Running for Afikim

A relay race from Jerusalem to Eilat will raise money for underprivileged families.

The Jerusalem start line (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Jerusalem start line
(photo credit: Courtesy)
What began last year with 16 relay-race enthusiasts has become a much larger operation, with 32 runners, including the mother of a one-year-old child who was born a month before last year’s race. Afikim, a non-profit organization established and managed by a haredi man and geared toward a non-haredi population, is launching its second annual relay race from Jerusalem to Eilat, its major fund-raising event.
There will be eight four-person teams.
All eight teams will begin the race with a grand send-off from Jaffa Gate. After the first several kilometers the relay will begin, with each team running five pre-determined segments of approximately 10 to 12 kilometers. When one team finishes its segment, the next team begins until all eight teams finish and the cycle is repeated.
Moshe Yosef Lefkowitch, a 49-year-old grandfather, was once, as he puts it, the man who gave fish to the hungry and underprivileged.
Today, he has found what he regards as the fulfillment of Maimonides’s approach to issues of poverty – the man with the fishing rod who teaches others to fish, the ultimate level of charity.
At Afikim’s nine centers in the country – seven of which are in Jerusalem – it is not only the children who are weak in school who are taken care of but also their families. These families face the difficulties of learning a new language (most of the children in the Afikim programs are new immigrants), as well as the problems of adapting to a new surrounding, a different culture and the need to make a living in a totally unfamiliar environment.
What’s more, Afikim works on a long-range program and guides the children over the years.
A few weeks ago, Lefkowitch proudly led the first cycle of graduates of the Afikim program who completed high school and enrolled in the army, most of them in elite units.
Yael Eckstein, the vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the major sponsor of Afikim, says that is exactly what makes Lefkowitch a model of what a true hassid is in her eyes.
“He is not afraid of doing the right thing, and what he is doing is real holy work.”
She adds that although he is haredi, Lefkowitch understands that people need tools to face real life, such as education, as well as military duty, which is an important tool and one’s responsibility to the country.
What compelled him, a haredi man, to invest so much time and effort in non-haredi children and their families? Lefkowitch says that for him, the reason is clear and simple.
“In these hard times, what is more important than to express the proverb ‘Love your fellow creature as yourself’”? He adds that since childhood he had a deep feeling that his destiny was to be a bridge among the different communities of his people. “I believe that this is what I have to do,” he says.
Afikim, like so many other nonprofit organizations, is doing a good job of helping and supporting underprivileged children and their families, but there is a serious question to be asked: Is it not doing what the state should be providing, thus releasing the government from its responsibility towards its citizens? Lefkowitch admits that it should indeed be, first and foremost, the government’s duty.
“And indeed, I insist on full participation by the Education and Welfare ministries, but there are some aspects where a human touch is required, where the human approach – a social worker, a volunteer, someone like me, who comes from a totally different community and yet cares – makes the difference required to attain some success. We have to do things not only with budgets and official tracks but firstly with our hearts, our souls. Money is very important, that’s why we are blessed to have our runners to raise awareness and secure sponsorship – but without our personal impact, without our souls, nothing can be done. That’s my strong belief, and that’s why I’m doing what I do at Afikim,” he says.
The Afikim Relay Run is about connecting and strengthening, he adds.
The race will last 36 hours. Each runner will cover more than 50 kilometers from Jerusalem to Eilat, where all the Afikim participants will be guests of the southern city for Shabbat.