On Sunday, July 9, 11 members of Linden’s Jewish community ranging from teenagers to grandparents took part in the Rugged Maniac race at Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey. The three mile long race has 25 different obstacles, including walking through waist-deep mud, running up and down hills, crossing water by jumping on flotation devices, crawling under barbed wire, climbing over multiple eight-foot-high walls and going down a huge water slide at the end of the course.
The race first caught the community’s attention in 2014 when Evan Leibowitz and Daniel Lipetz competed. Evan and his wife, Janet, vice president of public relations for Anshe Chesed, had done different marathons and mud races before, and found Rugged Maniac to be less challenging and, therefore, more doable for a wider range of people. Once the community saw how much fun Evan and Lipetz had doing the race, others wanted to join them. The group has grown over the years, with the shul’s rabbi and rebbetzin, Rabbi Joshua and Naava Hess, taking part this year. Both the rabbi and rebbetzin like to keep active, with the rebbetzin exercising regularly and the rabbi playing basketball with members of the congregation.
Rabbi Hess participated for the first time this year, and was joined by a six-person group from within the family, including his father-in-law and sister-in-law. This was Naava’s second year participating. When asked about her community’s involvement in the race, she said, “It’s so nice for me to be in a community that takes on a challenge that requires teamwork, and that encourages a healthy and active lifestyle, which is an important Torah value that is frequently overlooked.” Naava sees the community’s involvement as a tradition that will go on for a long time. “I hope that we can continue to run and grow and challenge ourselves for many years to come!”
Friends and family members who do not participate in the race stay on the course’s sidelines to take pictures of the team members along the way and cheer them on. It is great for those doing the race because they end up having the entire experience documented in pictures. Janet said that after the race the participants “give them [the spectators] big muddy hugs so they feel like they are involved as well!” The Leibowitz children have watched their parents participate over the years and cannot wait until they are old enough to join in the fun.
Janet cheered on her husband and friends from the sidelines this year, but loved doing the race for the past two years and hopes to return to the course for next year’s race. She used to use running as training, and loved the sense of accomplishment that came along with completing the race and making it over some of the more challenging hurdles.
The race brings a sense of achdut (unity) to the community and its participants. Those who compete in the race split up into groups based on their athletic levels. They help their teammates along the way and wait for each other at the end of the race to go down the final water slide together.
The people of the Anshe Chesed community are not the only Orthodox participants in the Rugged Maniac races. Janet explained that in past years she has seen other Jews competing as well. She has seen people there in black and white religious garb. The Anshe Chesed team makes their own shirts so that they can find each other along the way and take pictures together.
When asked about the community’s reaction to so much involvement in the race, Janet said, “I think the community is actually really excited to see everyone going. Even if they cannot go on their own, there is a sense of excitement that this is going on in the community.”
By Esti Ness
Esti Ness is a Queens College Junior and a summer intern at The Jewish Link.