This coming October, some 30 Jews from around the world will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for SHALVA, the Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Jerusalem. (photo from SHALVA)
Scaling the largest free-standing mountain in the world is a remarkable accomplishment. A test to human endurance and tenacity. Raising a special needs child can require the same tenacity.
This October, some 30 Jews from around the world will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for SHALVA, the Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Jerusalem – helping the parents and kids of SHALVA scale their own personal “mountains.”
With participants from Canada and as far away as the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel, the climb has attracted an eclectic group of trekkers all bound together with a common goal. The group spans the spectrum of the Jewish community from secular to ultra-Orthodox. Each one has their own reasons for choosing to reach beyond their limits to do something incredible.
“Everyone at SHALVA is touched that so many SHALVA supporters have come together to climb for one cause,” said trip coordinator Gaby Hirsch. “What started as a U.K. initiative became a global effort as the unique opportunity captured imaginations around the world.”
To make the trip as inclusive as possible, organizers decided to make it adhere to the highest possible standards of Jewish law. The trek is serving vegetarian food and the organizers have purchased new cooking and eating utensils. On the seventh day of the trek, the group will rest for Shabbat on Mt. Kilimanjaro, allowing them to join millions of Jews around the world in keeping Shabbat as part of the Shabbos Project. While no participant is required to keep Shabbat, by making the trip adhere to the most stringent feasible level of Jewish observance, all climbers are able to maintain their own comfort level.
Photographer Sarah Raanan was looking for a challenge, a chance to push herself, but it was learning about SHALVA that made her sign up. “As soon as I found out about SHALVA, I knew I had to do this,” she explained. “The first video I watched just blew me away.”
Raanan is not the first one to be impressed by the scope of the SHALVA Centre. For 25 years, SHALVA has been helping children with special needs move beyond their limitations. SHALVA programs and services are designed to provide individual treatment for the child while also strengthening the fabric of the family. Providing services for more than 500 infants, children and young adults, SHALVA accompanies each child from birth to adulthood. Individually tailored programs are designed to help participants reach their full potential and integrate into the community.
Claire Freeman from London saw for herself the life-changing work SHALVA does when she lived in Israel. “There’s not a place in the world that does what they do. But they can’t do it alone,” she said. As a mother of three, Freeman is grateful that her children can run and play. She wanted to show them that even when you are born with the gift of being able-bodied, life is about pushing yourself to go beyond your own limitations.
Having positive impacts on their children is a common theme for participants, as is slight apprehension at leaving a brood at home.
Shoshana Baker, originally from Teaneck, N.J., but now living in Ra’anana, Israel, was unsure whether she would do the climb despite being attracted by the challenge. “At first, I thought no way, it’s too hard to leave my children. Then I realized that it was an incredible lesson for them.” Baker decided to teach by example the importance of dedicating oneself to a worthy cause.
Toronto native Helen Silverstein wanted to do something meaningful for her 60th birthday. “I wanted to do it because the kids at SHALVA can’t.” Looking to avoid a flurry of birthday cards and gifts she didn’t need, she was happy to have her friends and family sponsor her to climb.
Every climber has pledged to raise $10,000. Each one has found his or her own unique methods of raising money, from running an “Auction of Promises” to sponsored paragliding. The money raised is helping to fund SHALVA’s National Centre, due to open in Jerusalem next year. This state-of-the-art facility will enable SHALVA to expand its services to offer treatment to four times as many children.
The would-be trekkers are not without their apprehensions, and for good reason – in the course of nine days they will hike approximately 100 kilometres. Trekking through five different ecosystems, participants will be pushing their personal endurance to the limit. One of the biggest risks is altitude sickness. This condition occurs when the body responds badly to the reduced level of oxygen present at higher altitudes. Climbers are warned to watch out for headaches, dizziness and nausea.
John Corre, a grandfather of nine, is participating to celebrate his 70th birthday. Despite the extreme physical exertion, he is not fazed by the length of the climb. His biggest fear is the possibility of altitude sickness because there is no way of knowing before the climb how the altitude will affect an individual.
One climber not daunted by overcoming extreme odds is Jerusalem resident Rachel Illouz, a breast cancer survivor. As she was going through the surgery and chemotherapy, she kept telling herself that one day she would climb a mountain. In her own words, “As soon as I found out about the SHALVA climb, I said to myself ‘That is my mountain.’”
Just as SHALVA has brought together people from across Israeli society, united by the desire to give all kids the best start in life, so now SHALVA is bringing together Jews from every possible walk of life to continue that vital work. This unique trip shows us how we are all climbing mountains of one variety or another in our lives, and reminds us that it is incumbent upon us to reach out our hands and help the other up.
To help the climbers reach their fundraising targets, you can make a tax deductible donation at climb4SHALVA.org/view_profile.php?id=1401.