by Aviva Engel, Director of Communications
Alongside schoolwork, extra-curricular activities and gearing up for final Quebec ministerial exams, 10 Hebrew Academy High School students have recently added fundraising, long-distance running and strength training to their daily commitments. Yehuda Bessner, Nathan Benizri, Shalom Zobin, Elie Benizri, Joelle Cons, Sarah Azoulay, Leah Elkaim, Ariella Abenhaim, Arielle Rohr and Leora Feld have undertaken the latest endeavours in anticipation of the Seventh International Jerusalem Winner Marathon on March 17 where they will be running in support of Shalva, The Israel Association for Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Israel. Together with almost 500 international Team Shalva runners, the Grade 10 students will be among 29,500 annual participants of one of Israel’s largest marathons.
Shalva is a non-denominational organization that provides programming and high quality care to children with disabilities while empowering their families and advocating for social inclusion. After learning about the organization from Team Shalva Marathon Director Fran Cohen at a school assembly, students were eager to get onboard and lend their support.
“On a daily basis, Shalva gives children with disabilities hope that they will one day be the best that they can be and reach their fullest potential despite all the obstacles they face,” said Leora Feld. “I find Shalva’s mission to be beautiful and incredibly inspiring which is why I wanted to be a part of it.”
Classmate Elie Benizri was equally inspired by Shalva’s mandate and objectives. “Our funds will be helping their National Children’s Center which will help thousands more than before. [Shalva] is an exceptionally hard working, heart warming organization and I feel the right thing to do is to help them by giving whatever we can whether it’s our time (which we in Montreal cannot give since the organization is located abroad) or our money to help fund the organization.”
In addition to prepping themselves physically to run either the 5K or 10K race, Team Shalva participants must each raise $2800; money that goes directly to the center. All expenses related to the three-day trip – including airfare, meals, accommodations and a weekend reunion in Jerusalem – are covered by corporate sponsors. At press time, the Hebrew Academy students had raised over $36,000 with more donations expected.
Fran Cohen has been running in the Jerusalem Marathon for Team Shalva since 2010 and believes the trip can be life-changing for many, particularly young adults.
“Running with Team Shalva is one of the most special educational experiences a teenager can have. It offers the opportunity to persevere through fundraising and training – both not simple tasks! – giving a true feeling of accomplishment. The three days in Jerusalem… [give] participants a chance to meet fellow Jewish students from around the world while in Shalva’s inclusive environment. Most important is what the students take home. After three days of inclusion and inspiration, my hope is for them to return inspired and motivated to create similar settings of inclusion at home in Montreal,” said Cohen, who learned of Shalva from her daughter Tania Cohen-Levenstein, a Hebrew Academy alumna and former Team Shalva Marathon Director.
Hebrew Academy is the first and only Montreal team to participate in the Jerusalem Marathon as part of Team Shalva and the initiative has been a source of excitement and school pride for students and staff.
“I am inspired and proud of our students participating in the 2017 Jerusalem Marathon as part of Team Shalva,” said Executive Director Linda Lehrer. “Their passion and commitment to this wonderful cause are exemplary. I wish them much success in this endeavor. ”
High School Principal Dr. Laura Segall, who will be chaperoning the group, is similarly moved by the students’ devotion to the cause.
“I am extremely proud of these young trailblazers. From the time of that first assembly [where they learned about the organization] their dedication to and passion for Shalva has never wavered. They believed they could make a difference and they truly are!”