On Sunday, April 23, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore held Run for Remembrance, their first 5K walk and run since the COVID-19 pandemic. While past 5Ks held by the JCC have focused on Jewish holidays, this one had a far more serious theme: honoring fallen Israel Defense Forces soldiers and victims of terrorism as part of Yom HaZikaron.
The JCC partnered with Charm City Run, Baltimore Friends of the IDF and the Shinshinim program of the Jewish Agency for Israel to make Run for Remembrance happen. Every runner received a numbered marathon bib, which, in addition to the number of the racer, also displayed the name and picture of a deceased soldier who the participant was running in the name of. Also present on each of these bibs was a QR code that people could scan with their phones to read a short biography of the soldier on the bib.
“With every step you take, you are connected to the memory of an Israeli soldier,” said Rabbi Ariel Greenberg Platt, director of JCC’s J Life engagement platform, in a speech she gave to the participants before the race started. “You now carry a soldier who will forever be a part of you after today and will live in your memory.”
Justin Dominick, the JCC’s senior director of fitness and the race director for the Run for Remembrance, said that the JCC first got the idea for this run when another JCC branch held a similar event.
“The Beachwood Mandel JCC [of Cleveland, Ohio] had done a run based around honoring soldiers,” he said. “And we got the idea to hold a similar event as part of our Israel at 75 programming. We reached out to the other JCC to get their permission and cultivated the idea from there.”
Dominick was also the race director for the JCC’s previous 5K races, which were usually held in the winter to coincide with Chanukah. Run for Remembrance is the JCC’s first 5K to be hosted in the spring, as well as their first time doing a 5K in honor of fallen soldiers.
“I’m a runner,” Dominick said. “And many other people who work at the JCC are also runners. So there’s a lot of enthusiasm for planning these kinds of events, and it’s a unique responsibility to have.”
Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day, has very close ties to Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day, as Yom HaZikaron is always the day before Yom Ha’atzmaut. While Yom Ha’atzmaut honors Israel’s declaring independence, Yom HaZikaron honors the soldiers who perished in order to secure that independence, as well as those that have passed in the years since.
After the 5K was over, runners congregated under a tent to participate in a Yom HaZikaron ceremony to honor the fallen soldiers they had been racing for, as well as all the soldiers and terrorism victims who did not have anyone to speak for them. This included observing the traditional Yom HaZikaron siren. To mark the start of the day, a siren is sounded across Israel on the night before and the morning of Yom HaZikaron. When they hear the siren, everyone in Israel stops what they are doing to observe a moment of silence.
The Shinshinim — Israeli teens who come to Baltimore for a year of service — who participated in the 5K led the ceremony, joining everyone in prayer. The IDF’s official website notes that similar remembrance ceremonies occur all over Israel on Yom HaZikaron, with the official State Memorial Ceremony taking place at the Western Wall.
The 5K’s website described the event as “a moving experience, in more ways than one.”
“We are thrilled to be able to do something that moves our bodies, our minds and our souls,” said Melissa Seltzer, JCC’s senior director of arts and culture.
The funds raised from the 5K will be used to support the JCC’s slate of programming and to plan for more potential 5Ks in the future.
“Remembering is our essence,” Platt said at the race, addressing the participants. “Remember what we continue to live and fight for every day.”