Original Article in The New York Jewish Week:

The power of sharing stories while biking and hiking through Israel to benefit National Ramah Tikvah Network

From Wednesday through Friday during the second week of May, bike riders and hikers on the fourth biennial Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip pedaled and hiked through the 108 degree Western Negev sun and the Judean Hills. These riders and hikers from the United States, Canada, and Israel represented the Ramah Camping Movement’s nine overnight camps and five day camps, and were on their way to raising nearly $470,000 for the National Ramah Tikvah Network of programs for campers with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Participants got to know each other as they ascended hills and descended through valleys, shared snacks and meals, and lounged by the pool after a strenuous day.

Something very special happened Shabbat evening that changed the ride and hike experience for everyone. Following Kabbalat Shabbat services overlooking Southern Jerusalem and a sumptuous Shabbat dinner, riders and hikers attended an evening program to learn more about Tikvah, founded in 1970 and now part of all Ramah camps. As director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network, I provided an overview of our programs and shared stories of my 21 years with Tikvah. Ralph Schwartz and Orlee Krass, fellow bike riders and Ramah Tikvah directors, recounted stories of their Tikvah programs at Ramah Wisconsin and Ramah Poconos. Then, four very special people changed the evening—and the entire trip—for everyone.

One by one, Mark, Ben, Jeff, and Ethan shared heartfelt stories of their children’s participation in Tikvah.

“Adam and Eric both got to go to Israel with Ramah on a Tikvah trip. Eric came back and told the story of visiting an Israeli army base where people with disabilities [through the Special in Uniform Program] serve in the IDF. He was amazed and impressed that people like him get to serve in the Israeli army.”

“We are happy that Jacob got to attend camp for so many years—just like his older and younger brothers. Camp is something all of our children share.”

“Sam has friends he met at camp, and he gets together with two of them regularly during the year.”

“We have two sons in Tikvah. Our younger son, Jacob, is mostly non-verbal. We were excited that, when he became bar mitzvah, we would have three adults for a mizuman [the introductory part of Birkat Hamazon, the grace after meals]. During a Friday night dinner right after camp, when we started singing the first paragraph, Jacob blurted out, ‘Rabotai Nivarech.’ We were so touched and amazed. We asked if he learned it at camp and he said no—he was just surrounded by benching (grace after meals) every meal!”

Up until this informal Shabbat gathering, Mark, Ben, Jeff, and Ethan were just fellow riders, having a good time in a special place as they raised money for a good cause. Now, the ride and hike had new meaning for everyone. As one of our special funders, Jay Ruderman of the Ruderman Family Foundation, often notes, “We are all connected to disability. You can’t sit at a table at a simcha where someone is not closely connected to someone with a disability. And we will all know someone with a disability.”

As the riders and hikers got back on their bikes and put on their hiking shoes for two more days of hot, strenuous riding and hiking in and around Jerusalem, Arad, the Dead Sea, and Masada, we can all proudly say that we are connected to disability. We are so proud that the money raised will help families of children with disabilities benefit from an amazing summer in a Jewish summer camp!

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NEW HAVEN — For New Haven residents Dov and Nechama Langenauer, this Israel trip will be different from all previous trips Dov will be viewing Israel from his bike, and Nechama will be supporting riders on the Wheels of Love International Alyn Charity Bike Ride. The ride will take place November 9 – 13 and will benefit Alyn Hospital, Israel’s premier Pediatric and Adolescence Rehabilitation Center.

The Langenauers, Westville residents for 43 years and grandparents of seven, have a very strong connection to Israel. They have an apartment in Jerusalem, and many family members who live in the Jewish state, including an adult son studying in yeshivah.

“My parents came to Israel after the Holocaust,” notes Nechama, “I was born in Israel and lived there until I was nine. It was always my parents’ dream to go back.”

For Nechama, this trip will be a poignant one. Her father, Rabbi Avraham Eliezri, died in January, 2007 and was buried in Beit Shemesh, and her mother, Shalva Eliezri, died just fifteen months after later. Her three siblings and many other relatives will be in Israel for her mother’s unveiling, which will take place several days following the bike ride.

Dov, a child psychiatrist, who works at Saint Frances Hospital in Hartford, and serves as medical director of the adolescent inpatient unit at Hartford’s Mount Sinai Hospital, playfully explains why he is participating in this years’ Alyn ride. “I love bike riding, and I love Israel. It is a way to combine two of my three loves!” He then remembers that his wife will be joining him as a volunteer and corrects himself, noting that he can combine all three of his loves. Langenauer adds, “It is a chance to help and support a tremendous hospital, devoted to children with severe disabilities.”

With Nechama leaving for Israel ahead of her husband, Dov can focus on training for the ride, and continue getting sponsors. “I am working on building my distance,” he reports.

If the experience of fellow bike rider, Rabbi Joel Levenson of Congregation B’nai Jacob in Woodbridge is informative, perhaps Langenauer should focus on the hills as well. “I rode my bike from Jerusalem to Eilat with the 2004 Hazon/Arava Israel bike ride. On our way out of Jerusalem, we made our way up Nes HeHarim – Miracle of the Mountain. After cycling to the top, we said to each other that the ‘miracle’ was that we made it to the top!” Levenson notes.

Langenauer remains very upbeat and excited. “Riding in Israel always gives one the feeling of being both in the present and the past. Each view, each landmark is a connection to our religious and national past”.

Those wishing to sponsor Dov Langenauer’s ride and support Alyn Hospital may send a check made out to “American Friends of Alyn Hospital” to Dr. Dov Langenauer, 2115 Chapel St., New Haven, CT 06515. For more information, visit:

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