As I brace myself for the final year of my 40s, I am reflecting on whether I’m experiencing a mid-life crisis.  I’m not shopping for an expensive sports car, staying out late in trendy clubs or considering trading in my wife for a younger model (she can’t get rid of me that easily)!  I have developed a new addiction however- to running.  I’m often out the door on the trails before 5:30 am; I’m preparing for my second half-marathon later this year; and I’m thinking about celebrating my 50th by running the 2019 New York Marathon.

As I’ve quickly discovered, one could do multiple 5k or 10k races virtually every weekend.  There are an overwhelming number of races available, and my time and dollars available for these races are limited.  As a result, I’ve learned to be somewhat selective in which ones I choose to enter. This Saturday, October 13, I will be celebrating my 49th birthday by running in the Aga Khan Foundation 5k.

For those unfamiliar with the Aga Khan Foundation, its work reflects the social conscience of the Ismaili Muslim community.  The Foundation brings together human, financial and technical resources to address some of the challenges faced by the poorest and most marginalized communities in the world.  Special emphasis is placed on investing in human potential, expanding opportunity and improving the overall quality of life, especially for women and girls. 

So how did I, director of a Jewish advocacy organization, come to prioritize running in a race supporting a Muslim foundation?  My organization, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) is a pioneer in strengthening leader-to-leader relationships between members of the Muslim and Jewish communities across the United States.  Through the national and regional Muslim-Jewish Advisory Councils (MJACs), we have begun to do exactly that.

Our Dallas MJAC, co-chaired by Mark Zilbermann and Mohamed Elibiary has been active for just over a year.  During that time we have met with the FBI, U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere, and State legislators from both sides of the aisle.  We advocate for combating antisemitism and Islamophobia; promoting the free practice of religion; and advocating for greater reporting and enforcement of hate crimes.  Our elected officials and law enforcement are receptive to our message, and excited that such a group is active in our community.

We were gratified that over 150 people from both communities came together last May to break the Ramadan fast at Temple Emanu-el enjoying buffets that featured both kosher and hallal delicacies. Community members got to know one another, engaged in meaningful conversations and enjoyed the warm and welcoming environment.

Nationally, MJAC just celebrated its first major legislative achievement, as President Trump signed into law the Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act.  This bill, which expanded protections established in the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996, was adopted unanimously by the Senate and by an overwhelming margin in the House. Muslim and Jewish leaders, all members of the national Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, visited our legislators in Washington, DC for a day of meetings that included a major focus on this important legislation.

When we speak with our Muslim friends, we consistently find a wealth of common ground, mutual concerns, and shared values.  As diverse communities of American Jews and American Muslims, of course we have our differences, and the road of partnership is not without its obstacles. However, we must not focus only on differences at the expense of the many reasons we share to come together.

That is why I am running in the Aga Khan Foundation 5k in Frisco in support of the good friends I have made in their community.  What do I want for my birthday this year?  To see some of my friends in the Jewish community join me for that run.  I invite you to go to and register.

Joel Schwitzer is the American Jewish Committee’s Dallas Regional Director.

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