5Ks Raise Thousands to Help Jewish Caring Network Families

I couldn’t help but think, after taking a peek into the large white VIP tent close to the Men’s 5K finish line in Druid Hill Park, that it typified the way the Jewish Caring Network (JCN) does things. No detail was spared – everything from pancakes to pizza was elegantly set up, waiting for the men-only run/walk participants that Sunday, May 29. It more closely resembled a beautifully catered simcha rather than a 5K repast.

In the tent, before the race, I had the pleasure of meeting Marlene Daniel, who came to cheer on her husband Jack, one of the 210 participants. In her role as a JCN volunteer, Marlene would drive a young, ill mother wherever she wanted to go, whether it was to a shiur, shopping, or exercising.

“I have been so touched by how the JCN looks at the whole family; there is no end to what it will do,” shared Marlene. “I don’t know any other organization that takes this view of looking at each person in the family to see what that member needs to bring him or her joy in life. Even for those suffering from a very long-term illness, JCN never drops the ball.”

It was the third JCN Men’s 5K for Rabbi Zvi Teichman, Rav of Congregation Ohel Moshe, who offered divrei bracha before the start of the race, saying, “When Jews get together it’s great, but when Jews get together to celebrate their health and thank Hashem for that, it’s even greater. We have to remember that we are healthy, while other people are not. And when Jews get together to celebrate a mitzva together, there is no greater honor to Hakadosh Baruch Hu than that. It should be a zechus. Chaya Masya bas Tova [cofounder of JCN] should have a refuah shleima and continue to inspire us!”

Numerous father-son pairs participated in the 5K. Nechemya Jakobovits and his son, not only participated but dropped off donations, just about every day, to the JCN office. “JCN brings the whole community together, b‘achdus,” Nechemya explained. “Especially in these times, it is so important to show the community that we care about everybody: Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh –we are all responsible for each another. And that is what the Jewish Caring Network does. It brings everyone together.”

Ben Ram, a recent first-time grandfather, and his son, Nesanel, a sixth-grader at TA, have run in the Men’s JCN 5K every year for the past three years. For the Rams, the 5K was a family affair. Ben’s father, who was visiting from Israel, came to cheer on Ben and his son-in-law, Morty Friedman, who also ran.  

“It’s a very good cause and not only that: It is competitive with all my friends,” says Nesanel. “We love running together, because it is a father-son bonding experience. We stay together the whole run – unless my dad pulls ahead!”

For some, like Jon Kaplan, who worked behind the scenes schlepping everything from Gatorade to other needed supplies, volunteering for JCN is also a family thing.

“It all started about four years ago, when my son wanted to do something to volunteer, so we did the snowballs for the Tikva House,” recalled Jon. “For a year, my daughter has baked Shabbos desserts for different people; all the proceeds go to JCN. My wife is very involved, too. It’s a great local organization that we are very happy to be a part of.”

The Tikva House, a project of the JCN, is a comfortable home-base for Jewish families caring for a loved one who is receiving treatment at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Entire families can be accommodated there; it is located just down the street from the hospital.

Michali Friedman, a married daughter of Jordan (Yarden) Wiener, for whom the Jewish Caring Network, also known as Gevuras Yarden, was named, traveled all the way from New York, where she now lives, to volunteer for the event. She was eight years old, the oldest of five children, when her father became ill. (The youngest child was one.) The 5K was a very emotional experience for her.

“It is an incredible organization, and this race, especially, sums up what Baltimore is all about; it’s so special,” Michali told me. “The organization means so much to me. It’s crazy to think that from something so painful so much good could come out. There was no formal Jewish Caring Network organization at the time my father got sick. Chaya Drabkin, Keren Traub, and Becky Caplan, the three original volunteers, helped my family out informally. If it snowed, our sidewalks were magically shoveled. They were with us all the time, taking care of our every need.”

JCN has since expanded to provide its custom-tailored support services to hundreds of families facing life-threatening, lifelong, or serious illnesses, in Baltimore and beyond.

Baltimorean Yair Friedman, who lived in Silver Spring, was one of about 15 team participants who raced in memory of Rabbi Yossi Samberg and Ross Mailman, two members of the Silver Spring community who were helped by JCN. The team raised about $3,600.

Yet other participants, of varying ages, didn’t know exactly what JCN does; they just knew they wanted to support it. They included 11-year-old Sholom Henesh, who traveled from Woodmere, LI, to join his grandfather Darrell Zaslow (and his veteran Women’s 5K runner grandmother, Sherri Zaslow, who came to cheer them). His cousins, Yisroel, Eli, and Moshe Lauer and Zechariah Zaslow also participated.

The winner of the Men’s 5K, who completed the run in 16:57 minutes, knew very well what JCN is all about. It was 16-year-old Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School student, Josh Rosemore. The Beth Tfiloh cross-country and track team member is the three time JCN Men’s 5K champion. Josh, whose team included schoolmate Noah Broth, had a personal stake in running this 5K. “My little brother Coby was diagnosed two years ago, and JCN has been an amazing help to him,” said Josh. “In combination with Chai Lifeline, JCN has been a blessing to us all. I’m doing this for my little brother and this great organization that helps him.”

Especially noteworthy, among the several other medal winners was Joel Drabkin, husband of JCN cofounder Chaya Drabkin. He ran the race on the day of their son’s wedding!

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A week after the Men’s 5K, the heavy thunder showers predicted for Sunday, June 5 did not materialize, and the Women’s 5K proceeded as scheduled. More than 700 runners/walkers participated at the Maryland Zoo. One of the JCN volunteers I enjoyed speaking with was Beth Tennenbaum, who took over the Shabbos package delivery from her daughter, about seven years ago. In addition to Purim packages, she delivers Shabbos packages each Friday for two hours, as far away as Reisterstown and Owings Mills.

It was Lynn Baklor’s first time participating in the JCN 5K, although not her first race. She is involved with a Maryland-based organization, the Red Devils, which funds support services that improve the quality of life for breast cancer patients and their families. “There’s a tie, a similarity with the Jewish Caring Network,” says Lynn, who is a board member of the Red Devils. “I love the fact that the Jewish Caring Network does similar services within the Jewish community, so I’m running it.”

First-time JCN volunteer, Aviva Goldman, of Pikesville, also had no special connection with JCN, yet she came out to share her enthusiasm and root for the walkers and runners just because she knew it is a good cause.

Then there were those participants who did have a very special connection to JCN, like first time 5Kers Seffie Schwartz and her daughter Huvi Bondi, of Monsey. Accompanied by Huvi’s three-month-old daughter Faigy and 21-month-old son Shimon Aryeh, in their strollers, they came to show their hakaras hatov to the organization. Seffie raised $2,388, surpassing her $1,800 goal.

“We have a very, very special connection to Gevuras Yarden, because of the Tikva House,” explained Huvi. “My niece, my mother’s granddaughter, Rachael of Silver Spring, got very sick and was in Kennedy Krieger for about two months and, after that, in Rehab at Hopkins. Every Shabbos, people stayed at the Tikva House – her parents, my parents – and it was lifesaving for everyone’s mental health to have a place to stay. It was very meaningful; that’s why we are all out here today.”

After the race, longtime JCN volunteer Vicki Reches thanked the 100 volunteers who made the two 5Ks held within a week possible. She then announced the top three teams and the top three fundraisers, who went above and beyond, sending out emails daily to really encourage and push their teams. In third place was Team Chaya Rivka, spearheaded by my Star-K coworker, Adina Michelsohn, which raised $9,053; in second place, Refuah for Chaya, run by Ronit Miller, raised $13,427; and in first place, at $14,470, was Team Bonnie, chaired by Rochel Ziman, who also won as the top JCN Women’s 5K fundraiser.

Potomac, Maryland, resident Dana Ginsburg was the top overall first-place winner of the race, with a time of 26:09. When I asked the veteran 5K racer, first-time JCN 5K winner, what makes her run, she responded, “Raising awareness. I’m involved in the Friendship Circle in Montgomery County, Maryland. Most of my runs I do for charity. Personally, I run in memory of a rebbetzin I was close to. I started about five years ago. It’s just a thing that I do; it’s become a love. It’s so nice to be with all these Jewish women. I saw the JCN 5K advertised in the Where What When, and I told my husband, ‘This year, I’m going to run it.’ It has been a fun experience; they do such a nice job.”

“It’s heartwarming to see how many people from our community and beyond came out in support of our 5Ks, our biggest fundraisers of the year,” concluded JCN director of operations, Stacey Goldenberg.

After the race, when I caught up with Yehudis Barer, my cubicle “roommate” at the Star-K, she mentioned good-humoredly, “I ran about 5 steps and walked the rest of the way; I can do another 5K…next year!!”

To which our fellow Star-K coworker Chaya Rivka Youlus added: “Leshana haba b’Yerushalyim! It should be the 5K to the Bais Hamikdash, because, halevai, Mashiach should come, and we will all be together in Yerushalayim, and no one will be ill.”


ã Margie Pensak-2016

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