Jerusalem’s hills are breathtaking, which eighteen North Shore Hebrew Academy High Cchool students now know better than most after experiencing them during Jerusalem’s annual marathon.
This March, NSHAHS sent their eighth group of runners to Israel as part of a fundraiser for Shalva, an Israeli organization for children with special needs.
“This is an incredible organization, and supporting it presents a wonderful opportunity to come to Israel with the students,” said Debra Gold, NSHAHS’s former Director of Student Life, who has organized the trip for NSHAHS each year. “Shalva touches the hearts of so many.”
Shalva creates a therapeutic and supportive setting for children with disabilities and their families. They serve more than 2,000 children with special needs, and 10,000 family members. Malki and Kalman Samuels founded the organization in 1990 to help their son, Yossi, and others, with serious disabilities.
Caring for their child with severe disabilities was isolating and heartbreaking, and the Samuels family vowed to find a way to ensure children with disabilities get the best treatment while supporting the families and caregivers.
It’s not about your finish time
More than 1,500 purple-shirted runners from around the world support Shalva in the Jerusalem race each year, turning the streets of the capital into a sea of purple joggers. The day of the race, participants joined Shalva children for an 800-meter community fun run to celebrate the weekend. They then proceeded to the “start” line of the marathon.
“I always tell the students, this race isn’t about beating a certain time,” said Ms. Gold. “It’s about being a part of something — feeling your endorphins pumping as you round a corner in the Old City, seeing NSHA alumni cheering us on, running the streets of Jerusalem alongside thousands of people who came from all over Israel and the world, and of course, supporting a fantastic organization.”
Shalva’s marathon weekend extravaganza is one of their major fundraisers. Each runner commits to raising at least $3,400 for the organization, though some NSHA students have raised over $10,000 in the past.
Eight years ago, NSHAHS was among the first schools to bring students on an organized trip to Jerusalem for the race weekend, and now it is a tradition among many of the yeshivot in the New York area. Students fly in on Thursday morning, spend a day getting to know Shalva kids, run their race on Friday morning, enjoy a meaningful Shabbat and melaveh malka with Shalva, and head home on Sunday night.
“You don’t even have time for jet lag,” said Ms. Gold, who worked at NSHA for eighteen years. Prior to joining the administration team, Ms. Gold was a physical education teacher, and she continues to be a lifelong runner.
Repeat runners show up for Shalva
“The first time I ran for Shalva in the Jerusalem Marathon, I knew I needed to participate again,” said NSHAHS alumna Rachel Ashourzadeh, who traveled to Israel to support Shalva with NSHAHS for the second time this year. “There is no other organization in the entire world that does what this institution does. The love, care, and dedication for all the children of Shalva is clearly shown the moment you walk into the building.” Rachel plans to run the race for Shalva next year as well.
“The race was an experience I will never forget,” added Jolie, a 10th grader. “It was really an honor to represent Shalva. I hope everyone can experience this feeling of making a difference, and seeing the joy on the faces of the kids from Shalva.”
NSHAHS’s long-standing commitment to Shalva means they feel like “mishpacha,” or family, said Fran Cohen, the Shalva coordinator for race participants. “This experience reinforces the importance of empathy, understanding, and inclusiveness towards people with disabilities,” she said. She praised the “unwavering commitment” of NSHAHS students, alumni, and chaperons who have made a long-term commitment to take part in the race each year. “The children at Shalva have already started their countdown to March 8th, 2024, when they will once again reunite with Team NSHAHS,” she said.
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