A group of Jewish runners took part in Saturday’s Gaza 5K race, held in a steady rain in Rock Creek Park. The run raised $152,000 to support mental health care for children in Gaza.
At the end, participant Becca AbuRakia-Einhorn was soaked, but satisfied.
“We raised a lot of money for mental health,” she said. Her 13-member group, named Jews for Gaza, participated “to show that there are Jews who are in solidarity with the Palestinians and who support freedom and dignity for both Palestinians and Israelis.”
Like AbuRakia-Einhorn, Sam Jewler, the race’s eighth-place finisher, is a member of If Not Now, a group of young Jews working to end the American Jewish community’s support for Israel’s presence in the West Bank, according to the group’s website.
“It felt good to have a Jewish presence at the race,” said Jewler. “It’s important for Jews to be outspoken for the Palestinians.”
This was Ruti Kadish’s second year running the Gaza 5K, which was first held in Washington in 2012. “I am an Israeli Jew, a Zionist, and we have a responsibility to embody Jewish values,” said Kadish, director of foundation relations for New Israel Fund. “This run is a gesture. It’s the little I can do for the kids in Gaza.”
Group organizer Liya Rechtman, who also is the manager of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, said she thought the group’s participation would bring in $100. But, through online donations, they raised $3,700.
The race drew 550 participants, according to the American Friends of UNRWA (UNRWA USA), the Washington-based nonprofit that sponsored the event. Funds raised will support the community mental health program of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), according to the group’s website.
UNRWA itself is controversial. Israel perceives it as hostile and argues that it helps perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem rather than solving it, according to Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher in No End of Conflict. During the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, Hamas stored weapons in UNRWA facilities and fired at Israel from them.
Russell-Einhorn said she disagrees with UNRWA’s negative reputation. “They are the U.N. department for Palestinian refugees,” she said.
Added Jewler, “What exactly is the problem with humanitarian relief?”
“UNRWA helps refugees on the ground,” Kadish said. “The United Nations does not have a good reputation, not a good history. There have been three wars [between Israel and Hamas] in the last six years. The kids of Gaza deserve better.”
The funds raised by the race will be directed to a summer program offering Gaza children educational, recreational and psychosocial support activities, according to UNRWA USA.
“This money is going to give them summer camp,” Kadish said. “And what kid doesn’t deserve summer camp?”