And They’re Off

Upcoming Jerusalem Marathon Attracts Charity Team Participants
by Sharon Udasin

For Moshe Deutsch, Chai Lifeline has been part of his life since he was a child – when his then three-year-old brother was diagnosed with cancer 13 years ago, the organization was immediately there to help his family, which he described as a “God send.” So when he heard a marathon was coming to Jerusalem on March 25, it was clear to Deutsch – who had already run for Chai Lifeline three times in Miami – that a team needed to be established here.

“They were a light unto our life,” said Deutsch, who has done two half marathons and one full one in Miami in the past three years. “[My brother] went to summer camp for a year; there were retreats, they helped with everything. I always looked up to the counselors, and I vowed to do the same. At my time I became a counselor – this will be my fifth summer in camp.”

Upon landing in Israel for a long visit this year, the next step was obvious to him.

“I came here, stepped off a plane, got in a cab, and driving by Binyanei Hauma [ICC Convention Center] I saw a big advertisement for the Jerusalem Marathon,” Deutsch explained, thinking back to his runs with the Miami Chai Lifeline team. “I saw the sign and said to myself, why don’t we do that here?”

From there, he spoke with a few of his friends who have worked at Chai Lifeline’s camp – Camp Simcha – and suggested that they form a team here. Chai Lifeline has been organizing race teams for about the past five years, Deutsch said, and each participant has the opportunity to raise funds for children with cancer while running. In addition to the Jerusalem Marathon, in the next year Team Lifeline is organizing groups for America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride in Lake Tahoe, the ING New York City Marathon, the Las Vegas Marathon and the ING Miami Marathon.

After sending an e-mail to the Chai Lifeline leadership with his idea, Deustch said he got the following response: “Sure let’s do it. We’ll give you everything you need and set up a website. And that was it.”

Deutsch and his friends set up a meeting with Ari Dembitzer and Meir Goodman from Chaiyanu, Chai Lifeline’s Israeli branch, where Jeremy Finn from Chai Lifeline UK also happened to be in the office arranging a Chanukah toy drive. After the meeting, Deutsch and Finn ended up co-directors for the Jerusalem Marathon’s Team Lifeline.

“He came into the meeting and the rest is history,” Deutsch said, noting that while most of their recruitment efforts were conducted through word of mouth, he and Finn also sent out word to all Chai Lifeline volunteers in Israel, camp veterans and yeshiva students.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Anglo website Janglo put up an ad for the effort, Deutsch added.

Suddenly, the team already had accrued 60 members. “I was hoping for 20,” Deutsch said. “The first year in America they had only 24.”

The team has already raised over $90,000 in total, according to Deutsch. Participants have three options for fundraising – those living here who just want to run need to raise at least $1,000; those who want to stay in the race hotel for two nights, the Inbal in Jerusalem, need to raise $1,800; and those who would like to include their flights to Israel in the total need to raise $4,500, which includes three nights at the Inbal.

“Most people have raised way above their goals,” Deutsch said, noting that one participant who was only required to raise $1,000 has already raised $5,000.

The money will be used to send Israeli children with cancer to Camp Simcha in the summer, and any leftover funds will be sent directly to programming in Israel.

“I never thought of actually running, but there was the Jerusalem Marathon and I’m volunteer for Chai Lifeline, so I decide why not, there’s an opportunity to run now,” said Rivka Amar, a Team Lifeline participant who has been training with four other women from the team. “I would never do a half marathon if it wasn’t for them.”

Amar has been volunteering in hospitals for Chai Lifeline and many of her friends have attended Camp Simcha. Thus far, she has raised $750, but is confident that she will get to $1,000 before race day.

“It’s great that we’re with a group – we support each other,” she said.

In addition to Team Lifeline, several other nonprofit and volunteer organizations are sponsoring teams for the first Jerusalem Marathon. Team SHALVA will be raising money for SHALVA: The Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel, which provides services for special needs children and their families, including after school activities, weekend retreats and summer camps. SHALVA offers programs that provide “much needed relief and support” to children, their parents and their siblings, helping them “live more normative lives and reach maximum potentials,” with “seven-day-a-week guidance and respite for the entire family,” according to events manager, Tania Cohen. During the marathon, a special 400-meter dash supports SHALVA and among the runners will be special needs children, their families, soldiers and celebrities.

“Marathons are up and coming as a sport, with new ones popping up in almost every city, and we viewed this as a lovely opportunity for raising critically needed funds for the children and families we serve in addition to raising awareness to disability issues,” Cohen said. “Team SHALVA participated in last year’s half marathon and 10k race, and was privileged to introduce the first 400 meter race dedicated to the children of SHALVA. Mayor Barkat ran along with us!”

SHALVA, which means “peace of mind” or “serenity,” has been working with Nefesh B’Nefesh to access as many interested runners as possible, and has also been “pouring a lot of energy into Facebook,” according to Cohen. Also, she feels that the team is able to attract support because it offers “an entire package – not just showing up on race day and being handed a T-shirt,” but instead providing an ability to interact with children, train with teammates and stay together in the same hotel. Thus far, this year’s effort has raised approximately $100,000, all of which will go to rehabiliation therapies and life-skil programs, Cohen explained.

Meanwhile, another marathon team will support the project Someone to Run With, founded by Hebrew University students Bar Pereg and Elad Shapira and with the support of student organization Ruach Chadasha. The group is raising funds for three charities in their run: Beit Hagalgalim, which provides support to children and adults with diseases such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy; IsrALS, which promotes research on and supports patients struggling with ALS; and Aviv, an organization that advocates for the rights of Holocaust survivors.

But no matter what organization they represent, participants agree that running for such important causes makes it possible for them to finish any given race.

“We hear it over and over that on cold winter days, were it not for SHALVA’s children with special needs and their deserving families, many of them would not have put in the effort,” Cohen said. “ For many, making it about ‘others’ gives the extra ‘push’ during some of the longer stretches of the course and propels them over the finish line!”

Members of Team Lifeline agreed, and were glad to have a cause to run for.

“The truth is every time I keep in mind a sick kid that I know and we run for them. We keep in mind that we want to run for them and that they’re going to be better,” Amar said, “Every time it’s hard for me, I think about this kid who’s actually suffering from pain and not from running. It gives me motivation.”
Deutsch added that he probably would never even think of doing a race without the inspiration from something so special to him.

“If I didn’t have that I wouldn’t be able to finish,” Deutsch said.

“I remember running my full marathon and they always say you’re going to hit a runner’s wall and sit down. I didn’t hit that wall, but every mile there was a different kid I had in my mind.”

“What they go through is tenfold what you’re experiencing now when you’re running.”

The International Jerusalem Marathon will take place for the first time in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2011.