Some 35,000 runners will descend on Tel Aviv this Friday to participate in the city’s annual marathon, including Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma.
Partnering with Aviv Lenitzolei Hashoah (Spring for Holocaust Survivors), runners and spectators can cheer on the ambassador as he runs the half marathon to raise awareness for the plight of Holocaust survivors in Israel.
“It is an issue that resonates quite deeply with Australia,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“Remembrance of the Holocaust is a large part of the Jewish community in Australia and it is an area of Jewish history that we take a close interest in,” he said.
Australia today has one of the highest rates of Holocaust survivors in the world, having absorbed around 35,000 of them following WWII, second only to Israel.
One of the major challenges is to ensure survivors live out their final years with “a measure of dignity and self-respect,” the ambassador said. This is a difficult task for many survivors who in their older age require medical assistance and special care, and “they need help even in doing simple things like grocery shopping, paying bills and bureaucracy,” he said.
As they age it is increasingly important to learn and capture their stories; “the Holocaust generation is a generation which has been through so much and achieved so much,” he said.
Sharma said the Spring for Holocaust Survivors organization approached him a few weeks ago and asked if he would be interested in running the half marathon to raise awareness for this important cause.
“I jumped at the chance, because I wanted to run and to get the opportunity to do so for a worthwhile cause – well it was a perfect match,” he said.
The ambassador, 38, is a sports enthusiast and is no stranger to running marathons. He has been training for Friday’s event by running the 16 kilometers from his home in Herzliya Pituach to his office at the Australian Embassy in south Tel Aviv.
As for his time here in Israel, Sharma along with his wife, Rachel, and three daughters, aged seven, five, and 10 months, have been enjoying their stay.
“I love it here, it is fabulous and I feel very at home and comfortable even though I am not a Hebrew speaker,” he said, adding that the energy and “enthusiasm for life” that Israelis have reminded him of Australia.
Aviv Lenitzolei Hashoah is dedicated to helping Holocaust survivors in Israel realize their rights. Nearly a third of the 180,000 survivors in the country live in poverty and are unaware of the benefits due to them from the Finance Ministry, Germany, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel and other agencies.
Aviv Lenitzolei Hashoah trains volunteers, professionals and Holocaust survivors in all aspects of the rights of survivors, and helps them use and claim these rights by diagnosing their status, filling in the appropriate forms and following up through the necessary channels and procedures.