Eleven years ago, Rabbi Eli Glaser was severely overweight. A year and a half ago, he had never run farther than a couple miles. Later this month, he will run the 26.2-mile Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
“This is my birthday present to myself,” he said. “As long as I finish it.”
Rabbi Glaser, who just turned 50, had always been active, playing pickup basketball and competitive ultimate Frisbee. Running, he said though, was never something he thought of doing for fun. Now, he spends a good portion of every week running around his Park Heights neighborhood and through downtown, covering distances that stretch from Little Italy to the Inner Harbor to Fort McHenry.
“I learned to love it,” said Rabbi Glaser. “For me, I think the thing that I enjoy the most, besides just the physical benefit of running, is while I’m running it’s a great way for me just to take a break from work.”
For Rabbi Glaser, that work is, in many ways, his life. Since he and his wife, Zakah Glaser, dropped a collective 220 pounds, they have made it their mission to help others re-evaluate and adjust their own lifestyles in order to become healthier.
In 2006, the couple founded Soveya, a nonprofit organization that helps families and individuals achieve weight loss and a healthier life through educational programs and nutrition coaching. Experienced teachers, they began the program, they said, when they realized that there was no real weight-loss or nutrition organization designed specifically for the Jewish community.
In 1993, when the couple married, both were at a healthy weight. Soon after they had their oldest daughter, though, the pounds started adding up.
For Rabbi Glaser, the path to finally losing this weight was long and winding. He tried quick-fix diets and other weight-loss programs, but nothing stuck.
He realized he needed to make a lifestyle change.
“It wasn’t about dieting,” he said, “it was just about changing my relationship with food.”
Zakah Glaser had begun working on losing weight about a year earlier, and Rabbi Glaser then realized it was his time.
The organization’s mission is named for the Hebrew word meaning “to be satisfied,” because, Rabbi Glaser said, being satisfied is an integral part in achieving healthy eating habits.
“It says in the Torah, ‘you shall eat, you shall be satisfied and you shall bless God and thank God,’” he said. “And that’s the key thing, to be satisfied.”
Finding a way to be satisfied, he said, is crucial for overeaters and those struggling with their weight to finally gain control over their eating habits.
This concept really resonated with David Dannenbaum, a Soveya client who sought Rabbi Glaser out after hearing about his unique aproach to weight loss and his personal success. Although he was only looking to lose the extra 30 to 40 pounds he had put on since becoming a father, the Soveya message struck home.
“It’s really about changing our orientation,” said Dannenbaum. For him, Rabbi Glaser’s own personal experience with losing weight offered a basic path to follow.
“I think he’s an incredibly inspiring person,” said Dannenbaum. “It’s not about the fact that he lost the weight, it’s about the sustained effort and awareness.”
Today, the organization has visited schools all over the country, teaching children about healthy eating habits, has produced a cookbook that is in its fifth printing and distributes a weekly newsletter that reaches schools as far away as Australia.
In some ways, the marathon will be a celebration of how far the rabbi has come. Years ago, while he was living in Boston with his family, Boston Marathon competitors would run past their house, and he said he would look at them and think about how great it was that they were running a marathon.
On Oct. 27, he will experience it.
All of the money Rabbi Glaser raises for the Marine Corps Marathon will go to Soveya to advance the organization’s cause and extend its outreach and message.
Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org