Runners go the distance for Holocaust survivors

Runners go the distance for Holocaust survivors

At Sunday’s marathon, racing to raise funds for ‘Blue Card’ team

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Stephen Weiss, left — with his brother Dan at the Queens half-marathon last July — said that helping Holocaust survivors “is an important issue in our family.” Photo courtesy Stephen Weiss
Stephen Weiss, left — with his brother Dan at the Queens half-marathon last July — said that helping Holocaust survivors “is an important issue in our family.” Photo courtesy Stephen Weiss

This weekend, Stephen Weiss, Bonnie Knecht, and Michael LaSusa are ready to go the distance for Holocaust survivors.

All three are running in the ING New York City Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 7, joining 61 others from around the country and around the world who are running on behalf of an organization that assists needy Holocaust survivors.

Each of those runners has pledged to raise at least $2,500 for The Blue Card, or just a little under $100 a mile for each of the race’s 26.2 miles.

None of the three had ever heard of The Blue Card before deciding to run on behalf of the organization. Established by the Jewish community in Germany in the early 1930s to help Jews already being affected by Nazi persecution, The Blue Card was reestablished in the United States in 1939 to aid refugees resettling in America. After the Holocaust, the organization expanded its mission to help survivors from all countries; it serves about 1,700 clients each year.

The Blue Card is one of dozens of charities represented in the marathon. Non-elite runners who don’t get a coveted spot in the race through the annual lottery are able to run if they join a charity team and raise $2,500.

More than 7,000 runners follow this route to the starting line every year.

Other Jewish philanthropies fielding “teams” include Ohel Children’s Home and Family Service, the Friendship Circle, and the Denver-based National Jewish Health Hospital, but the Blue Card is the only one in the marathon’s “gold/silver/and bronze categories,” which earns it more space on the website.

Weiss, 35, of South Orange runs with his older brother, a Connecticut resident. Weiss won a place in the lottery, but after his brother chose to run for The Blue Card, he knew he would have to run for the charity as well.

“This is an important issue in our family,” he said. “My grandfather escaped from Poland in 1939 just a few months before Hitler came in. He rescued his sister, but was not able to rescue the rest of his family. He suffered very much through his life for not rescuing the rest of the family.”

Weiss’ son carries the memory of the grandfather’s brother, Wolf, in his middle name.

The Blue Card’s icon, which includes a Jewish star, caught Knecht’s eye as she searched for a charity two years ago.

Knecht did not lose family members in the Holocaust: Her grandparents arrived safely in the United States in the 1920s and ’30s. And yet, as a Jew, she said, “it’s important to me personally; it’s part of my fiber.”

Knecht, who lives in of Middletown, ran for the Central Park Conservancy the first time she ran in the NYC marathon, but wanted to find something with more personal meaning the second time around.

“The thing I love now is that it’s win-win,” said Knecht, 50, who has already run two marathons. “While I get to accomplish a personal goal, I’m also raising money.”

The Nov. 7 marathon in New York City will be the eighth for LaSusa of Chester, his third in New York City. Although he is not Jewish and has no personal connection to the Shoa, LaSusa said, he is an educator with an interest in Holocaust and genocide studies.

“I do not mean to sound dramatic, but I am a human being who feels empathy for those who have suffered unspeakable acts,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I think that the Holocaust was an obviously transformational event in human history that provokes an intense and visceral emotional response in any person who knows anything of substance about it.

“I can also say that I do not believe that there has ever been a time that I have heard a survivor speak when I did not cry.”

Adam Cohen of Tenafly will also be running on The Blue Card team.

The Blue Card is establishing partnership with other city marathons, including the Miami and Atlanta ING marathons. About 40,000 people run in the New York City Marathon each year.

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