Eighty-four people from New Jersey ran in the February 6 Miami Marathon with the singular purpose of raising funds for kids with life-threatening and lifelong illness.
Overall, some 15,000 people took part in marathon, half marathon, 5K, or children’s runs that day. Many of them formed teams to raise money for charities through their participation. The 84 from New Jersey were among 450 runners from across the globe who collectively raised more than $3.7 million as part of Team Lifeline, the largest running group in the event.
Team Lifeline supports Chai Lifeline, a Jewish international organization that provides medical, social, and financial services — including summer sleepaway camps — to nearly 6,000 families confronting pediatric illness.
Rabbi Maccabee and Alexis Avishur of Teaneck together raised $20,531 in pledges. They said they joined Team Lifeline in acknowledgement of how Chai Lifeline helped them and their four children navigate the challenges of dealing with 11-year-old Ziv’s type 1 diabetes. Ziv was diagnosed when he was 20 months old.
“It’s a 24/7 effort to monitor Ziv and keep him healthy,” Rabbi Avishur said.
Last summer, Ziv attended Chai Lifeline’s Camp Simcha Special, a two-week program for kids and teens with serious and chronic illnesses. “He had a life-changing experience there,” his father said. “Ziv had 12 days to just be a kid. The medical staff kept him healthy, and the counselors made him feel empowered, happy, strong, fearless, and supported all day and especially all night.”
Rabbi Avishur, who is the academic dean and principal of general studies at Heichal HaTorah high school for boys in Teaneck, said he has been running half marathons — or longer — every weekend since the beginning of covid, seeking to inspire his students.
“The Miami Marathon was my one-hundredth week of running half marathons,” he said.
Crossing the finish line was a crowning moment, but it was not the only highlight of the weekend in Miami. The memory of hundreds of Chai Lifeline supporters — runners, families, fans, and staff — gathering on Shabbat always will stay with Rabbi Avishur. “Over 700 people came together to celebrate Shabbos, enjoy the amazing weather, and complete an outstanding physical challenge,” he said.
“Life as a family dealing with any adversity, especially pediatric illness, can feel lonely and isolating at times. Being together with all those people helped soothe the loneliness and made us feel a part of something special.”
The Avishurs made new friends there and were pleasantly surprised to reconnect with old ones from around the country whom they did not expect to see.
“What we realized in retrospect was that this weekend was an example of how Chai Lifeline spares no effort to give the children and families they serve amazing, uplifting experiences that bring joy to their lives — lives that are often punctuated by adversity and suffering,” Rabbi Avishur said.
“The entire event was infused with Chai Lifeline’s trademark energy and positivity, and we’ll carry that with us for a long time.”
Moshe Turk, Team Lifeline’s director, said that “those who join our team are not simply united in the personal goal of crossing the finish line or crossing this off their bucket list. They are a special caliber of people, connected by a sense of dedication and determination to use this experience to help others.”
The delegation of runners included recovered patients, family members of sick children, and people running in memory of loved ones.
Some participants chose to join one of 33 running groups within Team Lifeline. Team Sophie, for instance, was dedicated to the memory of 5-year-old Sophie Spangenthal of Fair Lawn.
Sophie died of cancer in July 2019, shortly after returning from her second summer at Camp Simcha. Team Sophie’s 16 members raised more than $98,000 for Chai Lifeline.
Three members of the Fox family of Englewood — Dr. Nathan Fox and his twin daughter and son, Kira and Noam — added about $13,000 to Team Sophie’s tally. Kira Fox, now a Barnard College junior, was one of Sophie’s counselors at Camp Simcha. Noam Fox taught Sophie’s younger brother how to swim.
The Spangenthal family described Camp Simcha as “a dreamland” where Sophie “was able to completely forget about her illness and treatment and enjoy every single moment of her days surrounded by some of the most incredible friends, counselors and staff.”
Ms. Fox first heard of Chai Lifeline as a young teen, when she became close with a child in Englewood who ultimately died from cancer. “I saw that they provided so much support for his family,” she said. As soon as she turned 18, in 2018, she applied to work at one of the camp sessions for girls and has returned every summer since.
“Camp is free for the campers, but it costs a lot of money because it’s like a hospital in a camp setting,” Ms. Fox said. “The marathon is one of their big fundraisers.”
Dr. Fox and his daughter ran the half marathon, while Noam, a senior at SUNY Binghamton, opted for the full marathon. Ms. Fox’s fiancé, Elan Cooper, came along to cheer them on.
Dr. Fox, a specialist in high-risk obstetrics, said that being part of Team Sophie was a bittersweet experience.
“We all wear Team Sophie shirts, and we sit at the Team Sophie tables and we have Team Sophie swag, and we’re with her parents and her younger brother and her grandparents and her aunt and uncle,” he said. “We run for her and we raise money in her memory.
“But you’re not sad when you’re there. It’s much more inspirational than sad, just like the camp.”
Rabbi Simcha Scholar, CEO of Chai Lifeline, said he takes great pride in the huge show of support for Chai Lifeline families through participation in fundraising events, including the Miami Marathon and the organization’s annual Bike4Chai and Tour De Simcha rides.
“Each year, we are more and more encouraged by how many choose to come out and train for these physically challenging events,” Rabbi Scholar said. “Literally every step that these athletes take is helping a sick child and family, and that is an incredible thing to witness and support.”
Shira Rubinoff of Teaneck took part in Team Lifeline and ran with her 11-year-old daughter, Tammy Steinberg. They raised nearly $8,000 this year; Ms. Rubinoff has raised about $20,000 over four years of running for Chai Lifeline.
“My mom passed away from cancer when I was a child,” she said. “Unfortunately, at that time there was not an organization in Canada like Chai Lifeline that was able to be there for us.
“A number of years ago, my brother Yirmi started a branch of Chai Lifeline in memory of our mother, Penina Rubinoff, of blessed memory. This charity helps families that have lost a parent from cancer, or has a sick parent in the family, in many different capacities from therapy to afterschool activities for the kids to a Disney trip for children facing this hardship.
“All my siblings come together each year along with others to help raise money for this amazing organization, which does so much good. Most recently, my brother Daniel started the New York City branch. All of us were at the race this year — my siblings and nieces and nephews.”
Ms. Rubinoff said it was “amazing to see the energy of the weekend from all the people there who came together for the sole purpose of supporting the people and incredible efforts of Chai Lifeline. The overwhelming feeling was unity and love — coming together for the greater good to help bring some light to what feels like a very dark time to those suffering.”