. Always on the lookout for ways to keep their efforts funded for maximum impact, organizations no longer rely solely on donations from private funders, banquet dinners, galas, or silent auctions.  In the past decade, many non-profits have started utilizing a grassroots approach to fundraising by involving individuals in their communities.


One of the most popular of these methods is the endurance event: a destination marathon in New York City, Miami, or Jerusalem; a bike ride down the coast of Florida; a hike across the Grand Canyon — even 5K races right here in the Greater Washington and Baltimore area. Participants join teams put together by local organizations and reach out to their networks of friends, family, and community members to raise money that serves the needs of the community.

Many organizations — including Chai Lifeline, Friendship Circle, Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA), Shalva, and Yachad, — are getting in on the grassroots action and seeing benefits to the Jewish community beyond dollars raised.

Friendship Circle, which fosters connections between Jewish children and teens with disabilities and their typically-developing peers, has an active local Team Friendship that participates in the Miami Marathon each year. “The money raised collectively by our team helps Friendship Circle of Maryland create programming for children, teens, and young adults right here in our local community,” said Team Friendship Captain Dana Ginsburg.

Chai Lifeline seeks to empower children with cancer and other chronic diseases or conditions. The organization offers free medical services, transportation, counseling, and trips for these children and their families, in addition to operating a special summer camp, Camp Simcha.

It is clear to Team Lifeline’s marketing director, Tanya Dagan, that the organization is gaining financial support through marathons that it wouldn’t access through other channels, specifically because of the grassroots approach. “By fundraising from all their friends, [participants] collect more than just donating on their own,” she said.

Yachad promotes inclusion for children and adults with disabilities through Shabbatons, Birthright trips to Israel, and many other programs and services.  When raising money for Team Yachad, event participants create a personal fundraising page online to track their goals. “While each runner is responsible for their own fundraising, Team Yachad provides assistance with fundraising ideas and encouragement if needed,” said Ahuva Stern, coordinator of special events for Yachad.

Silver Spring, Maryland, resident Aryeh Lichtman, who ran for Team Yachad in the Miami half-marathon in 2015, explained how this approach to fundraising also spreads awareness of organizations and their missions. “One hundred small donations means 100 more people know about what you’re trying to do and what the organization’s trying to do,” he said.

Ginsburg of Team Friendship agreed. “Individuals tap into their networks and create a web of giving, and the more individuals participating in an event, the more people are giving to Jewish organizations.”

Shalva, a non-denominational Jerusalem-based organization providing free services to children with special needs and their families, first organized a team for the Jerusalem Marathon eight years ago. Team Shalva had only 17 runners that year, and over 400 participants this year, according to Team Shalva’s director, Fran Cohen. The organization also has its own “Climb for Shalva,” an organized summit of Mount Kilimanjaro for the more adventurous souls.

“It can be hard to involve every member of the community with other traditional methods,” said Kira Doar, program manager of JCADA’s teen dating violence prevention initiative. “A 5K is family-friendly and community-wide, where all can engage in positive conversations about healthy relationships.”

The organized events provide a unique opportunity for Jews of different backgrounds to socialize and come together to support a cause they care about. It is often difficult to find endurance events in the general community that are Shabbat-friendly, so organizations cater to all Jewish participants with marathon weekends that include hotel accommodations for Shabbat, inspirational speakers, pasta dinners the night before the run, and end-of-race celebrations everyone can participate in.

The success of the events is in the numbers. Just last year, Team Shalva raised over one million dollars from the Jerusalem Marathon. According to the director of special projects for the Friendship Circle, as much as 40 percent of the annual budget comes endurance events each year. JCADA hopes to raise approximately $60,000 from this year’s annual 5K, money critical to their budget and to keeping their services free of charge, said Hannah Zollman, JCADA director of development and communications.

Before Cohen was director of Team Shalva, she was already a runner. She runs for Team Shalva, she said, because for children with disabilities, the race never really ends. “They show perseverance every single day, they and their families. They don’t get that finish line.”

Someone joins Team Lifeline to be part of something, to lose weight, get fit, and do something for others, said Team Lifeline’s Dagan. These programs allow those who want to set a fitness goal or those who are seasoned athletes to commit to a cause and run for a purpose.

You also don’t have to be a marathon runner or cross-country biker to participate, she said. “Really anyone can do it; from 11 years old to 72 years old, every level of fitness can participate. All you need is sneakers.”

“It’s not running 13 miles — it’s going 13 miles with a whole bunch of people through beautiful, sunny Miami,” said Team Yachad’s Lichtman. “When you’re doing it with everyone, that’s what takes the 13 miles out of the 13 miles.”

“At the beginning of the Jewish New Year, I encourage anyone interested in setting a personal health and fitness goal to join a team today,” said Team Friendship’s Ginsburg.  “I always remind people that giving others a way to give tzedakah is itself important, and not to be shy when asking everyone you know to support your efforts.”

“These organizations need your feet on the ground, literally,” she said.

By Emma Murray

 Emma Murray is originally from Monmouth County, New Jersey, and moved to Kemp Mill, Maryland, in August 2016. She graduated from University of Maryland College Park with her Master of Science in Couple and Family Therapy in May 2017. She is a frequent guest contributor to Kol HaBirah’s Community News and Features sections.