Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to run with a team of Berman Hebrew Academy students in the Jerusalem Marathon in support of the Shalva organization. Our team included sophomores Shlomit Bernstein, Aliza Goldschlag, Ruthie Vogel, and Eliana Werbel and freshman Judah Guggenheim.
“Shalva is an incredible organization that truly cares for children with special needs, making sure they are fully included in society,” said Guggenheim. “They develop close relationships with the children and their families, allowing them to live their lives feeling happy and at home.”
We were introduced to this amazing organization by Menachem Porat, the head of Torah Mitzion Kollel at Berman. With a goal and a deadline, everyone worked incredibly hard sending emails, training, and raising awareness about Shalva. Together we raised a total of over $20,000 in sponsors, and each of us ran in either the 10K or half marathon.
We trained for months on our own, and one night we decided to run home from school together— and that night happened to be one of the last chances we had to train. A huge snowstorm was about to hit the Northeast; 1,500 flights ended up being canceled on the exact day were supposed to leave.
Luckily, half of our group were able to change their flights from Tuesday to Monday to miss the storm. We arrived in Israel a day earlier than planned, but we were still worried about our friends who were unable to switch their flights. Their plan was to leave Wednesday after the storm. Shlomit Bernstein, scheduled to leave on Wednesday, was very anxious about the storm.
“I started freaking out when I heard the snow was going to fall. All I wanted to do was get to Israel,” she said. “As everyone was getting excited about the snow, I was hoping it would be less and less. I saw the other runners posting pictures in Israel that they had gotten there safely and I felt stuck. In the end, it was perfect timing, because they were able to clear the snow and there was no delay on my flight.”
Bernstein, chaperone Mr. Porat, and two other runners on their flight made to it to Israel and were able to meet up with the other half of our team in Jerusalem. “We thankfully were able to get there with no issue, and when I came back [to Maryland] four days later, most of the snow was gone,” said Bernstein.
Our team visited the Shalva building for a tour of the facility upon our arrival in Israel. Inside the Shalva building, we met workers, volunteers, and the children the organization serves. For me, that was the most uplifting part of the trip.
We watched a video in which Kalman Samuels, the founder of Shalva, shared his reasons for starting the organization. After receiving a faulty vaccination, Malki and Kalman Samuels’ son Yossi was left blind, deaf, and hyperactive. They had a tough time adjusting to their new life with a disabled son, as he needed constant attention. No one should feel alone in such a struggle, they decided. The goal of Shalva is to help other families who find themselves in similar situations.
After the powerful presentation by Kalman Samuels, we met Yossi and his interpreter, which was an amazing experience. After that, we were entertained by the Shalva band, composed of incredibly talented Shalva kids playing their instruments. Meeting these amazing people gave us motivation to run.
Throughout the entire trip, we felt tons of support from family, friends, and teachers who sent texts, emails, and letters. It was really encouraging to know that our community back home was cheering for us. Everyone had an incredible race and felt extremely accomplished afterwards. Eliana Werbel even finished first in her age group for the half marathon.
“I had never really seen Jerusalem before, so running through it for a cause I believe in was exhilarating and exhausting,” said Ruthie Vogel.
We enjoyed an awesome shabbaton where we met other Shalva runners, and on Saturday night we all went to the Kotel. Excited to be part of this mitzvah and helping so many kids, groups of runners from different places formed circles and started singing and dancing.
Although the flight was long, the hills were tough, and the new friends we made will be missed, the entire experience was absolutely worth every amount of effort we put into it. To anyone looking for a special experience, I highly recommend running this race and giving to Shalva. Next year in Jerusalem!
Ellie Guberman is in 10th Grade at the Berman Hebrew Academy, where she is on the Girls Varsity Basketball team and student council. She lives Kemp Mill and goes to KMS, where she involved in Bnei Akiva. She is also on the Greater Washington NCSY chapter board.