“They say the color orange represents passion and excitement. The color orange, which represents these two vital feelings, is also the color of the Team Yachad running shirts. Passion...excitement… Yachad. I’m going to make an assumption that the color choice wasn’t an accident. This past Sunday, 77 people got together. Seventy-four of them ran 13.1 miles. (And three ran 26.2.) If you calculate the math, that’s more than a thousand miles run, skipped, walked, crawled...all in order to shout to the world that ‘I BELIEVE IN INCLUSION.’
Not only is the belief in inclusion important. I have never, in my entire life, seen so much passion and excitement from anyone. I have never seen people willing to get out of their comfort zone to shout out to the world that Yachad is an incredible organization. I have never seen anything so special and amazing. I have never been more inspired in my life. All represented by the color orange? Pretty awesome, no?" -Eliana Shields, Baltimore
Members of Team Yachad proudly display their medals, post-race.
Let’s hear it for Team Yachad! Seventy-seven runners from all over North America and from as far away as Israel gathered in Miami last Sunday for the ING Miami Marathon and Half-Marathon. The runners were not only engaging in strenuous exercise, but were raising money for Yachad, the Orthodox Union’s program which provides unique social, educational and recreational programs for individuals with learning, developmental and physical disabilities.
This was the second consecutive year Team Yachad participated in the event, and the growth in number of runners and funds raised was most impressive. Last year, 30 participants raised $25,000; this year, the 77 runners produced more than $85,000.
Yachad is the flagship program of the OU’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD). The runners competed under the slogan, “We’re Running Hand in Hand,” to emphasize their message of reaching out to those with disabilities to be included in the greater Jewish community and mainstream activities they otherwise may not have had a chance to participate in, such as a half or full marathon.
The race also served as a kickoff for Yachad’s Second Annual NAIM | North American Inclusion Month, in which communities across North America are staging special events to get out the message of Inclusion, a message that was reinforced by each of the Team Yachad competitors.
“Our participation in the marathon is fast becoming one of the annual Yachad program highlights,” declared Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, National Director of Yachad/NJCD. “Yachad staff, high school participants, Yachad members and community members all coming together b’Yachad to run for themselves, to run for each other and run for Yachad. There is amazing energy as members of the Yachad family from all over the country come together to raise much needed scholarship funds to help more children and adults with disabilities experience Inclusive summer programs, Israel experiences, communal participation, and so much more."
From left to right: Michelle Prus, of Brooklyn; Melanie Miller, of Hollywood, FL; and Faigy Burekhovich, of Brooklyn.
Each runner was charged with raising $3,000 in his or her community. In exchange, they received round-trip air transportation to Miami, hotel accommodations, guaranteed race admission and payment of all associated fees as well as Shabbat meals and pre-and-post race parties. The team stayed at the Newport Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, where they were joined for Shabbat by the South Florida Yachad Chapter, whose members cheered the runners as they passed the finish line.
Besides a local delegation, the runners came from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, Michigan, California, Colorado, Indiana, Canada – and yes, Israel. One does not run 13.1 miles (a few competitors ran the full marathon) without preparation, and Yachad provided the New Yorkers with certified training coaches. Jasmine Graham, CEO of Pace for Success, Inc. and Melissa Dain, who accompanied Ms. Graham, provided customized plans for each runner they worked with.
Besides the South Florida Yachad members, other Yachad members were involved, including Chana Esther Sabbagh (Brooklyn, NY) and David Orlansky (New York, NY) who were members of the logistical team. Aaron Winston, a Yachad member from Dallas, ran the half- marathon. Moussia Bronstein, Yachad member from South Florida was pushed in a racing stroller by Rebecca Schrag, Assistant Program Coordinator, Scarsdale, NY, and also by Shlomo Frishman, a high school student from Chicago.
The very same Shlomo Frishman raised the most money, more than $5,800. Elan Baskir of Boston finished first among the Team Yachad runners and 870th overall (out of more than 15,000 half-marathoners). “As I crossed the finish line, I had tears in my eyes and waved to all the Yachad supporters – an unmatched experience,” Elan said. “Everyone should run a marathon.” Next year, he will either run the full marathon or push someone for the full marathon in the race. “Can’t wait!” he said.
From left: Elan Baskir, of Boston; and Ethan Cooper, of Memphis, TN, celebrate after the race.
Speaking of the full marathon, Adam Rosen of Boynton Beach, FL, Yisrael Gold of Miami and Michael Sutton of Brooklyn, NY did just that, completing the full 26.2 mile course.
Yachad staff members participated as well, including Eli Hagler, Jillian Schutkin and Chani Herrmann, together with Laya Pelzner and Penny Pazornick from OU Synagogue Services, and Shoshana Cohen from OU Kosher.
Aviyah Rosenwasser, a Chicago high school student who is actively involved with the local Yachad chapter, explained why she undertook the exertion of training and running such a long distance. “Runners, especially long-distance runners, have a lot of time to think about why they run,” she said. “At some point you start to question yourself, why are you running? And you wonder if you should continue to get out there! When that happened to me, whether during training or during the marathon itself, the same answer kept popping up in my head --YACHAD!! YACHAD!! YACHAD!! To me, there is no greater motivation than this. As you run you think about all the benefits that come out of just running these 13.1 miles. Yachad, an organization dedicated to enhancing the life opportunities of individuals with disabilities. to me is one of the most incredible organizations in the world, and as you cross that finish line, you have this self- satisfaction, and you think to yourself - I DID IT!! and I did it for Yachad. In my opinion, there is no greater way to give back to an organization you love.”
Ilan Levine, a high school senior from Columbus, Ohio ran the half marathon as his first Yachad event. "Every runner that morning crossed the finish line for a reason, but our goal stretched way past that last mile. Running for Yachad allowed me to realize the potential in each and every human being and that you do not necessarily need to be athletic or brilliant to make a big impact. This was a true and unique experience that will continue to grow on me for a long, long time."
Yachad Assistant Director Eli Hagler was involved in race preparations from beginning to end, in addition to running the half-marathon. He declared, “It was an amazing experience and opportunity to be able to run the ING Marathon and Half Marathon with 76 other members of Team Yachad. We spent a wonderful Shabbat together with South Florida Yachad and that continued through the marathon as they all came to cheer on our runners crossing the finish line. From the beginning planning stages through the last departure flight taking off, it was truly a wonderful experience working with the Yachad team putting this event together. We look forward to next year’s race on January 29, 2012.”
Eitan Katlowitz, of Brooklyn, exults as he completes the race.
To find out more about North America Inclusion Month, please visit: NAIM
To listen to the OU2011 one day workshop on inclusion, please visit:
Who Will Your Child Be? Challenges and Opportunities Posed by the Child with Special Needs