After Rabbi Eli Garfinkel was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, he was luckier than many others.
“I am now completely cured, but it really opened my eyes to what it means to have this disease,” said the religious leader of Temple Beth El of Somerset.
Although the form of cancer he had has a 90 percent cure rate, Garfinkel said, “there was a 10 percent chance of death, and this brush with death gave me a lot of empathy for those diagnosed with other forms of cancer. In a way, cancer was a gift for giving me that sense of empathy.”
That empathy led the 43-year-old rabbi, a former member of the track and cross-country teams at West Lafayette High School in Indiana, to pick up the sport once again.
On June 8, he ran the 5K (3.1 mile) race in the 27th annual George Washington Bridge Run/Walk Challenge for the American Cancer Society.
Garfinkel was one of 2,500 participants.
“It was amazing,” said Garfinkel. “I had two goals: to finish without stopping, and to finish in under 30 minutes. I accomplished both — finishing in 29 minutes and 47 seconds.”
Another source of pride: Congregants donated $1,600 to his team, Balanced Bodies, which placed Garfinkel eighth among all run/walk participants.
“They helped me smash through my American Cancer Society fund-raising goal of $1,000,” said Garfinkel. “The ACS has recognized my team because of their generosity.”
The organization uses the money to fund cancer research, local programs, support, and education. Garfinkel said his bout with cancer also drove home the importance of early detection. He became suspicious following a self-examination, catching his own disease early enough that after surgery at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick he was able to avoid chemotherapy and radiation.
“It’s not only women who have to be aware of their bodies, but men do, too,” he said.
Garfinkel said having taken a more than 20-year hiatus from running — he hasn’t run regularly since his college days — he has now been inspired to continue.
“My next step is a 10K, which is 6.2 miles,” said Garfinkel. “You know I’m not in my 20s anymore so I have to work up slowly. But, God willing, I will be running this again next year.”
Donations can still be made to Garfinkel’s team by going to bit.ly/1pA33NR.