Going the distance for survivors
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Going the distance for survivors

Marla Cohen is a freelance writer. She lives in Rockland County.

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Josh Lipowsky’s marathon training regimen also includes fundraising for destitute Holocaust survivors.

When Josh Lipowsky of Teaneck laced up his running shoes in an effort to get into shape two years ago, participating in the New York City Marathon wasn’t on his mind.

But today that is exactly where the road has taken him. Lipowsky will be running the 26.2 miles through New York City’s five boroughs on Nov. 4. And each stride he takes will be for a good cause as he raises funds for Team Blue Card.

Lipowsky will be one of at least 35 runners raising funds for Team Blue Card, which helps support destitute Holocaust survivors. He is committed to raising $3,000.

Lipowsky, whose grandparents Yitzhak and Devorah Edelist both were Holocaust survivors, liked the idea that Blue Card would assist an aging and often increasingly needy population.

His grandparents met in a displaced persons camp after surviving the Bergen Belsen and Auschwitz concentration camps. Almost all of their families had died in the Shoah; his grandfather’s first wife and their children were murdered. Lipowsky’s mother, Trudy, was born in a DP camp. “The people that Blue Card helps have struggled much more than my family did. My grandparents were very lucky in that they were able to rebuild,” Lipowsky said.

“Many of the people who were not able to do that live alone, with little or no family left. Blue Card is very important in reaching out to them and providing basic necessities on which to live.”

Founded in 1934 as a self-help organization, Blue Card helped German Jews who had lost their living because of Nazi Germany’s racial laws. Donors contributed three marks each month and received a stamp in their “blue card” as a receipt. Founding refugees, who resettled elsewhere before World War II, reorganized Blue Card in 1939 to aid others who were in financial distress. After the war, the program focused on those who had survived Europe’s inferno.

Lipowsky, a freelance writer and graduate student and a former Jewish Standard staffer, first learned about the organization a year ago, when he worked on a story about it. As his marathon ambitions rose, the two interests converged.

Last year, 46,795 runners completed the marathon. They qualified by participating in a number of New York Road Runner races throughout the year, volunteering at one of the organization’s events, or making a gift of $1,000 to one of NYRR’s youth, community, and volunteer programs throughout the year. Elite runners qualify through their running times.

Thousands more runners, however, receive guaranteed entry to the world-famous race by agreeing to raise funds for any of 200 charities that host teams. Last year, runners raised more than $34 million for more than 200 charities in the program.

Those running for Blue Card, which had 35 people on its first marathon team in 2009, raised $200,000 last year from about the same number of runners, according to George Wolf, marketing director for Blue Card.

Blue Card has fielded as many as 65 runners in the marathon. Wolf expects a few more to sign up with the charity before race day.

Each year, Blue Card helps support approximately 1,900 aging Holocaust survivors. Blue Card provides monthly stipends of $100 to $300 and emergency cash assistance for dental work and medical and special food needs, and rent assistance and vitamin programs. A Jewish holiday and birthday card program sends a $54 check to a survivor; one survivor responded to a card by saying, “You are the only ones in the world who know my birthday.”

“We have about 50 people coming in each year and 50 people aging out,” Worlf said. “They die, but we get new ones as more people fall into the category of destitution.”

Meanwhile, Lipowsky is building up his stamina. He has participated in the Fred d’Elia Ridgewood Run and the Kaplen JCC’s Mother’s Day Rubin Run. Although he was not athletic as a teenager, now he is comfortable running a 10k – 6.1 miles – and runs about 25 miles each week.

Being able to say he completed the grueling marathon is powerful motivation for training, he said. But being able to help this particularly needy segment of the Jewish community is equally compelling.

“On one hand I want to be able to look back and say, ‘I did the New York Marathon at least once,'” Lipowsky said. “If I can do it while helping this part of our community, all the better.”

As for running being a particularly Jewish undertaking, he points out that Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York marathon, was a Holocaust survivor.

“My father is fond of saying that we’ve been kicked out of all the best countries, so we are very used to running for our lives,” Lipowsky said. “So running in the marathon is a chance to run for Jews rather than from Cossacks.”

To donate to Blue Card and Josh Lipowsky, go to www.imathlete.com/donate/JoshLipowsky.

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