And now, in honor of the High Holy Days, an update on the Runnin' Rabbi himself, Yehuda Ferris, who, along with his wife Miriam, is co-director of Chabad of the East Bay in Berkeley.
Chabad is the center of local Hassidic life, which means there's always a lot of singing, dancing, joking and, above all, smiling.
Hassidim are followers of a rabbi who lived almost 300 years ago known as the Ba'al Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name).
He taught that a personal relationship with God is more important than book learning. He called that relationship "cleaving to God;" and for his followers, it's an ecstatic, joyful experience.
"Even something as simple as tying your shoelaces or changing your baby's diaper can bring you closer to God, if it's done in the right spirit," says Ferris. "If you stop and think about all the blessings The Lord has given us, it's just overwhelming. All you can do is laugh and sing and dance with gratitude and joy."
So what's Ferris' latest hobby? Running Marathons. He began with his first half-Marathon (13.1 miles) at the San Francisco Marathon on July 27.
"My son-in-law goaded me into it. He said, 'Old man, you're going to run the Marathon' and made me buy a pair of good running shoes. When I put them on I started to feel like a big shot. Ninety percent of running is looking the part.
"Then he bought me an Assics shirt that wicks away the sweat and some spandex pants that looked obscene. So I got myself some running pants that were loose and breathable."
His plan was to get up early each morning and run progressively longer distances for the next three months.
"I started telling people I was in training, but I really wasn't. So one day my wife kicked me out of bed and said, "Go run!" So I jumped into Lake Temescal for a mikvah (ritual bath) – and began training in earnest."
The Marathon was held on a Sunday; so rather than drive on the Sabbath, Ferris and his congregation checked in en masse at the San Francisco Holiday Inn on Friday night and held Sabbath services there.
He was up bright and early on Sunday for his starting time, 5:30 a.m. He was running to raise money for San Francisco Team Friendship, a cause dear to his heart that matches special needs kids with non-disabled teenagers with only one goal in mind: friendship.
"They have everything – therapists, educational pedagogues – but they don't have as many friends as they would like," he says. "So we provide the teens to give them the friendship and socialization that every person craves."
Ferris wore his running gear, plus his yarmulke and tallit (prayer shawl), of course.
"My favorite moment was when another runner jogged over to me and said, 'Excuse me, are you Jewish?'" he laughs.
But he was far from the most picturesque runner in the race.
"I saw a fireman in full uniform and a guy who juggled all the way, but this wasn't Bay To Breakers. People were wearing clothes."
He didn't win the race, of course, but he did finish.
"I got the Crown of a Good Name," he says. "I got street cred."
To find out more about Team Friendship, visit sf.teamfriendship.org.