Going the extra kilometer

Through a Succot hike in the Galilee, the Koby Mandell Foundation honors the memory of a terror victim.

Koby Mandell 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Koby Mandell 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Get back on the horse that threw you. Inside every cloud there’s a silver lining.
These familiar sayings have given solace and strength to many who find themselves enduring truly bleak moments in their lives at one time or another. Indeed, oftentimes a squeeze on the shoulder or warm smile from a stranger can work miracles for someone who is feeling down in the dumps.
But sayings like these are simple at best and insulting at worst for parents who have experienced the worst nightmare – the death of a child. How can they continue to be effective parents, stay a part of a community, make a meal or even get dressed day after day? And when the death of that same child isn’t merely a death but, instead, a brutal murder, can anyone fault the living father and mother who might take to their beds for however long they choose?
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The parents of Yakov “Koby” Mandell and his best friend Yosef Ish-Ran were put to the unfathomable test when both boys were slain by terrorists in May 2001, while hiking in the hills near their home in pastoral Tekoa.
As the years passed, Sherri and Seth Mandell took their sorrow and, in a myriad of ways, endeavored to give solace and hope to others who have lost a loved one to terrorism. They embraced a worldview that states that the Jewish response to suffering is to live fuller and more engaged lives. And, so they established the Koby Mandell Foundation, which carries on Koby’s name by creating and running programs that directly address the trauma of loss and help survivors overcome the isolation that keeps them from returning to life.
“We wanted to keep Koby’s remarkable spirit alive in the world,” Seth asserted without excessive emotionalism.
Soon after, Camp Koby Sleepaway Camp, a series of 10-day overnight summer camps, opened, offering a healing opportunity to children who had lost either a parent or sibling to terror. In 2003, Sherri’s poignant memoir was published, called Blessings of a Broken Heart. In 2004, it won an award from the National Jewish Book Council and was recently made into a play. And for almost five years, Israeli-American comedian Avi Liberman has been hosting a twice-a-year celebration called Comedy for Koby, the proceeds of which go toward helping the families of terror victims.
The Kilometers for Koby Young Professionals Hike, an event similar to Comedy for Koby, was created to raise funds for Camp Koby. The hike, set to take place during Succot on October 3-4 , will see Sherri, Seth, Liberman and “Friendly Planet” tour guide Alan Rabinowitz leading a two-day hike through the Galilee.
When asked why they are sponsoring this event, Sherri and Seth answered, “We’ve done the hike twice with friends and discovered that it is just a great place to really open up and have deeper, less inhibited conversations. Naturally, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t this be a great way for like-minded people to meet each other and open up, all in the name of fun?”
“It is very healing to be in nature and people naturally bond. Somebody on the last hike said this would be a great opportunity for ‘good people’ to meet each other because it’s so natural, whether talking or not. In most of the hikes, there are 20-minute periods where no one says anything, and it feels just like meditation,” they continued.
“People naturally bond and separate. There’s a natural intimacy that develops in such an informal setting. Spontaneity makes for a great experience.”
In addition to the hike, participants will be able to mingle during a barbecue complete with locally made wines and award-winning beers, direct from the nearby vineyards and microbrewery. Yehuda Katz from the celebrated band Reva L’Sheva will lead songs and music during a kumzitz into the late hours of the night and early morning.
“Israel is so beautiful and this is a great way for good people to enjoy themselves, reappreciate the land of Israel, and learn about it with their feet and bodies.”
Both days of hiking will concentrate of different parts of the Galilee and every leg of the trek guarantees magnificent terrain and views. The second day will feature – after the morning hike – an al-fresco “Feast in the Forest.” This will be the last “group meal” before enjoying the final hike.
According to the committee members and tour guide Rabinowitz, the itinerary is suited to all fitness levels.
Although trying to shy away from the notion of matchmaking through the foundation’s programs, Sherri brought home the fact that doing events like the Kilometers for Koby hike are not just to raise money for victims of terror, but also to honor the memory of those who were killed in the attacks.
Towards the end of the interview, she said, “We don’t want to push the ‘potential shidduch’ angle of the hike but I’d have to be honest and say that it does occasionally cross my mind; after all, I’m a mother. And I can’t help but thinking that even though Koby never got married, wouldn’t it be incredible for shidduchim to come out of this? That babies might be born who could, perhaps, be named after my son? Or not named after him but that somehow, because of this hike, people will remember a beautiful boy who loved the land and loved his family and whose memory will be a blessing that continues year after year.”
To learn more the Koby Mandell Foundation and register for events like the Kilometers for Koby hike, go to the website at www.kobymandell.org.