Among the charitable bike races of the summer, Tour De Simcha offers the most challenges, with a 65-mile route that loops around the grounds of Camp Simcha in the Catskills, with mountaintop views and meanders on the tight gorge of the Delaware River. The rewarding feeling comes at the end, when participants are greeted by the cheering campers and their counselors.
“It’s a fundraiser for kids with cancer and chronic health disabilities,” said participant Batsheva Boehm. “There are kids who wait the whole year for those two weeks at Camp Simcha.”
The camp is run by Chai Lifeline, an international support network for Jewish children with life-threatening and lifelong illnesses. Its programs include case management, respite, and summer camp. For families of these children, the organization offers counseling, insurance, special trips, and afterschool programs, among other things. It serves Jewish communities across this country, Canada, Belgium, and Israel.
Such a wide-ranging array of services requires a sizable fundraising operation, which includes Tour De Simcha for women in the Catskills this past Tuesday, and Bike4Chai for men in the Poconos on August 17 and 18. Boehm is the sister of Dr. Ellie Bennett, whose wife Sarale is also a participant. They both live in Kew Gardens Hills and have been active in this cause for many years.
“The weather is always a challenge, the beauty is the camaraderie,” said Bennett. This year, 159 women will be riding on the 38-mile and 65-mile loops. They are expected to raise more than $1 million for Chai Lifeline. An event of such magnitude requires a team of volunteers to ensure its success. “There are hundreds of people in the background – mechanics, cooks, radio dispatchers, logistics. For the past four years, I’ve been the event’s medical director.”
With ambulances parked on the roadside, Bennett’s past experiences included stitching up a participant who fell from a bike, and another rider who became dehydrated in the heat. The Bennetts were introduced to this event by Michael Vatch, also a Queens resident and a Queens Hatzolah coordinator.
All of the participants have profiles on the event’s website, describing why they are in the race, how much they have raised, and a map showing their location during the ride. “Every mile I ride, and every dollar I raise, will help support more than two dozen essential programs for more than 5,900 children and families confronting pediatric illness, crisis, and loss,” wrote Chana Glatt of Kew Gardens Hills.
A sizable number of participants are from Great Neck, which includes a team in memory of Dorina Kalaty. ““Dorina was one of the most beautiful people inside and out,” said Dina Kalaty, her sister-in-law. “She inspired and awakened people to their life’s purpose, and so everything I do now has more meaning because of her, including this ride.” She rode with her daughter and niece.
“She was always there for others in their most raw and vulnerable moments, just as Chai Lifeline does for children struggling with cancer and debilitating illness,” Kalaty wrote. “Her admiration and awe of Chai Lifeline’s mission was on her mind and heart, after learning about what they do firsthand for other community members.”
The touching stories shared by participants underscore their personal connections to Chai Lifeline and its mission. “Many years ago, as a young mom, I was lucky enough to be a volunteer driver for Chai Lifeline. With my infant in her car seat, about once a week, we’d take people home from a local hospital after treatment,” wrote Sharleen Ijadi of Great Neck. “What I initially thought would be scary – and hard – turned out to be the highlight of my week. The Chai Lifeline families were warm, funny, delightful people. They taught me so much about what really matters in life.”
After sharing their stories and experiencing the ups and downs of the route, Boehm said that the most rewarding feeling is at the finish line.
“All the campers are lined up. It’s a tremendous thing, the highlight of their summer.”
By Sergey Kadinsky