Leaping for life

Dozens of skydivers raise money for ALYN Hospital in an unconventional way.

Dozens of skydivers raise money for ALYN Hospital in an unconventional way (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Dozens of skydivers raise money for ALYN Hospital in an unconventional way
 When Yechiel Fishman took his job as logistics coordinator for ALYN Wheels of Love annual bike ride and fund-raiser, he could not have imagined it would lead him to jump out of an airplane.
However, on April 2, that is exactly what the slender, bearded Fishman did, and he brought five of his 10 children and stepchildren along for the leap. The Fishman/Bishitz skydivers – Gavriel, 19; Har’el, 18; Naftali, 17; Gilad, 16; and Shirin, 15 – were six of the more than 50 people who participated in Skydive for ALYN, which raises money for Israel’s only pediatric rehabilitation hospital. The event took place at SkyKef in Sde Teiman near Ofakim.
Fishman said that over nearly two decades, his children have grown deeply connected to ALYN and its mission of treating kids with the severest congenital and acquired conditions. Fishman’s little ones would join him at the hospital on a regular basis to help bring joy to the patients.
“When my children see another kid who has been hurt in a road accident or who was born with a physical disability, they understand this as an unfortunate part of life,” said Fishman, “and they treat these special kids with the same respect they treat any other child.”
Fishman said that when the brood heard about the opportunity to skydive for ALYN, they wanted to give back by raising the money to jump.
“It’s a great project to show that everything is possible,” said Naftali Fishman.
Dan, 10, said his brother was a “stud” for jumping and that he was “really proud.”
Anat Fishman-Bishitz, who works at a school for children with special needs, was no less enthusiastic than her spouse or children.
“As long as their jumping [out of the plane] means ALYN can stand on its feet, then I think it’s okay,” she said.
Fishman said when he started at ALYN it was like any other job taken to pay the bills. But after only a short while, he began “to feel like I was working at ALYN for my soul. The kids at ALYN need a lot of love, and I want to be one of the people that gives them this love. Today, I feel like 50% of my job is for the salary, and the other 50% is for my soul.”
The Jerusalem-based hospital started Skydive for ALYN three years ago to supplement the nearly $3m. already raised by its successful Wheels of Love multiday charity bicycle ride. ALYN Director of Special Projects Chaim Wizman, who founded the skydive, said he thought ALYN could leverage the good name it earned from its bike ride to get involved in additional sports-based fund-raising. The first year, ALYN had about a dozen jumpers. This year, 51 skydivers between the ages of 11 and 68 each raised a minimum of $1,000 for one jump out of an airplane at SkyKef. A noncharitable in-tandem jump costs around NIS 850 or $243.
“We were looking to create something that reflected our hospital’s theme of overcoming challenges,” Wizman said of the event. “ALYN is a place where kids come in with profound disabilities and conventional wisdom tells you they can only do X, Y or Z. At ALYN, we get these kids much more functional than conventional wisdom would suggest.
“The jump reflects the theme of going beyond yourself.”
ALYN was founded in 1932 as a hospital for children with physical disabilities. According to ALYN director general Dr. Maurit Beeri, in the early days, ALYN worked mostly with children with crooked feet or other orthopedic challenges. Today, ALYN serves children and adolescents with some of the most severe physical disabilities and injuries, including cerebral palsy, neuromuscular diseases, spinal-cord injuries, brain injuries, burns, terrorism and motor vehicle accident victims.
The hospital has 120 inpatient beds and serves around 300 people in its inpatient and outpatient programs at any time. It receives minimal payment for services from the health funds. As a nonprofit, it covers the rest of its expenses via donations and grants. Currently, said Beeri, the hospital operates on a deficit, with an annual operating budget of NIS 15 million.
Outside its direct work with patients, ALYN runs programs to support the families of these patients, and it recently launched the ALYNnovation innovation space with the assistance of the National Insurance Fund and a private donor. ALYNnovation is working to provide kids with accessible and affordable assistive technologies, homegrown in a brand-new cuttingedge innovation pace.
Beeri said that when parents, physicians and other caregivers believe in the ALYN children, and when these children are taught to believe in themselves, they can often completely turn around their lives.
“What these children are doing amounts to jumping out of planes every day,” said Beeri.
This year, one former ALYN patient raised funds and jumped from the airplane “to show just how rehabilitated he was and to give back to the organization that helped him come so far,” said Wizman.
Jumping out of an airplane is indeed intense. The ALYN jumpers go in tandem, which means they are harnessed to a trained instructor.
The plane climbs to between 10,000 and 12,000 feet. Then, the door opens, and the skydiver is staring into the abyss.
As the trainee, you are sitting on your instructor’s lap, with your head against his or her shoulder. The instructor nudges you forward to the door until your feet are dangling over the edge. You look out and the instructor says, “Ready?” but before you can respond, you are out of the plane.
You drop head first, free falling for the first 5,000 to 6,000 feet. In the first 45 seconds, you accelerate from 0 to around 200 kilometers an hour, which is the maximum speed you can go. You maintain a constant speed for about another 10 seconds, and then you raise your arms out, like a bird, which slows you down a bit.
Within another minute, the parachute opens, and you glide back to ground over the course of the next four or five minutes.
“It’s a breathtaking experience,” said Wizman. “Once you are out there, you are not scared.”
According to the United States Parachute Association, tandem skydiving has a strong safety record, with one student fatality per 500,000 tandem jumps over the past decade. In 2016, USPA members in the US reported 2,129 skydiving injuries requiring medical care. That’s approximately one injury per 1,515 skydives.
According to Wizman, SkyKef has had about 350,000 jumps and no fatalities or serious injuries.
Sigal Strier was all confidence before her jump on April 2. That’s because “it was an old dream of mine that I never fulfilled, and this was a chance to jump and donate to ALYN at the same time.”
Strier was jumping on behalf of her foster son, Ramez, whom she first met as an infant while volunteering through the First Hug program for abandoned babies.
Ramez was hospitalized at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. Later, he was transferred to ALYN for respiratory rehabilitation. Ramez was in ALYN for four years and Strier, a Jerusalemite, came to visit him nearly every day. When he was released, she fought for foster custody and today Ramez lives with Strier. Nonetheless, she said ALYN remains “like a second home for us.”
“Miracles happen,” Strier said. “Ramez is proof. He was very ill and had no family. Today, he is doing much better and he has me, he has a family. ALYN has a lot to do with this.”