Nice Jewish Runners offers community, support in 19 cities around the world post-Oct. 7

The concept started with an Instagram post as Jewish runners looked for connection and quickly took off 

When Joey Abrams finished the New York City Marathon in 2021, he didn’t know that injuries would make that his final run for a while. Even more unexpected to Abrams, 26, was that the impetus to finally put sneakers to pavement again would be the most devastating massacre of Jews in generations — and his subsequent desire to connect with New York’s Jewish community.

Every Friday at 7:30 a.m., Abrams meets a dozen or so runners on the corner of 90th Street and Fifth Avenue to embark on a three-and-a-half-mile loop around Central Park. The group, which calls itself Nice Jewish Runners (NJR), ends each run with a quick bite at Cafe Aronne on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, then heads out by 9 to log on to work. Then, Abrams counts the days until the next NJR run. “On Monday, I’m like ‘OK, four more days til NJR.’” (The Manhattan chapter also meets on Monday evenings, but Abrams’ work schedule doesn’t allow him to make those runs). 

Abrams, an investment banker who grew up in a small town outside of Deal, N.J., and now resides in Manhattan, told eJewishPhilanthropy that NJR “just appeared” in a post as he scrolled through Instagram in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, a period of time he looks back on as “trying to find community.” 

“Oct. 7 shook me to the core, like it did for all of us,” he continued, “My whole life being Jewish was about [family], but I can’t believe it took me 26 years to find how special a big Jewish community is.”

While Abrams didn’t join the club until February, NJR was formed days after Oct. 7 as a way to help the group’s founder, Ezra Feig, cope with the trauma in Israel.

An avid runner, Feig, 32, recalled “how lonely it felt” participating in running clubs after Oct. 7. “There was silence from a lot of people in the running community, and a lot of my friends felt the same.”

“So I just wrote on Instagram, ‘How about we do a run together?’ And that turned into our own running club with its own Instagram page.”

When not running, Feig works as Care365 Homecare’s chief marketing officer. He estimates that there are now close to 3,000 runners in dozens of NJR chapters, but he doesn’t take full credit for the group’s rapid growth.

Since the group’s first run on Oct. 12 in Central Park, which 40 people participated in, NJR has expanded to groups in 19 cities worldwide — including Tel Aviv and Toronto. 

“The community was very involved with starting this up from the beginning,” he said, “from a member creating our logo to people participating in an online poll to [express interest and later] come up with the group name… it was very obvious that this was something a lot of people needed at the time.”  

Since Oct. 7 and Israel’s subsequent war with Hamas, antisemitism has soared globally. At the start of 2024, the Anti-Defamation League recorded more than 3,200 antisemitic incidents around the U.S. since the start of the war. 

“That was a concern that came up when we initially started,” Feig told eJP. “Do we want to be running as a group of Jewish people? Do we want to be a target? Should we be afraid? Months later, we have sold more than 250 sweatshirts with our logo, which has the Star of David. People love to wear it… this club has helped a lot of us go from afraid to being proud Jews.” 

Feig, a marathon runner, described the runs as “easy and social.” 

“We encourage runners to carry a conversation,” he said. Those conversations started out focused on Israel and the rise of antisemitism, but unlike other running groups that formed in the wake of Oct. 7 that are centered on Israel’s war, such as Run For Their Lives, which is designed to call for the release of the Israelis held captive by Hamas through running and walking while carrying photos of the hostages, “it’s not something that always comes up when we run together,” Feig said, “we just talk about life.” 

“We have Jews from every kind of background — Reform, secular, Modern Orthodox, Orthodox, Hasidic, however people identify, everyone shows up,” Feig continued. “And [non-Jewish] allies too.” 

Zoe Wolmark, 26, was one of the people who responded to Feig’s Instagram poll. “I didn’t know him, but I was like, ‘He’s a Jewish runner, that’s more than enough.’” Months later, Wolmark is the Manhattan team’s captain. She started running in 2020, amid an entirely different crisis. 

“I was quarantined during COVID with my family in Chicago, and got inspiration from my dad, who is a runner,” Wolmark, who lives on the Upper West Side and works in advertising, said. She quickly fell in love with the activity and ran her first marathon in 2021 in Miami. But after Oct. 7, “I was having a hard time with running,” she recalled.

“I felt like ‘what is the point?’ My sister and her family live in Israel and were in bomb shelters, her kids couldn’t go to school and it felt weird for me to care about running a race,” Wolmark said. “But NJR, through community, brought my love for running back. They showed me that you can do both — you can support Israel and still enjoy running. NJR brought me out of that rut.” 

For the most part, all NJR runs are free of charge. In the fall, the group hosted a charity run — raising $20,000 for Magen David Adom. It also hosts several social events for both runners and non-runners alike, including a Hanukkah party last December and in March, a Shabbat dinner at the Moise Safra Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

At the Shabbat dinner, Israeli-American rapper Kosha Dillz spoke — or rather, rapped — about the impact that group has had on him. NJR has garnered support from non-Jews, as well, with Rob Simmelkjaer, the CEO of New York Road Runners, speaking at the dinner and joking with guests that he dressed in running gear because he didn’t know how people dress forShabbat.  

With the support of NJR, Wolmark completed the New York City Marathon in November, donning an Israeli flag on her back. “That was a scary time to run around New York City with an Israeli flag,” she said, “but it was incredible.”