In this race, only haters lose

members of congregation ohr kodesh before running the interfaith 5k race
Members of Congregation Ohr Kodesh smile before tackling the Interfaith 5k race. (Photo courtesy of Allison Gordon-Beecher)

Over Labor Day weekend, congregations from
around the DMV got together in a show
of community and support for the annual
Interfaith 5k.

The winner of this year’s race was Ayaan Ahmad,
14, of Clarksburg with a time of 18 minutes and 31.3
seconds. The race took place along the bike and walking
trails at the Soccer Plex in Germantown, and has been
a Labor Day tradition since 2016, after an act of hatred
sparked the need for community members to come
together in solidarity.

During Passover in 2015, Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg was defaced with eleven swastikas and a “KKK” in white paint on the exterior of the building. Teenager Sebastian Espinoza-Carranza was charged and pleaded guilty to the hate crime. But Shaare Torah’s rabbi at the time, Jacob Blumenthal, chose to educate
rather than prosecute.

Shaare Torah member Allison Gordon-Beecher was
an interim director of operations at the time of the
incident. She said the incident triggered a strong desire
to “do something to protect what we have.” Gordon-Beecher said she respected Blumenthal’s
decision. “I just felt we really needed a way to
get different communities together more often,”
she said.

She theorized that people are always trying to
increase their physical activity. “I’ve always been
intimidated to sign up for some of the bigger races,”
she said. A community event might be able to draw
more people out in attendance.

Gordon-Beecher said the Rev. Christine Dunn, then
the minister of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, was
known as an avid runner. Over a phone call, the two
collaborated and created the Interfaith 5k, promoting
an event that was healthy, fun and integrated all at
the same time.

a racer blows a shofar at the beginning of the interfaith 5k
A shofar is sounded at the beginning of the Interfaith 5k, symbolizing different cultures coming together in solidarity against hate. (Photo courtesy of Allison Gordon-Beecher)

The Islamic Society of the Washington Area
joined the planning board to create a balanced,
multifaith and multicultural committee among
Islamic, Jewish and Christian institutions. Since
then, several other institutions have joined as
participating race teams, including the Interfaith
Families Project of Washington, D.C., Baha’i of
Rockville, Congregation Or Chadash of Damascus,
Kehilat Shalom of Gaithersburg and Ohr Kodesh
of Chevy Chase.

“People just responded to the opportunity to
demonstrate that they just don’t believe in that
behavior [antisemitism], that they believe in inclusivity,”
said Gordon-Beecher. The event is held on Labor Day
annually because it is the one day that does not interfere
with religious Sabbath days or county programs.

The Interfaith 5k isn’t just a statement of solidarity,
though. Donations raised from the race benefit two
local charities, Gaithersburg Help and The Colesville
Council of Community Congregations (C-4) Clothes
Closet. Gaithersburg Help provides county residents
with assistance in obtaining essential food and
medicines, while C-4 Clothes Closet provides clothing
to residents in need. The race raised around $2,000
and many items for donation to be split between the
two beneficiaries.

Gordon-Beecher said the Interfaith 5k is an all-inclusive community environment. “We encourage people to come with their religious organization,” she said, but noted that there is a level of expectation that all participants be respectful of other participants and their religions. ”The idea is to come and meet people, get healthy and to just enjoy yourself,” she said.

It was the second most attended race in its history
with over 350 participants. The largest race with 376
runners took place in 2019, just before the pandemic.
The planning board is now looking to build back to
higher attendance. “We’re just thrilled that so many
people want to join us,” Gordon-Beecher said.

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