Chai Lifeline

Original Article Published On The JNS

When Jonah Adelsberg completed the last of his 10 half-marathons in Miami, he considered his future running options. “I was thinking ‘that’s it,’ then realized I had more gas in the tank,” the 28-year-old Long Island native reports. He decided that he would apply to run in the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon. He was accepted, but the race was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This Sunday, Nov. 7, Adelsberg, along with an estimated 33,000 runners, will finally have his chance to run 26.2 miles through all five boroughs—from Staten Island to Central Park as the race itself celebrates 50 years in the making.

Adelsberg’s journey to this year’s marathon started nearly 20 years ago to the day when, at 8 years old, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgins lymphoma. He recalls, “My battle came with lots of physical and emotional trauma, and my childhood was defined by constant therapies and checkups.”

He also notes the toll his illness took on his sister and feels that having “a real support system for me and for my family really helped get us through it.” He attributes much of this care to Chai Lifeline, which “supported me and my family in every way possible.”

He says that at that time, pediatric cancer wasn’t something really talked about publicly. Chai Lifeline helped his parents find the best doctors and helped rally the community around his family.

Adelsberg, currently in charge of Strategic Partnerships and Marketing at Safe and Sound Studios in Brooklyn, N.Y., has dedicated his marathon run to raise funds for Chai Lifeline, the international health network that provides a network of support services for children and families facing serious illness and other challenges. “You hear stories these days that funds are spread really thin because of COVID-19. There is a real need to help children and family members now,” reports Adelsberg, who is sensitive to the financial burden that having a serious or life-threatening disease can have on a family.

As a child, Adelsberg attended Camp Simcha, Chai Lifeline’s summer program for children with cancer and other serious illnesses. He and his sister also worked at Camp Simcha as counselors.

Over the years, he and his father have run numerous half-marathons with Team Lifeline, Chai Lifeline’s endurance-training program, raising more than $100,000 for the organization. “I was one of the lucky ones to be able to get to this point,” says Adelsberg. “If I’m able-bodied enough to raise money by doing something I love, that is an honor for me to do this.”

Adelsberg says he will be thinking of those kids and his journey as he winds the famed course through the entirety of New York City. “My experience reminds me that it could always be worse, and that’s important to remember others—not just for those of us who’ve fought cancer but for everyone. When I run, it’s not because I love running, even though I know how important exercise is. It’s because I know that I’m doing this because, in life, we are truly warriors and fight whatever struggles are thrown our way.

“That’s why I’ll be there,” he emphasizes, “and that’s what I hope will push me forward towards that finish line.”

‘A way to express my gratitude’

Californian Yitzi Teichman, 24, will also be running in this Sunday’s New York City Marathon, and he, too, will support Chai Lifeline.

After the diagnosis of a brain tumor at the age of 17 and a complex 14-hour surgery, he eventually attended Camp Simcha. After that summer experience, Teichman spent three months in treatment and therapy in Boston, saying that within a year, he was “pretty much back to my pre-cancer self.”

Always an athlete, Teichman viewed running as a way to prove mentally and physically that he was well on the road to a full recovery. In January 2015, he completed a half-marathon in the Miami Marathon with Team Lifeline.

Teichman, an administrator of a 185 resident psychiatric facility in Los Angeles, credits Chai Lifeline with giving him and many others like him the tools and support to get through illness. “When you are diagnosed with a serious disease, you kind of become an outcast or some sort of foreign creature. People treat you differently; it’s as if they’re always scared to say the wrong thing. I know that doesn’t come from a bad place, but it leaves you feeling that much more helpless, and the truth is, then you feel even sicker. With my Chai Lifeline friends and at Camp Simcha, I was treated normally again.”

Teichman notes that much of his motivation to take part in his first full marathon comes from recognizing how blessed he has been with his recovery. “My experience with cancer has exposed me to so many friends who have passed away or lost their ability to walk, and others whose diseases messed up their lives physically and mentally. I feel so lucky to be where I am, and running for this organization is a great way to express my gratitude.”

‘One of the ultimate athletic events’

Rabbi Simcha Scholar, CEO of Chai Lifeline, is proud of Adelsberg, Teichman and everyone connected to the Chai Lifeline family.

“The New York City Marathon represents one of the ultimate athletic events in the world today, and it is heartwarming to see how some of our past Chai Lifeline kids have reached this point and are able not just to run the race, but to dedicate their experience to helping others,” he says. “We are deeply grateful to all those who join and support Team Lifeline, and help enable us to better the lives of countless children and families.”

The 2021 TCS New York City Marathon kicks off at 8 a.m. with the professional wheelchair division, followed by the hand-cycle category and select athletes with disabilities. They are followed by professional women who take off at 8:40 a.m., professional men at 9:05 a.m. and five waves of runners. Participants start in Staten Island, proceed north through Brooklyn and Queens, west across the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan, up to the Bronx and then south into Manhattan and Central Park.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the number of competitors this year has been limited to 33,000, significantly fewer than the 53,639 participants who completed the 2019 race, the last time the marathon took place. That year, participants came from 140 countries, completing the course in an average time of 4:33:52 and raising some $45 million for charity.

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Original Article Published On The JNS

“Without Chai Lifeline and everything they’ve done for me and my family, I don’t know how I would’ve pulled through,” says cancer survivor Pessy Zeiger, 19, of Monsey, N.Y., who plans to bike the 65- to 70-mile route starting and ending off at Camp Simcha, which she refers to as “the happiest place on earth!”

Tour de France, meet the Tour de Simcha and Bike4Chai.

While the 23-day, 2,000-mile Tour de France is an impressive ride geared to the world’s most elite riders, Bike4Chai (for men, July 29) and the Tour de Simcha (Aug. 5), in support of Chai Lifeline, is open to everyone, and each year brings smiles to the faces of riders, spectators, and especially, children and families dealing with serious illness.

Chai Lifeline is an international children’s health support network that provides assistance and year-round services to thousands of families confronting illness, crisis and loss.

“Without Chai Lifeline and everything they’ve done for me and my family, I don’t know how I would’ve pulled through,” says cancer survivor Pessy Zeiger, 19, of Monsey, N.Y., who plans to bike the 65- to 70-mile route starting and ending off at Camp Simcha, which she refers to as “the happiest place on earth!”

She is pleased that she can participate in the bike ride and give back to an organization that was helpful to her and her family.

“I was always athletic and loved riding, but was never majorly into it,” she recounts. “Then I got cancer and was unable to get on a bike for five years. Now that I was part of Chai Lifeline, I heard so much about Tour de Simcha and wanted to do it so badly, but was unable to at that point. Two summers ago, I got invited to share my story at the TDS pasta party the night before the ride, and I made it my goal to join the ride as soon as I would be able to. Now, after four years of intense physical therapy, my muscles in my leg are strong enough, and I’m able to bend my knee enough to get on a bike. I’ve been training for the past few months and am really looking forward to riding!”

Zeiger is still closely connected to the Chai Lifeline family, which she says “got me to meet new friends going through the same situation I was in. We laugh together and share in each other’s triumphs. To this day, these are my closest friends. All the events and things they do throughout the year give me the strength to keep fighting!”

Cancer survivor Pessy Zeiger, 19 of Monsey, N.Y., plans to bike the 65- to 70-mile route starting and ending off at Camp Simcha. Photo by Lenny Groysman.

Pessy will be joined by her father, Mendy Zeiger. He reports that he rides for his health, usually training in Harriman State Park. He then shares how he and his family have personally benefitted from the organization.

“Chai Lifeline is a wonderful organization. I knew about it before and have been riding in their rides since 2012. This year is my seventh or eighth ride. Every year, when they put a child (who had benefited from Chai Lifeline’s kindness) on the dais at the pre-ride pasta loading, it was a tear-jerker. They were real children undergoing suffering. Now, it has a whole different meaning.”

To date, Pessy has raised $5,000 from 66 donors. (Her story can be read here.)

Mendy Zeiger can’t imagine what it would have been like going through his daughter’s cancer treatment without Chai Lifeline. “The hospital stay would have been miserable [otherwise]. They refer you to the top doctors. They have knowledge of what it takes to have a child in the hospital. They offer food, volunteers, guidance, help with insurance, and they understand the amount of work it takes and the logistics required for parents. There are so many pieces … .”

He notes playfully that Pessy is a “much faster” cyclist, and they won’t be riding together so he “won’t hold her back.”

‘To exercise and to raise tzedakah’

Rider Avi Lazarus of Spring Valley, N.Y., retired last year from a career in the retails sales industry. He was quick to mention that he is not the oldest rider, as had been circulated. “I’m not the oldest guy, though I have been in the past,” he reports.

Lazarus says “I ride for a dual purpose—to exercise and to raise tzedakah for a wonderful organization. How can you turn them down?”

Rider Avi Lazarus of Spring Valley, N.Y. Photo by Lenny Groysman.

He rides with his two sons. “They make sure their old man is OK. They give me the incentive to go on—they fill my bottles for me!” In addition to enjoying being with them, he adds, “I have made a lot of friends” along the way.

Bike4Chai kicks off with an opening ceremony on July 28. The 100-mile route will begin in the early hours of July 29 with participants stopping mid-ride for at Camp Simcha (Chai Lifeline’s overnight summer-camp program for children and teens with life-threatening and lifelong illnesses), where they will receive physical and spiritual rejuvenation.

Tour de Simcha kicks off on the morning of Aug. 5 at Camp Simcha with what organizers refer to as “The World’s Greatest Start Line.” The 38- and 65-mile routes also end at Camp Simcha at “The World’s Greatest Finish Line.”

Pessy Zeiger with her father, Mendy Zeiger, at the George Washington Bridge. Photo by Lenny-Groysman.

The races raise millions of dollars each year for Chai Lifeline.

According to Yoel Margolese, director of Bike4Chai, this year’s race “will feature a record number of participants all with one common goal—to be there for children and families. The dedication and commitment of our riders is inspiring and shows our families that they are not alone.”

Rabbi Simcha Scholar, CEO of Chai Lifeline, adds that “riders and their supporters play a critical role in raising funds and awareness for Chai Lifeline’s important work. Every dollar raised enables us to provide year-round support and services to thousands of families confronting illness, crisis and loss, all at no cost to them.”

While all riders and donors come out in support of this important cause, some riders and teams go out of their way to maintain a lighter, more playful spirit. The Knight Riders, comprised of 14 participants, have already raised an impressive $91,248 from 545 donors. The legendary team proudly comes in last every year and includes a four-time cancer survivor amputee who rides a hand bike, a teenager with cerebral palsy, an Ironman competitor who serves as the team motivator, an artist and an army chaplain.

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