This past August, Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch, a young rabbi at Congregation Mekor Habracha (Philadelphia, PA), bravely shared with his community that he has been diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease, a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system.
Physical exercise and intense fitness is the recommended treatment to help slow the progression of this condition. Rabbi Hirsch was already spending many hours involved in physical therapy and strength training on a weekly basis, when he heard about the RabbisCanRun program, a special project launched by Kav L’Noar across North America.
This initiative was created to enable community rabbis to improve their health, while also helping to support children and families in Israel through Kav L’Noar. As a not-for-profit organization based in Jerusalem, Kav L’Noar helps youth at risk in Israel and their families build the relationships and skills they need to secure a more positive future, with a particular focus on English-speaking immigrants.
Despite the difficult challenge that comes with fighting his disease, Rabbi Hirsch has an incredible attitude. He is focused on staying positive and being grateful for the good that is in his life and for continuing to serve as the spiritual leader of his flourishing community.
As Rabbi Hirsch says, “while Parkinson’s disease will affect my life in many ways, it will never define me. I feel privileged to serve our amazing, flourishing Mekor community, and with the help and love of G-d, I will continue to believe, as Michael J. Fox expressed with the title of his bestselling memoir, that for everyone and everything I am blessed with in my life, I consider myself to be a “Lucky Man.”
Besides his desire to help children and families in Israel, Rabbi Hirsch is publicizing his campaign to raise awareness for Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. Through the RabbisCanRun campaign he hopes to increase awareness about the potential benefits of vigorous exercise to help others like him who are coping with this serious life challenge. Rabbi Hirsch’s members are definitely listening, as he has already reached his fundraising goal after just a few days after launching his campaign. His incredible success is only a testimony to his sincerity and incredible ability to inspire others towards doing chesed.
Ten community rabbis have signed up for the 2018 RabbisCanRun program, and many have others expressed interest. Each participant will receive a free trip to Israel and the opportunity to run their first 10k race in the Jerusalem Marathon on March 9th. They each benefit from personalized training and receive the necessary support to successfully complete the race and share a special Shabbat together in Israel.
Most of the participants, like Hirsch, are unlikely runners, explained Meir Kaniel, Kav L’Noar’s North American representative and program coordinator. Only one of the participants has running experience and is training for the Jerusalem half marathon.
“This program is geared for all types of rabbis who are interested in getting in shape,” said Kaniel, who is based in Passaic, NJ, where he also operates running programs for Orthodox youth. “We know the rabbis are extremely busy and not necessarily in the position to take on additional responsibilities. The program is specifically designed to be as simple and as practical as possible to make it easier for the Rabbis to accept the challenge. At the same time we created the initiative in a way where it is both exciting and very powerful so that the Rabbis could not resist this special opportunity.”
In 2017, during its first year, RabbisCanRun started with modest goals. Three rabbis were recruited to take the challenge. They took the program very seriously, finished the marathon, and continue to run today, said Kaniel.
Dani Yemini, CEO of Kav L’Noar, sees this program as especially significant as it meets two very different but important goals. “Firstly, it promotes healthy living, not just among rabbis in North America, but using them as great examples for their communities,” Yemini stressed. “The rabbis and so many of their congregants lead hectic and busy lives, it is important to stay healthy and in good shape so they can serve Jewish life in North America for many years to come.”
Dani further explains how the RabbisCanRun program is making a big impact. “These Rabbis are helping families in or approaching crisis by raising funds for our organization. Their efforts are ensuring that young people, including many immigrants, who may be struggling with learning disabilities, difficult family relationships, social challenges, self-esteem issues, depression, abuse, anxiety, and trauma among other issues, receive the help they desperately need. We offer a range of treatment options in English, French and Hebrew for teens and their parents including individual counselling and family therapy, individual mentoring, and group mentoring programs in a range of schools. All services are offered on a sliding-fee scale and no one is denied access due to an inability to pay.”
Rabbi Hirsch knows what overcoming adversity is all about and is focused on how his efforts are enabling Kav L’Noar to help children and families overcome their life challenges too.
To inquire about participating, contact Meir Kaniel at [email protected]