Running for the benefit of a charitable cause is fairly common. But running alongside the beneficiaries of that charitable cause is less common.
That’s what made the December 29 Race for Inclusion stand out for about 400 North American gap-year and college students who came to Israel’s ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, a 40-acre rehabilitation village, to raise money and spirits through a 2.5K fun run.
In addition to the students from abroad, racers included 160 participants from the Jewish National Fund-USA’s Alternative Winter Break and ADI’s international and National Service volunteers.
Chana Littwin of Teaneck, 18, said that in her experience, running events on behalf of organizations that help children with disabilities did not usually include those children.
“But this time, at ADI Negev, the whole idea was inclusion,” she said. “At the end of the track, a bunch of the residents and special-education students were there to finish the race with us,” helped along on walkers, bikes, trikes, or strollers.
“It was an incredible way to make them feel part of it. And then we had a dance party afterward for all the volunteers and residents and workers together.”
Ms. Littwin, a 2022 graduate of Naaleh High School for Girls in Fair Lawn, now is a student at Tiferet, a seminary in Beit Shemesh. Virtually all 82 women in that class, as well as 20 in an optional second-year program at Tiferet, signed up for the race after the seminary took them to tour the facility and do special activities with ADI residents earlier in the year.
Another Naaleh alumna and Tiferet student, Elana Israel, 18, of Monsey, said, “ADI is such an inclusive program and that really speaks to me, because I always like to include people I see sitting on the sidelines. It was so exciting to see ADI individuals at the end, waiting to go the last couple of steps with us.”
Jordan Goldberg of Teaneck, 18, who graduated from the Frisch School, went to the Run for Inclusion along with most of the 30 men in his class at the Torah Tech gap-year program in Tel Aviv.
“Someone from ADI came to talk to us, and I was amazed at what they’re doing down in the Negev,” he said. “We saw pictures from last year’s race, and it looked amazing. Seeing all the kids on trikes or bikes going the last steps with us, with big smiles on their faces, was the highlight.
“I hope it made their day or even their week.”
ADI Negev’s doors opened in January 2006 for children and adults with severe disabilities. The project was spearheaded by Gen. Doron Almog, now chairman of the Jewish Agency. Gen. Almog’s son, Eran, was its first resident. After the young man’s death a year and a month later, the center’s name was appended with Nahalat Eran in his memory. In Hebrew, “nahala” means “inheritance” and “adi” means “jewel.”
Today, ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran serves 170 residents and 190 special-education students. With support from donors including Jewish National Fund — USA, the campus now includes the first rehab hospital in Israel’s southern region, offering inpatient and long-term outpatient services and treatments. A branch of ADI in Jerusalem has 100 residents and 120 special-education students. The two facilities share a $35 million budget. The Run for Inclusion raised more than $17,000 to enhance respiratory and hydrotherapy programs at both sites.
Mr. Goldberg said he and his classmates plan to raise more money for ADI by running in the Jerusalem marathon, scheduled for March 17.
Elie Klein, ADI’s director of development for the USA and Canada, said that discussing the concepts of disability inclusion, equity, and access alone is not enough “to encourage our future leaders to promote social change. That’s why we developed an event that allows gap-year and college students to live and breathe true inclusion in a way that will inspire them to make it a reality.”
Mr. Klein said that when participants “cross the finish line with people using walkers and wheelchairs, and experience next-level joy while singing and dancing with our ADI residents and special-education students with severe disabilities, everything comes into focus. There is a realization that celebrating ability at every level enhances our collective lives and makes us stronger as a society, and these newly minted agents of change pledge to do their part to make true inclusion the new normal.”
Avi Meth, a Torah Tech student from Passaic, decided to volunteer at ADI following the Race for Inclusion. “When we were dancing with the members of the ADI family, I scooped up a special-education student named Yair, and he clung to me for quite a while, not wanting to go to anyone else,” he said. “He smiled at me, and I knew that he was having the time of his life.
“Throughout the event, I felt so fortunate to be able to contribute to such an important cause and make a real impact in people’s lives. I’ll never forget those precious moments, and I hope to recreate them over and over again by continuing my involvement with this incredible organization.”