For ALEH, Israel’s network of care for children with severe complex disabilities, the Jerusalem Marathon is always a celebration of disability inclusion and acceptance. But the fleet of international volunteers, runners, and VIPs who came out to support ALEH on Friday, March 15, for the 9th annual Jerusalem Marathon, including Jewish rapping sensation Nissim Black, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, and officers from the Jerusalem Police Department, took the celebration to the next level.
Drawn into the festive and inclusive atmosphere, Nissim marveled at the passionate support for Israel’s disability community and the determination of the 50 ALEH residents, who pushed their limits to complete the 800-meter ‘Community Track.’
“I volunteer with children with disabilities all the time, but I have never seen anything like this. So much dedication and love, like one big family,” said Black, as he walked with the ALEH residents. “I am so happy that I was able to be a part of this, to experience the warmth of ALEH.”
For the sixth straight year, “Jerusalem’s Finest” used high-tech walkers and words of encouragement to lead the ALEH residents down the stretch, helping them reach new milestones far beyond the boundaries of their initial prognoses. Residents who had been strapped to their police partners via special walking harnesses in previous years were finally able to pound the pavement on their own thanks to months of training, the guidance of ALEH’s professional staff, and specially-made walkers that convert even the slightest movements into full strides via a complex pulley system.
“I have worked with ALEH on various community events over the last eight years, but the Jerusalem Marathon is by far my favorite. I love seeing my training partner and the rest of the ALEH residents achieve such an incredible level of personal growth in front of a screaming crowd. I always say that he’s like my little brother, but I must admit that I look up to him on days like this,” said Tal Rubin, the Jerusalem Police Department’s Community Policing Supervisor. “Like any other ALEH volunteer, I can’t tell you who gets more out of this mentoring opportunity, the volunteers or the residents. But I can tell you that it’s opportunities like that made me become a police officer in the first place, to make a lasting impact on Israeli society.”
In addition to the 600 supporters cheering on the ALEH residents from the sidelines, more than 150 runners of all ages ran the 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon races as members of ‘ALEH Ascend,’ the organization’s inclusive running team, to spread the message of inclusion and highlight the importance of quality care for Israel’s disability community. The team was comprised of young men and women on gap year programs, officers from the Jerusalem Police Department, attorneys from the Goldfarb Seligman law firm, and high school students from across the country participating in ALEH’s ‘Tikkun Olam’ program, an experiential education initiative that was established to bring about a change in societal attitude towards individuals with disabilities through youth leadership and community engagement.
“No matter how many times we participate in the Jerusalem Marathon, I am always so deeply moved by the compassion and generosity shown by the individuals who come out to greet our residents and make them feel included. We work so hard to change the way people view those with disabilities, so it is incredibly gratifying to see our ALEH residents being embraced by city officials, celebrities, and supporters from around the world,” said Shlomit Grayevsky, director of ALEH Jerusalem. “But the greatest reward is seeing high school youth not only participating in events like these but getting excited about advancing disability care in Israel and thinking up ways that they can make a real difference for individuals with disabilities. Little by little, we are laying the groundwork for a very bright future here in Israel.”
To learn more about ALEH, arrange a site visit in Israel, or donate, please visit ALEH.org.