In August 1986, shortly after Josh Lipowsky turned five years old, he underwent surgery to remove a noncancerous brain tumor.
That October, he was back in the hospital to have a shunt inserted to relieve a related buildup of fluid in his brain, and he came back twice more for shunt revisions before his sixth birthday. Before he was 14, he was hospitalized six more times.
“Throughout all of it, my mom was by my side,” Mr. Lipowsky said. “She stayed in the hospital, sleeping on a fold-out cot every night. Each time. For nine years between ages five and 14.”
Now 42, he is in training to honor his mother’s memory — Trudy Lipowsky died in August 2021 – and to ease the burden of gravely ill children at the same time, by running in the TCS New York City Marathon on November 5 for the benefit of Chai Lifeline.
This New York-based Jewish international children’s health support network provides free counseling, hospital services, retreats, programs, summer camps, and other forms of emotional, social, and financial assistance to nearly 6,000 children and their families.
“My childhood experiences helped me relate to what the children of Chai Lifeline are enduring, and I can greatly empathize with them,” Mr. Lipowsky said. “Before the doctors figured out what was wrong, at one point I couldn’t walk because I had so much pain.”
Today he’s not just walking but running.
He and his running buddy, Malka Kahn, have been hitting the track at Teaneck High School or nearby Votee Park early in the morning. For his short weekday runs of three to seven miles, he wears a 16-pound weighted vest to help build muscle and endurance for his long Sunday runs of 16 miles; he wants to work up to 22 miles by the end of October.
“Training is not easy, but neither is dealing with illness,” he said. “If the children of Chai Lifeline can fight each day, if they can push themselves through hospital stays and treatments, I can do this for them.”
It won’t be Mr. Lipowsky’s first NYC marathon. “I last ran it in 2013 for the Blue Card, a wonderful organization that provides emergency aid to Holocaust survivors living below the poverty line,” he said.
“I’ve run several half-marathons since then, but I thought the New York City Marathon would be a one-and-done,” he said. “However, after my mother passed, I wanted to do something in her memory. Running on behalf of a charity seemed like a perfect thing to do to honor her and help out another organization.”
His mother, who had a Ph.D. in pathology, retired to stay home with her son when the family moved from Teaneck to State College, Pennsylvania, in 1989.
“But whether it was chaperoning my field trips or volunteering for the local synagogue, Hadassah, Hillel, or local museums, she was always involved and working for charitable causes. And I’m following that example by pushing myself to complete this race.”
Mr. Lipowsky had long been aware of Chai Lifeline and contributed to friends’ Team Lifeline marathon campaigns.
“I know that the services they provide to these children are so important,” he said. “As someone who underwent traumatic events in the hospital as a child, I know what a difference groups like Chai Lifeline can make.”
Mr. Lipowsky began with a fundraising goal of $6,000 and when he surpassed that amount he increased his goal to $7,500. As of October 5, he’s raised $7,127. ( Click here to donate.)
He has gathered sponsors by emailing family and friends and posting in Teaneckshuls. The newspaper of his alma mater, Penn State, published an article about his campaign.
His father, Dr. Herbert Lipowsky, is a retired Penn State professor of biomedical engineering and still lives in State College.
“I am amazed at his effort to keep the memory of Trudy alive,” Dr. Lipowsky wrote in an email when asked to comment about his son’s endeavor.
“He has put in a lot of hard work in training for the marathon and raising funds for Chai Lifeline. Ten years ago, Trudy and I were elated that he could run the NYC marathon. To do it now is even more heartwarming. When I think back to his hospitalization 37 years ago, Trudy and I were devastated by what he was going through.”
Dr. Lipowsky continued: “Trudy was an extremely devoted mother; Josh was her whole life. He was her little oytzer” – Yiddish for “treasure.”
“I am sure that she would be extremely proud of his accomplishments, as am I, and I look forward to cheering him on at the finish line. The only thing he could do better is to find a nice girl and make us grandparents. That was her great wish.”
Mr. Lipowsky moved back to Teaneck when he was 24 to take a job as staff writer at the Jewish Standard in March 2006. Later he was promoted to assistant editor, and he remained at the paper until January 2011.
Since 2014, Mr. Lipowsky has worked as a senior research analyst for the Counter Extremism Project. His reports and analyses focus on white supremacy, antisemitism, Iran-sponsored terrorism, “and a little al-Qaida on the side.”
For the past two years, he’s also been speaking to groups about antisemitism, “to help spread awareness and understanding to contextualize everything happening now.”
He completed the 2013 New York City Marathon in just under five hours, “and I hope to match or beat that time,” he said.