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Young leader on run to aid those in need
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Young leader on run to aid those in need

Lee Murnick took part in Berlin Half Marathon ‘to make a difference’

Lee Murnick, fourth from left, and her teammates gather before the Berlin Half Marathon.
Lee Murnick, fourth from left, and her teammates gather before the Berlin Half Marathon.

Lee Murnick may live in Manhattan, but she is a firmly committed leader of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ community.

On April 19, she and Ariel Nelson of Livingston received the Julius and Bessie Cohn Young Leadership Award for demonstrating “growth and leadership in service to federation and the Greater MetroWest Jewish community with additional opportunities for leadership development.”

As campaign chair of the federation’s Young Leadership Division and a member of the Jewish Federations of North America’s National Young Leadership Cabinet, she traveled to Berlin for the cabinet’s annual study mission, which began April 4, continuing on to Israel.

Before the cabinet members headed to Europe, Samara Tesler, National Young Leadership associate director at JFNA, discovered that Berlin’s Half Marathon was to take place April 3.

“Samara said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to run in the Half Marathon?’ And I said, ‘Yes, as long as we can do it as a fund-raiser. My knees don’t run for fun at that distance,” Murnick told NJ Jewish News in an April 20 phone interview. “I felt it was important to tie in Holocaust survivors with able-bodied young Jews.”

After she and 14 other cabinet members committed to running in the Half Marathon, they posted announcements of their intentions on their Facebook pages.

“We got people to sign up to make donations,” Murnick said, with a goal of $18,000. Nearly $12,500 has been pledged so far for the fund drive, which will close on May 12, Israel Independence Day.

The two programs Murnick sought to raise money for are run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. One is Accessible Health Zone, an organization that aids Israelis with disabilities and special needs. “The goal is to make them more active, which will keep them healthier in body and mind,” Murnick said. “Those who are impaired or blind receive training to be more active instead of sitting at home and possibly getting depressed.”

During a recent visit to Rishon Letzion — one of the GMW federation’s Partnership2Gether communities — Murnick and other mission members stopped at its Accessible Health Zone program. “We played wheelchair basketball with an Israeli athlete who has competed in the Paralympics,” she said. 

Another program the racers supported is Witness Theatre, which helps Holocaust survivors preserve their stories in dramatic fashion “so that we never forget,” said Murnick.

The theater began in Tel Aviv in 2012 and has spread to New York, Florida, and Cologne, Germany. It involves young people — usually high school students — who meet with survivors and transform their stories into plays which they perform onstage. The process, Murnick said, “develops an intergenerational bond.” 

Before the race, Murnick ordered T-shirts for herself and her teammates that bore a quotation from Anne Frank: “How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” The message, said Murnick, “seemed very fitting for us young, free, able-bodied Jews running through the streets of Berlin. It was pretty powerful.”

Although Murnick said she does not consider herself a runner, “I do run to raise money for charitable programs.” She competed in the 2009 New York City Marathon for Fred’s Team, an effort to raise research funds for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. 

“I finished the New York Marathon in five hours, 42 minutes — I fell apart,” she said. “But I ran the Berlin Half Marathon in two hours, 15 minutes. That was much more respectable.”

Although Murnick lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, she directs much of her philanthropic efforts to the Greater MetroWest community. “I grew up here in Newark and Short Hills, and I work in Roseland,” she said. She is a principal at Murnick Property Group, a family owned and operated real estate company. Her mother, Maxine Murnick of Short Hills, is chair of the GMW federation’s UJA Campaign.

For the moment, Lee Murnick may have stopped running, but she is not standing still. She is currently a fellow in the Wexner Heritage Program, an experience she described as “learning about leadership in a Jewish context — what is our history and where is our future.”

Through all her participation in Jewish community leadership efforts, she said, “I try to make a difference.”

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