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Taking the chai road

Local cyclists bike for days to raise money for ALYN Hospital in Israel

 
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JERUSALEM – Eleven riders from Bergen County last week completed a five-day, 300-mile bike ride benefiting the ALYN Pediatric and Adolescent Hospital and Rehabilitation Center here.

The 10th annual Wheels Of Love charity ride attracted 370 international riders, 250 one-day Israeli riders, and 35 volunteers from around the world, making it Israel’s largest charity sporting event. The youngest biker was 15; the oldest was 76.

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Cyclists make the descent from the Golan toward Ein Gev.

“I call it a moving caravan,” joked Cathy Lanyard, executive director of American Friends of ALYN Hospital in Manhattan, who went along. “The logistics of this are quite enormous. It’s a small country and we’re a lot of people.”

Two professional management teams arranged details such as ambulances, bike trucks, and mechanics to accompany each of four riding groups (off-road, on-road, challenge, and touring), accommodations, and meals.

The payoff? The final number is still to be tallied, but Lanyard was hopeful that it will total between the $2 million raised last year and the record-breaking $3 million raised in 2007.

“Cumulatively, we’ve raised $15 million,” said Lanyard. “Each participant commits to raising a minimum of $2,000 in sponsorships, but the average sponsorship is over $5,400.”

The rehab center’s annual operating budget is $10 million, 60 to 70 percent of which is reimbursed by referring health insurance companies. Wheels of Love was conceived as way to make up the shortfall. In its first year, nine Israeli riders contributed $55,000.

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From left are Harman Grossman, Ray Goldberg, Andrew Schiffmiller, and David Mirchin.

Teaneck resident Jeff Erdfarb is one of only two American bikers who have been participating in Wheels of Love for nine years in a row. Not missing an event, even during the time he was undergoing cancer treatment, he has contributed about $50,000 altogether.

“The ride is an exceptional challenge for me physically,” said Erdfarb, who this year battled rain, mud, and sleet during his first off-road day in the Golan Heights. He draws strength, he said, from his annual visits to the hospital. “I see how the lives of the children are improved. I can actually see how the donations are used.”

ALYN is a 200-bed private, non-profit comprehensive rehab center for disabled or injured patients from birth to age 21, of any ethnicity and religion. Many of the inpatients and 10,000 outpatients each year are unable to pay for their care, said Lanyard, yet each has equal access to treatment, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, hydrotherapy, speech and language therapy, computer technology therapy, animal-assisted therapy, and humor therapy.

“Just like every one of the kids at ALYN has a different background and profile, so it is with the riders,” she added. “This year, we had several parent-child teams and three teams of sisters.”

Harman Grossman and Ray Goldberg of Teaneck dubbed themselves Abbas (Fathers) on Bikes. Grossman is a lawyer for Johnson & Johnson cardiology franchise Cordis, which has a research-and-development facility in Israel and was a corporate sponsor of the ride. Many of his coworkers contributed as well.

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Yehuda Blinder exults after climbing to the top of Mevo Hama on Day 4. Lake Kinneret and Tiberias are in the background.

“Between us, Ray and I raised slightly over $23,000, and there is more coming in,” said Grossman. “People disagree passionately about all sorts of things, but this a cause everyone can fully get behind.”

He and fellow Teaneck rider Rhonda Avner discovered that they had gone to camp together as teenagers and hadn’t seen each other since, although they live in the same neighborhood.

Avner, a school nurse at Abraham Joshua Heschel School in Manhattan, sent 130 letters soliciting sponsorships and so far has raised $8,000 for ALYN.

“This was my first time,” said Avner, a marathoner who bought her first bicycle in August. “I’d heard about the ride a couple of years ago and now I’m turning 50, so I decided to do it.”

It was also the first Wheels of Love for Yehuda Blinder, a member of this year’s Team Englewood along with Brian Haim; Blinder’s brother, Yaacov, who lives in Israel; and David Garber, who made aliyah last summer from Englewood. (A three-time Team Englewood participant, Dr. Asher Kornbluth, ran in the New York City Marathon that coincided with Wheels of Love this year, but he dedicated his sponsorship money to ALYN and matched 18 percent of it himself.)

“We raised $30,000, which I believe was the highest amount raised by any team, and Brian did most of that work,” said Blinder, one of 50 participants on the challenge route.

“For me, the nicest thing was the religious and geographic diversity of the group. There were people from all over the U.S. and Canada, South Africa, and Europe. There were people who had very little religious observance and a Lubavitch chasid from Chicago,” said Blinder. “And everybody got along very nicely, during a grueling week of waking up early and riding hard all day.”

Ray Goldberg described the curvy roads of the Galilee region that “resulted in a stretched-out line of cyclists around the bends, just like in Tour de France photos — inspiring to behold, if a lot slower.”

One of his highlights was the 3,000-foot, 12-mile climb up to the Golan Heights, a two-hour stretch. “We passed beautiful evergreens, streams overflowing with recent rain waters, and headed down the mountains to the Jordan River headwaters. The tight cloud cover gave it a private, peaceful feeling.”

Grossman said he was moved by the “staggeringly beautiful scenery” but mostly by the beneficiary children. “On the last day, you have this great sense of achievement, having climbed the mountains into Jerusalem, and then you see these kids who have a daily challenge. They have been dealt a very difficult hand in life, and to be given the opportunity to help them is a wonderful thing.”

 
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A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

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He inspired tens of thousands of people directly — and indirectly he inspired millions more, people who have yet to discover that the spiritual approaches they hold dear were invented and graciously shared by him.

Reb Zalman was prodigiously influential over many decades, but he was not proportionately famous. He was not always given credit for his vast learning or for his astonishing array of contributions. And he was okay with that.

The first time I saw Reb Zalman, he was on the bimah of an auditorium that held 2,000 people. His face beamed love at the congregation. I had been leading another High Holiday service, and I was able to join his congregation for the last few minutes of Rosh Hashanah morning.

 

Paying it forward

Remembering Gabby Reuveni’s generous spirit

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Killed two years ago in Pennsylvania by a driver who swerved onto the shoulder of the road, where she was running, Gabby, who was 20, was “an extremely aware and kind person,” her mother, Jacqueline Reuveni, said. “We’re continuing her legacy.”

The family has undertaken both public and private “acts of kindness,” she said, from endowing scholarships to meeting local families’ medical bills.

According to her father, Michael Reuveni, Gabby — then a student at Washington University in St. Louis and a member of the school’s track team — was a victim of vehicular homicide.

 

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