Lee Lasher of Englewood flew all the way to Israel to go hiking for five days. But it was not just for pleasure. Lasher was part of the Koby Mandell Foundation’s first Kilometers for Koby trek along sections of the 900-kilometer (558-mile) Israel Trail, raising funds for Camp Koby, a therapeutic summer experience for Israeli children who have lost a parent or sibling to terror.
Chairman of the board of Cong. Ahavath Torah, Lasher is a frequent visitor to Israel and met Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell in 2001, shortly after their 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists while hiking near the family’s home in Tekoa. As the father of a similarly aged son, Lasher was moved to ask the Mandells for a photo of Koby and was involved from the start with the foundation they started in his name. Its many projects for bereaved families include Camp Koby.
According to the Koby Mandell Foundation, the camp is meant as a supportive community where traumatized individuals can safely express their fears and anxieties, guided by professional therapists, while having fun and learning coping mechanisms to facilitate meaningful and successful living.
“For families of terror attack victims, it’s a lifelong tragedy they have to deal with forever,” said Lasher, who raised about twice the required $2,500 to participate in Kilometers for Koby.
Seth Mandell said his son loved to go hiking. “This is not only a tribute to his memory, but a way for all of us to further connect with the land of Israel,” he added.
Some of the money raised by the walkers also goes to the foundation’s healing programs for wives and mothers of victims.
Lasher was the only non-Israeli resident on the inaugural hike, which set out from the verdant Tel Dan National Park in the north on May 22. In a blog, Lasher described “breathtaking scenery” the group encountered on this 15-kilometer (9.3-mile) leg of the journey.
“We hiked through farms, fields, hills, and flowing water along the northern border of Israel. We started the hike by seeing ruins from an ancient Canaanite city from around the time of Abraham (approximately 3,800 years ago) and finished almost eight hours later at a memorial for 12 soldiers killed in a Katyusha rocket attack in 2006 at the entrance to Kfar Giladi.”
He reported feeling a wide range of emotions. “Each step, I felt connected to the Land of Israel and people of Israel, knowing that I was here to support the amazing work of KMF and Camp Koby. This year’s camp is slated to host up to 500 children in a series of 10-day sessions during the month of July. Each session includes tours, swimming, sports, daily therapeutic activities including arts and crafts, music, or drama, and group discussions dealing with emotional issues related to grief.”
On the second day of the journey, a donkey joined the hikers for awhile. “It’s hard to describe how beautiful the scenery was,” said Lasher, comparing the landscape to the American West, with its gorges and streams. “We had to cross four to five ponds by foot, maneuvering on stones or walking through the water. Along the way, we saw incredible flowers, including a purple one that looks like a sea urchin. The day ended with a very good bottle of local Pinot Noir and lots of Advil.”
The hike may be physically taxing, he readily admitted, “but you feel like with every step you’re appreciating the land and connecting with a great cause.”