Why I LOVE to Help the ALYN Children
During my previous Alyn fundraiser trips to Israel, I was deeply touched by the Alyn children and the hospital staff.
One word describes my association with Alyn: TRANSFORMATIONAL
The Alyn children are very special to me, because of their will to lead a normal life no matter what setbacks they experience. The majority of the children are transformed to go home, and the ones that are not able to go home, get to live in a home-like hospital setting. As much as our donations help the Alyn children, seeing the children's will and gratitude has been transformational for me. Whenever life deals me a setback, I think of the struggles and skills the Alyn children develop so successfully, every day.
You can experience this transformation yourself by sponsoring me for Wheels of Love 2017.
It takes a lot of work to prepare for the Wheels of Love Fundraiser. I gratefully acknowledge the support of my family and my friends for supporting my fundraising efforts in 2007, 2009 and 2015.
Below is a link to some of my favorite Alyn and Alyn training moments:
To give you an idea of what it is like to volunteer for Alyn Hospital, here is the diary I kept during the 2015 fundraiser.
This was by far the most challenging of all the fundraisers I have ever done. I really owe my loved ones some quality time after all the time I spent fundraising, training, and making up missed work at the office. But, it was the most heartwarming fundraiser I have every done. It took a lot of grit to meet my commitments, and I want to start by thanking everyone that helped me.
By the time my employer matches the contributions I made and my friends/family made, I will exceed the donation pledge I made to Alyn Hospital. But, unfortunately, the hospital fell far short of its fundraising goal for this year’s event. If you haven’t already, please consider helping the hospital provide its miraculous care by making a small donation at this link:
If you are interested, below is the daily diary I kept during the ride.
1) Will I be able to raise enough money to honor my pledge to the hospital?
2) Did I train well enough?
a. I know I can make it up all the hills, but will I ride fast enough to be allowed to complete the course?
b. Hadn’t ridden in over a week due to final trip preps
c. Couldn’t ride on Shabbos or the many Jewish holidays in September and October
d. Would the 40 mile commute ride I did a few days per week be adequate preparation for the ride in Israel.
3) Unknown climbs.
a. Never did the final Mt Hermon ascent before. How steep was it?
b. Never climbed the southern road to the Golan Heights
4) Wildlife crossing the highway – would it be hazardous to bikes in the nature preserve
5) Weather – would it be summer-like or winter-like (1 previous ride was hot, one was cold).
a. If it was raining, would I get enough traction on the concrete streets up to Mt Tabor
b. If it was sunny, would my helmet visor, head protection and sunscreen protect me from sunburn?
6) Surprisingly, I was not worried about terrorists – I knew we would have many police escorts and armed ride support staff and our previous rides seem to coincide with troop transports in the north.
7) Turbulence upon landing approach to Tel Aviv
8) Would Hezbollah shell or rocket attack our bike routes as they did before the 2009 ride?
Thank G-d, we had a smooth flight to Israel that started with a quick visit with my son, Aaron, at LAX.
Claire and I received a tremendous welcome at Alyn Hospital, and we toured all the new facilities to help the kids. Israel has a relatively new mandate not to place children and young adults in nursing homes. Alyn Hospital rose to the challenge by:
1) Starting a grade school for challenged youngsters to teach them (and their families) how to manage their respirators in a classroom.
Improving the effectiveness (and bu-in) for their home health programs
2) This is a big one – they started new program to teach their out-patients how to walk (or maneuver their walker or wheel chair) on un-even terrain such as cobble stones, lawns, split floor layouts (with ramps).
3) Not all of their longtime patients can transition back to their parents’ homes, so they added a ut.new wing of “independent” living apartments. It is independent in the sense that these patients are not on the hospital’s schedule. They choose what to eat and when. They can go to a quasi-convenience store / cafe inside the hospital and experience the joy of eating out. They even gave this group of patients Internet access.
We did get a nice visit with Danny and other Alyn patients. Unfortunately, Danny was not able to transition back to his parent’s home. He is now in the independent living apartments at Alyn. He has also transitioned from a boy during my previous visit to a handsome young man who likes evening strolls around the hospital perimeter (the view of the sunset was stunning last night). His smile is even larger than during my previous visit. See for yourself at:
10/22/15 – 10 /24/15
My wife and I enjoyed visiting my cousins in Jerusalem and then drove to Tsfat (Safed) For Shabbos, since it was near the starting point for the ride. This Del Cerro sized town really charmed us. The locals were very friendly, and we walked the routes in the Professor Shalem tour guide book. Note, there is a new downloadable app that provides a tour plan and GPS.
Loved the Hotel Ron. It is a modest hotel, but the owner has a lot of pride in the service he and his staff provide. Did Maariv at the Shem (Noah’s grandson) and Eber synagogue at the top of Tsfat. Shacharit and Mincha at the Ari’zal Ashkenazi shul in the Jewish quarter.
Went to Merron to tour the Rashbi’s tomb
Traffic jam leaving Tsfat due to bus collision
Checked into club Tiberias hotel. Stunning 10 story hotel built attached to a cliff with all rooms having stunning views of the Kinneret.
Had first breakfast at club hotel (I liked the Friday breakfast much better at hotel Ron).
All the excitement of greeting riders I hadn’t seen in 6 years in the lobby. Boarded the buses for ride to the Kadorie school that Yitzhak Rabin had attended. Many riders join the ride group that morning from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and their buses arrive late. This caused a long delay at the men’s room in the stadium as these riders needed to change into their cycling clothing.
Re-united with my bike. Assemble / attach electronics. As the opening ceremony starts, the sky starts to cloud over rapidly and we saw an eerie sun light reminiscent of a solar eclipse. As the starting ceremony dragged on, the sky got darker. One of the speakers warned us there would be weather consequences for our late
Line up at the start line – my group, the Challenge group starts first. After several false starts to allow the support vehicles to position themselves in front of the bikers, we finally start pedaling up a steep driveway out of the school. We are now about 90 minutes late.
As soon as we get on the main highway heading towards Mt Tabor, the skies open and it starts pouring. We had been warned the ride would proceed rain or shine. My legs are feeling good. I am able to stay right in the middle of the pack on the upgrades and the flat areas.
The weather forecast for thunder storms proved correct – we were now very close to thunder and lightning. Then, the first sign of problems happened when our ride captain (Erez Cohen) had us sprint past the exit for Mt. Tabor. It did look like the electrical storm was striking the top of Mt. Tabor.
At this point, the wind picked up and we had a sustained 30-40 mph cross wind plus gusts. Even pedaling 20 mph, I was having a difficult time keeping my bike upright. My helmet visor was keeping the rain from accumulating on my eyeglass lenses, but the wind gusts sometimes would lift the helmet off my head until the chin strap choked me, and it would also twist my head. I remembered how just a few weeks earlier we had switched to the Mashiv ha ruach v’morid geshem (make the wind blow and the rain fall) blessing in our silent Amidah. None of the riders complained about the weather, we all acknowledged Israel did need the rain, even if it fell during our ride
I didn’t even know Israel had tumbleweeds, but several of my colleagues had to stop and remove tumbleweeds that had attached themselves to their rear derailleur
About 10 minutes later, we made a left turn, experienced a strong tail wind for a block, and then we stopped to regroup. The rain and wind got worse as we scrambled to get our rain gear out of our support car. The ride organizers also passed out thin plastic ponchos. A few of the ponchos blew away as my colleagues attempted to get dressed. Then the hail started. Then the few remaining ponchos ripped badly and became para-sails.
With a stiff tail wind we really didn’t need to pedal the next few miles as we headed towards Mt. Gilboa. The roads started to flood and it was difficult to judge how deep the water was on the road. Fortunately, my new bike’s disc brakes worked well in the rain and I was able to slow whenever I needed, My colleagues discovered their rim caliper brakes were not able to stop and the whole group slowed down. We reached a gas station/truck stop near an Arab village and our police escort cancelled the ride since they were having a difficult time keeping their motorcycles upright in this storm.
We left all 50 of our bikes behind the gas station and boarded a bus towards our lunch stop. The ride organizers stayed with our bikes until they could get a truck to transport the bikes back to our hotel in Tiberius.
My nice fabric rain coat had weathered the storm well as long as I was pedaling. But once we stopped, like most of the other riders, I became very cold and started chattering my teeth. I was very happy to board the bus, but I learned an important lesson – always keep a spare set of dry clothing in the support vehicle.
I called my wife and she was relieved to learn the ride had been cancelled. But she warned me not to be in a hurry to return to Tiberius since the storm had knocked out power to the hotel and most of the surrounding area.
We continued on to a scheduled lunch stop in a regional park near Beit She-an where we ate sandwiches inside the bus. The parks’ flood channels had swollen with violent flash floods. We were now trapped since the highway was now covered 1 to 2 feet of mud. It was comical and sad to watch the bulldozer hastily both plow the mud and simultaneously rip up the highway’s pavement beneath the mud. A few minutes later, we were driving on a hard pack mud road bed and made our way to highway 90 at Beit She’an
Since most of the riders had not yet checked into the hotel, and we arrived Tiberius before the hotel’s check-in time, the bus took us to Tiberius’ community mineral water pool and spa. The Kinneret which usually looks like tranquil, glassy water, had large waves with white caps. It was a great day to be indoors.
Although we had only pedaled 10 of the scheduled 54 miles, we had dramatically experienced one of Israel’s most epic storms.
Later that night, when I was reunited with my bike. I was in horror to see my new orange (rust) chain, and I was worried my new leather saddle would be deformed. Took bike to room to dry it out. Did my best job to oil the chain
Walked to Rambam’s tomb
Looked like we finally got a break in the weather. Did an amazing r.ide, with police escort, through the center of Tiberius Some of the drivers were very frustrated with the intersection closures, and othere cheered for us. Many of the school children held their hands up for a “high 5” as we pedaled past. A few minutes later, we were pedaling south, and were biking past many of the Kinneret’s pristine beach areas. Today the Knneret was calm and looked like a post card photo.
Our group really cooked, averaging over 20 mph along the flat roads along the south shore. It is amazing that the Kinneret is potable water when you consider it is nearly 700 feet below sea level. I really enjoy cruising on my bike at or below sea level.
The cruising came to an abrupt end as we reached the east shore and started our climb to the Golan Heights along the Jordanian border. The Israeli side of the border was desolate, steep and rocky, reminding me of Montezuma Grade to Anza Borrego State Park in San Diego county. The only sign of civilization was heavily fortified bunkers for the IDF. The Jordanian side also had heavily fortified bunkers and watch towers with tree orchards terraced on the mountainside (reminding me of the areas north of Escondido on I-15). This was a sobering reminder that Jordan is not really so at peace with Israel.
As the terrain became more beautiful, it also became a lot steeper. Most that ascent was up a 19% grade – by comparison, US freeways usually max-out at 6% grades for steep hills. My legs were feeling good, so I stood up on the pedals, put the bike in low gear, and I “grinded” up the grade until we reached our first rest stop at the ___ Kibbutz. The climb was scary since many of my colleagues climbed the steepest segments by rocking their bikes side-to-side with each pedal stroke and swerving unpredictably so their bikes would not fall over from their slow speed. No one fell thankfully.
We had a nice snack at the ____Kibbutz, which is famous for its hang-glider port on a cliff overlooking the Kinneret. The Kibbutz president spoke to us while we snacked and gave us a brief history and some sobering information. Just 3 miles east of the Kibbutz, is a no-man’s land buffer where Israel and Syria are not allowed to station troops. Unfortunately, Isis does not abide by these rules and they do try to infiltrate the border. Syria does occasionally try to rout ISIS as they approach the border with Israel.
Once again, during the presentation, the skies darkened and we had a brief heavy rain storm.
As we pedaled north (and a little west) we were far enough from the Syrian border to see IDF operations. We actually got to see a drone get re-fueled and sent back up as we were pedaling. Also sobering was the mine clearing operations to clean out mines planted by Syria more than 48 years ago.
But the most amazing thing I observed in the Golan is the farming. The soil is rich but it is saturated with potato sized rocks. There are many rock formations that reminded me of the Golan’s volcanic origins, The farmers couldn’t possibly remove all the rocks, so they have developed techniques to get nice crop yields from rocky fields.
I had my first encounter with wildlife crossing the highway. There was a desert tortoise slooowly walking across the highway. Although the tortoise looked like child, it was large enough for a cyclist to collide and go down.
As we reached the center of the Golan, it was time to turn west and start descending a well-deserved downhill. Midway down, we stopped at the ____ Nature presesrve
We were getting sick of hotel food so my wife and I went out for pizza. The pizza was great, but I can’t forget that a Palestinian terrorist blew up my cousin in 1979 at a coffee shop just a mile away from this pizza shop.
It was time switch our focus back to the Alyn children. The evening began with a memorial to two policemen who had been killed since protecting us on the 2014 Alyn ride. One was the Druze policeman that died in the brutal terrorist attack at synagogue in Har Nof (Jerusalem) in January 2015, and the other was killed by a car while biking a couple of weeks after the 2014 ride. Their families joined us to start the evening.
Pleased to find out one of my fellow riders was the mother of Or, one of the Alyn patients that successfully transferred to home treatment
The evening climaxed with a concert by David Broza and one of the Alyn patients joining the Borza band as a saxophone soloist.
Alyn gave as an option to rest on this day, but I opted to join most of the Challenge riders in climbing Mt. Hermon. Besides the technical challenges of the climb, there are many logistics to arrange with the IDF to get approved to ride Mt. Hermon. The army gave us a 2 hour window, beginning at 1:00 PM to ride to the top, eat lunch and leave the mountain. Our plans became focused on reaching top of Mt Hermon before 1 PM
The only problem was that my legs were tired from the Golan heights climb the previous day. I was certain I could make the 8000 foot climb and pedal all 73 miles, but I was not certain if I could finish the ascent before the army’s deadline
We pedaled north from the hotel along the Kinneret and followed the Jordan River up to the Golan Heights. Compared to the previous ride, this climb was not as bad, but I wasn’t the only Challenge rider with tired legs. Our ride captain, Erez Cohen, arranged to have our bus pick up the tired (and for the most part, the older) riders and leapfrog the middle, relatively flat, 10 miles. We were fresh when we rejoined the other riders and started the climb to the Druze village of ___ in the foothills of Mt Hermon. After a nice snack, we climbed some very steep hills in the next Druze village ____ and then entered the gate for the Mt. Hermon wildlife park.
I was starting to get tired, and was thrilled when I saw a large group setting up a camp and breaking for lunch, only to discover it was lunch for IDF soldiers in the middle of a training exercise (and I still had a long climb ahead). It was hilarious to see this same camp on my trip down overrun by a herd of cows.
There the road got steeper and more desolate. The climb took an hour or two and I goofed up by drinking water instead of my sports drink, all the way up. Just 2 km from the top, my legs started to cramp. I could see the lunch stop ahead, stopped, stretched, and downed as much sport drink as I could. The intensity of the cramp subsided and I finished the climb. It was so wonderful to lay down on the blanket in the ski resort’s parking lot for a few minutes. About half the team continued on the service road to the top lift station. This had to be done before 2:00 PM,
During our lunch break, even though I had a bad day climbing, two of my colleagues told me “We discovered your secret for strength in climbing. You visit the graves of Tsaddiks”. I guess I will have to continue this tradition. Truth be told, I forgot to ask for help with the bike ride when I visited each Tsaddik’s grave.
Before starting the trek down Mt Hermon, our ride captain coached on proper braking technique so our brakes would not overheat on the long and steep descent. It was not an issue for me with my disc brakes – in fact it was my favorite part of the entire 5 day ride. I loved feathering my disc brakes, and leaning into each curve. The descent took us past Nimrod’s castle and all the way down into the Hula valley. During some of that descent, we were a few hundred meters from a very rugged border with Lebanon. I prayed we were out of range for Hezbollah. But there was a large IDF presence in this area and my worries proved to be unjustified.
Our route in the Hula Valley took us through a forest of tall trees and picturesque rolling hills until we reached the Gonen Kibbutz cabins (these cabins were probably our most enjoyable accomodations of the entire ride). The log-cabin shul at Gonen was gorgeous.
About 3:00 AM, I was awakened to the sound of shelling in the nearby Golan Heights. We were probably just 10 miles from the border with Syria, and based on what we learned earlier, it probably was Syria shelling ISIS.
We had a nice crowd to daven Shacharit, ate breakfast then started a brisk pace on the rolling hills until we arrived Rosh Pinna. At this point, the sky got very dark, and it started to pour again. Our ride captain found a strip mall for us to take refuge until they could decide our strategy. The faster riders were given the option of riding up to Tsfat (probably a 2000 foot climb over 10 miles). The start was tough because the road had lots of loose gravel and large potholes. I was happy to ride in the bus for this one. The bus met the riders at the entrance to rabbi tarfon’s grave. We were given a 1:00 pm deadiline to pedal the next 18 miles or we would have to get on the bus and miss an amazing descent into Karmiel. I pedaled hard and was making great time on the uphill grades up and around Mt moron. At the pass, I made phenomenal time on the downhill grades into the Druze Village of_____where we had a mandatory regrouping. The sky got dark quickly and a down pour with soft fluffy hail began. We backtracked a block to the nearest gas station for shelter. We were very disappointed to learn the rest of the ride was cancelled. Partly due to a time deadline to meet the other bike groups in Karmiel for a picnic lunch (where the city’s 27year mayor thanked us) and partly due to concerns about wet braking around a steep curvy downhill to the picnic area, we had to board buses to finish the ride route.
[Hula Valley to Rosh Pinna- 4 days later on the return flight to Los Angeles, I found old friend from Chabad of Irvine that now lives in Moaddot ? which was on our bike ride.] The townspeople were not advised of the Alyn ride and many were late for work because of the traffic jams WOL caused.
Spent the night at the Ma’ ale Hamish hotel near Jerusalem. Rooms and food were nice but Alyn scheduled another gala and awards ceremony. I went back to the room and fell asleep by.9:00pm (about 3 – 4 hours before my roommates returned from all the Alyn events
We started the ride at miniature Israel. A small amusement park with scale replicas of Israel’s most famous sites. We started last and cruised briskly west towards ben Gurion airport. We were greeted by a strong headwind as we made the turn south. My legs were not strong but I hunkered down and ground through passing several other riders. We regrouped a few times before the climb through the American forest. We met the other road bikers for lunch at a picnic area in the forest. It stated to pour again. They cancelled the ride for the Alyn patients on adaptive bicycles and gave the rest of us the choice of pedaling or riding the bus to the finish line. I decided to pedal but it was agonizing riding the brakes all the way downhill and staying behind a pace car traveling 10 – 15mph.
At the traffic circle before Ein Kerem we caused a huge traffic jam for over an hour while we regrouped with all riders, even the bussed cyclists. It took almost 1 hour just to get the busses through the traffic jam we had created.
Then finally, the Challenge riders were asked to come to the front of the pack, and we rode the first two switchbacks and stopped at the 2nd re-grouping point for a few minutes. Then we rode again for a few minutes to the 3rd re-grouping point. Waited a few minutes, and climbed the viscious hill on ___ street. At the top, we re-grouped for a 4th time. It was very frustrating to regroup 4 times in span less than 2 miles long. After the 4th regrouping, I texted wife to expect me in a few minutes at the finish line.
I cruised to about a block before I was overcome with emotions when I found my wife waiting to photograph me. Then I crossed the finish line, posed for a few pictures and got my ride medal from Or, the young boy featured in the The Tiberius Gala films. I spoke with more of the Alyn patientsThere were several wheel-chair adult patients greeting us, as well as a charismatic Palestinian teenage boy that wasn’t able to talk but so eagerly walked up to greet us with a firm handshake.
Then it was time to re-hydrate on the refreshments at the closing ceremony. Usually, the closing ceremony is held at the adjacent high school stadium, but due to rain, we had to squeeze most people into an indoor ceremony in the hospital’s largest room.
After all that cold rain on the final day, the hot shower I took at the hospital felt magnificent. As I packed my bike, and started to leave for the last time, Alyn employees and patient families thanked me profusely for my charitable work to help Alyn Hospital.
Note: I wasn't able to obtain permission to take photos of the other Alyn patients. Danny's parents signed all of the consent forms, so I love photographing Danny.
The Wheels of Love fundraiser gives me the opportunity to pursue two of my strongest passions - giving charity and riding my bicycle. As an added bonus, this year my employer will match donations made by you, dollar-for-dollar.
My two previous fundraiser rides for Alyn were truly life-changing for both the Alyn children and me. The reception at the end of the ride from Alyn's children and their parents has warmed my heart for the past 9 years. No matter what challenges life has thrown at me since my previous Alyn rides, the resolve of the Alyn children has been an unbelievable source of inspiration for me.
Regardless of where you stand politically, you will find, as I did, that Alyn gives you the opportunity to build unity in a politically torn world. Alyn accepts severely disabled children from all over the world. Using innovative physical/occupational therapy, they gradually improve the quality of the children's lives as well as the lives of their families. This transformation is so profound and it creates bonds between people from different sides of borders.
After my 2009 ride ended, I had a unique opportunity to speak with an off-duty Alyn vocational therapist, Tzipi, on a city bus ride. The twins that had put the ride medal around my neck at the finish line in 2009 were Tzipi's patients. Both boys are on respirators and are alive because of the swimming pool and other intense therapies they receive at Alyn. The progress those boys made was so transformational to Tzipi that she planned to enroll in medical school and return to Alyn as a doctor.
I hope I will be greeted by Danny (pictured) again before and after the ride. Danny has been at Alyn most of his life and his health insurance only pays a portion of his actual health care costs. Typically, Alyn Hospital runs a $3 million deficit each year. My Wheels of Love colleagues and myself hope to wipe out this deficit so patients like Danny can continue to receive the health care they need.
I have road-biked most of my life in San Diego. The terrain and landscape is very similar to Israel, but Israel's roads have historial signs almost every half mile describing a biblical event that took place near the marker. The Alyn ride-time volunteers are very devoted to the cause and make Wheels of Love a very enjoyable ride with an incredible sense of purpose.
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