Giving Back: The challenging road from Jerusalem to Eilat with Run4Afikim

The 2015 run will kick off on November 18 at 6 p.m. and end on the 20th in Eilat.

Run4Afikim (photo credit: YUDFOTO)
(photo credit: YUDFOTO)
It has become a tradition that more and more Jerusalemites leave everything behind for three days in November and engage in a run from the capital to Eilat. They do it for fun, they do it for the self-challenge, they do it because they believe that Afikim – the organization on whose behalf they run – is doing the right thing and thus deserves their time and energy.
And this year, there is a novelty: Senior supporters, mostly grandmothers, are taking part and will run a segment of the route.
The 2015 run will kick off on November 18 at 6 p.m. and end on the 20th in Eilat. Designed as a non-competitive relay run, the total distance is 370 km. and takes place over 36 hours. At all times, there are runners on the road.
This year’s Run4Afikim will consist of multiple teams of 24 runners. Each team will have eight groups of three runners; each three-runner group will run five segments that vary between 9 and 14 km. each. In total, every runner will cover between 40 and 60 km. Upon arrival in Eilat, all the runners will complete the final 3 km. as a team, culminating with a reception ceremony.
Afikim was created as the personal mission of one man, who decided to break some of the most basic rules of his own community. Moshe Lefkowitz – father of seven, grandfather of nine, a hassid of Alexander (a small sect from Hungary) – says he couldn’t just keep telling himself that Jewish solidarity was crucial without actually doing something tangible about it. Formerly CEO of Meir Panim, the soup kitchen established five years ago in Jerusalem, Lefkowitz says that at a certain point he understood that feeding the underprivileged was important, “but helping the young generation to rise above poverty was even more important, and that is how Afikim was born.”
He says that as a growing number of children are living in extreme poverty, facing the bitter challenges of hunger, want, insecurity and despair. Statistically, their chances for a better future are slim. Afikim works with both disadvantaged children and their parents on a long-term basis, providing the tools they need to break out of the cycle of poverty.
Lefkowitz specifically aimed his initiative at non-haredi children, mostly sons and daughters of olim from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, providing them with a special program – four days a week of afternoon study, including a full educational curriculum and some enrichment programs in music, theater and other subjects.
What’s more, Afikim acts as a family.
As such, it includes the entire family of these children to take part in the program.
Lefkowitz says that just focusing on child (elementary and junior high level) does only half the job.
“We meet the parents, we learn about their problems and their needs, we act as benevolent [agents] of goodwill to establish better contacts within the family – out of an approach that sees the child as part of his family, whatever the problems are, and offers ways to bridge them.”
Recognized by the Education Ministry, Lefkowitz works with the municipality’s education administration and school principals. Afikim hires teachers and instructors and follows the students until they graduate and even after, encouraging them to join the IDF and taking pride in those who go for officers’ courses. Public funding is never enough, thus Afikim is encouraging individuals to help.
With seven study centers in the city (operating from schools in several neighborhoods) and six additional centers across the country, each year Afikim provides hundreds of children with the best answer for them. The program also includes a daily hot meal. Each year, runners bring in sponsors to contribute and enlarge the group, with significant assistance provided annually by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Lefkowitz asserts that all this contributes to his pledge: Solidarity before anything else.
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