The cold, dark, quiet of 6:15 a.m. is nachas time for Rabbi Benjamin David. While other Jews are wrapping their tefillin, David is lacing his sneakers. Six days a week, David runs the roads of South Jersey for at least 45 minutes, often longer. “A free hour is never going to fall into your lap, so you have to make time to run,” David says. “But carving out the time to run makes me much more productive with the rest of my busy life.”
What keeps David so busy: three kids under the age of 5, a wife and being the head rabbi at Mt. Laurel’s Adath Emanu-El, a position he’s held since June 2012. “Not only is my schedule busy, but it is also unpredictable,” David explains. “If a member of the congregation needs me, I go.”
Running is in the David family, as is the rabbinate. David’s father, Rabbi Jerome David of Cherry Hill’s Temple Emanuel, also runs. “Temple Emanuel and the JCC used to be adjacent to Cooper River, so my dad would ‘run the river,’ as we say. He was one of my inspirations,” David says.
David ran the river and kept on going. A member of track and field teams since his days at Beck Middle School, David transitioned to marathon running while he was in rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. In 2003, he ran his first marathon. He finished the 26 miles in 4 hours and 25 minutes. Since then, David has run 13 marathons. His best time: 3 hours, 23 minutes.
In 2005, David co-founded Running Rabbis, which is now a national group. Running Rabbis encourages clergy — Jewish and not — and their congregants to run. There is a tikkun olam incentive. “With each marathon, we choose a different charity for which we raise money,” David explains. “Running for a cause bigger than yourself is a big motivator. It’s a reason to keeping going, keep pushing, keep running.”
Making a new year resolution to start running? David offers tips that work for him. “Quantify your goals,” David suggests. “Keep track of the number of miles that you run and the time in which you do that. There are free, online logs at the Nike and Runner’s World websites.”
Practice helps. “A lot of people start, then stop running when it gets difficult and they get discouraged, because it seems like running is something they should be able to do,” David says. “But I had to educate myself about marathon running, even though I’ve been running since middle school. So, with information and practice, running gets easier.”
But nothing is easy at the 23-mile mark. That’s when David focuses on words and phrases. A few of his favorite motivational mantras: courage, today, no excuse. And, yes, he gets biblical. “I use phrases from Psalms, like ‘God gives strength to his people,’ and ‘Be strong and of courage.’”
So helpful are those words that Running Rabbis posts motivational messages on its Facebook page to inspire and encourage runners. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/pages/The-Running-Rabbis/32331624420 .