The land that has experienced an ongoing struggle with terrorism also has unique landscapes ideal for hiking and spiritual renewal. For nearly two decades, the OneFamily Fund has been supporting Israeli victims of terror attacks and their families with their emotional and physical needs. Among their programs is a hike that brings together the survivors of bombings and donors from America.

“The beauty of it, and there are tragic stories. The hike is a safe space to share these stories,” said Dr. Robert Barris of Kew Gardens Hills, who hiked with the group last month, together with his wife Sara. “Their dedication and spirit is an inspiration to anybody.”

Dr. Barris learned about the OneFamily Fund from his brother in Toronto. “The organization was started by the community in Toronto,” he said. In August 2001, the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem was struck by a suicide bomber who killed 15 people and injured another 150. Michal Belzberg, whose family made aliyah from Riverdale a decade earlier, was planning her bat mitzvah in Jerusalem. Touched by the tragedy, she canceled the party and requested that the money benefit the survivors. Supporters in Canada contributed to the effort, and the organization not only helped financially but also by sponsoring a summer camp near Toronto for children of terrorism victims. The organization has since grown to serve 7,163 families to date, with a variety of services that help the survivors.

Barris has been on the annual hike for eight years prior to the pandemic. Previous locations included the Ramon Crater, the Golan Heights, and the Judean Desert. “The participants come from many backgrounds, a wonderful metaphor for Israel,” Barris said. Among them are disabled individuals who cannot walk. Their wheelchairs are designed to be easily carried or pulled by other individuals on the hike.

After last year’s pandemic-related cancellation, this year’s group had nearly half the usual number of participants, and there were protocols to ensure that the virus would not spread among hikers. Barris said that getting into Israel was not easy, but their dedication outweighed the inconveniences. “There were not as many people on the hike, but plenty of donors dedicated to the cause. We would not miss it for the world.”

 By Sergey Kadinsky