With the sun rising behind the King Dairy Barn, affectionately called the Mooseum, upwards of 400 Montgomery County residents of several faiths gathered Monday at Central Park Circle in Boyds for the inaugural Montgomery County Interfaith 5K.
The event was organized by Shaare Torah synagogue in Gaithersburg, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Darnestown and the Islamic Society of the Washington Area in Silver Spring. The proceeds from the event, as well as a race day food drive, benefited Gaithersburg Help, a nonprofit that provides emergency relief to Gaithersburg residents. The food drive netted 514 pounds of nonperishables.
The winner of the 5K race was Samuel Bornhorst, 39, of Rockville, who attends Prince of Peace. He finished the race in 19 minutes and 11 seconds.
“Here in Montgomery County in particular, we’re fortunate to live in a very diverse community,” said Christian Michel from Prince of Peace, who hosted the day’s events. “So the idea of this event is to celebrate that diversity, our differences and in particular our religious differences.”
While the crowd celebrated religious diversity, the impetus for the event was religious intolerance.
Last September, a Gaithersburg teenager pleaded guilty to spray-painting swastikas, “KKK” and other graffiti on Shaare Torah’s building. The incident was treated as a hate crime by police, and Sebastian Espinoza-Carranza, the only one of the defendants who was not a minor, admitted to “having animosity” toward the Jewish community.
Espinoza-Carranza later apologized to Shaare Torah Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal and synagogue officials.
“We were so disappointed that there were these bad feelings among the youngsters of our community,” said Allison Gordon-Beecher, a member at Shaare Torah. “They were from Gaithersburg. They were from our own backyard.”
After the incident, Gordon-Beecher began discussing the 5K with the Islamic Society and Prince of Peace, whose pastor, Christine Dunn, is an avid runner.
“We gain more by being together than apart,” said Riyad Alie, a board member at the Islamic Society.
For Alie, the race was about more than just celebrating religious diversity. It was an opportunity to give his children a positive experience with other spiritual communities.
He recalled conversations with his children about religion in the rhetoric of this year’s presidential campaigns. He said most people are more open-minded than headlines suggest.
“[My children] see that there are people of every religious persuasion, Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, and they don’t hate us,” said Alie. “I think 99 percent of people are very good and caring and their hearts are open.”
Blumenthal, who a year ago was speaking in court about Espinoza-Carranza, saw the day’s event as emblematic of the community’s future.
“We’re all neighbors here in Montgomery County and for us to be with each other, talk with each other, run and walk together, it’s a model for what we want our community to be about,” Blumenthal said.
Asked how he felt after running the 5K, Blumenthal said: “I would call myself the walking rabbi, but nonetheless it feels good. It’s a beautiful day… and it was good exercise too, for body and soul.” n