Spinning to remember

#Spin4Ezra is a class dedicated to the memory of Ezra Schwartz.

Attendees, mostly seminary students from North America, flank Benovitz at the December 5 spin class (photo credit: CHANTAL BELZBERG)
Attendees, mostly seminary students from North America, flank Benovitz at the December 5 spin class
(photo credit: CHANTAL BELZBERG)
The mood is light, the workout music is blasting, and the neon lights flash in the darkened exercise room. Wheels are spinning away as a group of girls cycles on stationary bikes at an intense pace, following their instructor. But this indoor cycling class – popularly known as spinning – is not your typical Saturday night class at the Mati Gym Club in Talpiot’s Hadar Mall.
The girls, mostly seminary students from North America, gathered together last Saturday night to raise funds for the non-profit OneFamily through a spinning class called #Spin4Ezra, dedicated to the memory of Ezra Schwartz. A yeshiva student from Sharon, Massachusetts, Schwartz, 18, was murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack on his way to deliver food packages to Israeli soldiers in Gush Etzion on November 19.
Schwartz was on a gap-year study and volunteer program at Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh.
The deadly attack, amid a wave of terrorist attacks that have struck Israel since the beginning of September, directly affected the large community of American yeshiva and seminary students participating in post-high-school gap-year programs here.
“All the seminary and yeshiva kids felt like it could have been any one of us,” Emma Bellows, who studies at Midreshet Lindenbaum, told In Jerusalem.
“We all felt connected,” she said, noting that while she didn’t know Schwartz personally, many of her friends did.
“It affected every single kid, because everyone knows someone who knew Ezra,” she said.
“The first few days we were more scared than upset,” Bellow recounted. “We didn’t want to leave to go to places for Shabbat. We were nervous and homesick.”
But, says Bellows, an evening of song and prayer held in memory of Schwartz in the Old City of Jerusalem on the night before he was buried in his hometown of Sharon, helped to uplift the spirits of the young American yeshiva and seminary students.
“We felt this powerful sense of unity and support – all these yeshiva and seminary students got together to grieve and sing – and we all came out feeling that we were so happy to be here in Israel,” she said. “I don’t know if I will ever experience that kind of feeling of unity ever again in my lifetime.”
Bellows, who hails from Chicago, decided that she wanted to continue to do something in the spirit of that special evening in Schwartz’s memory.
“I thought it would be cool to hold a fund raiser, and I called my spinning instructor to see if she could help us out.”
Tamar Benovitz, an indoor cycling instructor who teaches at the Mati Gym Club and at Mamilla Hotel’s Akasha Gym, made aliya from New York four-and-a-half years ago. She told In Jerusalem that spinning classes are extremely popular in New York and that it’s common to use the classes as a vehicle for fund raisers and corporate parties. “I was thinking that I would love to teach a class for charity when one of my students, Emma Bellows, called me to ask about holding a fund-raising class in Ezra Schwartz’s memory.”
“For these students, Ezra is one of them. They want to feel that they can come to Israel for the year, travel freely, volunteer, study, and go to cafes. Ezra’s death had really shaken them,” said Benovitz, who regularly teaches American seminary girls.
Benovitz was thrilled with Bellows’s idea and subsequently contacted Mati Ariel, the founder of the Mati Gym Club in Talpiot, who has two additional branches in Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem and another in Beit Shemesh. “She gave me permission to hold the class in her gym,” said Benovitz.
“We are happy to donate the gym for this cause,” added Daniel Marks, the manager of the Mati Gym Club, which also opens its doors for a local women’s hostel. “Mati thought that this was an excellent cause and this is the first fund-raising event we’ve held in the gym since it opened six months ago.”
The #Spin4Ezra event raised money for OneFamily Fund, Israel’s premier national organization that rehabilitates, reintegrates and rebuilds the lives of thousands of Israeli victims of terror attacks. Chantal Belzberg, who co-founded OneFamily with her husband in 2002, was also on hand to take part in the spinning class held in Schwartz’s memory.
Bellows, who will be studying in Barnard College next year, said that it’s important to do something positive in the face of tragedy. “I think it’s important for people to realize that there are all of these amazing initiatives going and that you don’t have to be sad all the time. It’s not a chaotic war zone here. Tonight’s a normal night; we are doing something positive, raising money for a good cause, and moving forward.”
Her friend, Hannah Hasten, also of Chicago and studying in Israel for the year, echoes Bellows’ sentiments.
“I’m here to support my friends. I feel much more connected to Israel and it’s good to come to be able to come together like this,” she said.
As the spinning class drew to a close, Benovitz concluded with an upbeat soundtrack that perhaps best captured the theme and message of the evening workout, Yaakov’s Shweky’s “Am Yisrael Lo Mefahed” – “The Nation of Israel Is Not Afraid.” •