The whole Jewish world is connected

The whole Jewish world is connected

A letter from Israel about running into old friends who do good things 

When we were invited to a wedding in the Carmel Mountain region on April 8, we decided to book a room that night at nearby Nir Etzion Resort Hotel rather than driving a long way home in the dark.

This being Israel, where you can’t walk two blocks without bumping into someone you know, it should not have surprised us to find another former Teaneckite at that very hotel on that very night.

Upon checking in before the wedding, signs in the lobby informed us that the hotel was hosting participants in the annual Geerz fundraising ride.

Geerz is a nonprofit therapeutic mountain biking program founded in 2012 by Nachum Wasosky, a Ramat Beit Shemesh resident and youth counselor/therapist. The goal is to foster mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual development in kids dealing with PTSD, anxiety or eating disorders, anger management issues, autism, family dysfunction, and other challenges.

Participants in the 2024 GIG fundraising ride for Geerz at Nir Etzion Resort Hotel.

Geerz is not just an afterschool club; the award-winning program follows a five-year curriculum of mountain biking as a means of helping the kids learn to deal with the physical obstacles and bumps that are part of life, Nachum explained.

“We have letters of recommendation from pediatricians, psychologists, and social workers who’ve been sending kids to Geerz for over 10 years,” he said. “Studies show that when you get outside in a group extreme sport activity, you do better in life and in school. It recharges your spiritual and emotional batteries.”

Every week, 36 riding groups include about 450 boys and girls ranging from 7 through 15 years old. Some groups are mixed, some gender-separate, depending on the preferences of the kids and their parents. They’re led by 51 specially trained adult instructors and teen assistant instructors, typically graduates of the program.

Instructors regularly meet with mental-health professionals to learn how to handle all kinds of situations, because “you’re out there with the kids 90 minutes a week, and you see and hear things a regular therapist wouldn’t,” Nachum said.

The two-day GIG (Get Into Geerz) charity ride provides half of Geerz’s annual budget of $1.3 million. About 100 people from Israel and abroad participated this year.

Geerz instructors are with Ethiopian Israeli kids who were displaced from their village near the Gaza border.

Among them was our good friend and former Cherry Lane neighbor, Dr. Richard Gertler, now of Beit Shemesh. We had just enough time to get a picture of us together before we left for the wedding. The next morning, Richie and my husband davened together in the hotel, as they’d done for 20 years at Congregation Beth Aaron.

Richie wasn’t the only former Teaneck resident there this year; among others were Joseph Gitler, now of Ra’anana, and Eric Distenfeld, now of Modi’in. Nachum told me that about 10 percent of Geerz instructors, youth riders, and donors come from New Jersey.

What’s more, Nachum said, “The donor base from the New Jersey area is proportionally significantly larger than from other places.”

Every GIG participant must raise a minimum of $3,600, which sponsors two kids in Geerz for a year.

Geerz founder Nachum Wasosky

“Almost everybody raises more than that, but the average donation from people in New Jersey is larger than anywhere else — and we get donations worldwide.”

On February 8, the Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Rothenberg law firm sponsored its second Law, Orthopedics and Laughter (LOL) fundraiser for Geerz at the Rain event space in Teaneck.

Nachum, who’s also an ordained rabbi, goes to Englewood and Teaneck twice a year to solicit donations. He’d like to extend his fundraising activities to other Jewish and even non-Jewish communities.

“We need to raise more money and help more kids,” he said. “During the war, the mental and emotional health of Israeli children has taken a major hit, and Geerz is here for them.

“We are soon opening in six more locations in the south, including youth villages and communities where displaced residents are now returning. This will add at least 100 kids to the program. Our eventual goal is to have 1,000 kids altogether.”

Abby and Steve Leichman had a happy surprise meeting with Dr.Gertler; here, they flank him at Nir Etzion Resort Hotel in the Carmel Mountains.

A year before the GIG ride on April 7-9, Geerz booked 70 rooms at Nir Etzion. And then after October 7, the hotel took in 500 displaced Ethiopian Israelis from the village of Ibim, near Sderot. It wasn’t clear if Geerz would have to find a different hotel — but in the end, the Ibim families went home two weeks before the charity ride.

Meanwhile, Geerz started working with children sheltering at the hotel. “Three days before the ride, we brought the bikes and helmets to Ibim so we could continue with those kids now that they are home,” Nachum told me.

Richie Gertler, a longtime cycling enthusiast who took up mountain biking after immigrating to Israel with his wife, Ellen, in 2019, raised $5,200 for Geerz this year.

He said that getting to know local trails through Nachum Wasosky and GIG director Chaim Wizman “has made a day-and-night difference in my aliyah. I’ve learned a new sport late in life, and it’s done a lot for me in appreciating the land of Israel. I love knowing I’m raising funds for kids who are getting tremendous benefits from the program.”

read more: