‘The world’s greatest finish line’

‘The world’s greatest finish line’

Women’s ride raises funds for Chai Lifeline and Camp Simcha

Riders set off on the route to Camp Simcha. (Lenny Groysman)
Riders set off on the route to Camp Simcha. (Lenny Groysman)

Every summer for the past 25 years — with a pause for the pandemic — dozens of women from northern New Jersey and beyond have participated in a 100-mile fundraising ride. Called Tour de Simcha, the ride helps underwrite Chai Lifeline, a Jewish international support network for children with serious illness and their families, and it also helps Chai Lifeline’s free, medically supervised Camp Simcha in Glen Spey, N.Y.

This year was no exception, as more than 175 female cyclists from across the country collected pledges before the ride, which was July 10-11. The goal was to top last year’s total of $785,000. As of July 10, more than $676,000 was pledged and more was expected.

The top fundraiser is Michal Zahtz of Teaneck, who so far has received more than $25,000 in pledges from 99 donors.

“This will be my fifth year doing Tour de Simcha,” she said a few days before the ride.

Michal Zahtz of Teaneck trains for Tour de Simcha.

Married to Rabbi Ari Zahtz, associate rabbi of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, Michal Zahtz co-founded and co-directs i-Shine Teaneck, a Chai Lifeline afterschool program for Jewish Bergen County children living with illness or loss. Her bikeathon pledges are earmarked for i-Shine.

“It’s an amazing program, meeting two days a week, for kids from 8 years old to eighth grade, who have a parent or sibling who is ill or a parent or sibling who passed away,” she said.

“We have about 45 children, and for each session we need a lot of community help because it is completely volunteer-run. We do homework with the children, serve them snacks, have special activities, give them dinner, and then take them home. Volunteers pick up the kids from school or home, and high school volunteers serve as one-to-one counselors.”

The program meets in a donated space at Yeshivat He’Atid in Teaneck. “Our main expense is food and activities,” she said. “Every Monday and Wednesday we’re feeding about 100 people.”

She is “grateful to be a part of this incredible group of women riding to Camp Simcha,” she continued. “I love cycling and seeing the beautiful scenery and I love the challenge. Tour de Simcha attracts a wonderful mix of women of different ages and levels of religious observance and cycling experience. They’re all coming together for a common purpose of helping others.”

The bikeathon’s tagline is “The world’s greatest finish line,” and Michal Zahtz said that is not an exaggeration as far as she is concerned.

As the riders — and this year the runners as well — cross the finish line, campers and staff are on hand to cheer them on in the last moments of their challenging trek.

“Riding into Camp Simcha and seeing kids with so many challenges, and knowing you can help them, is one of my summer highlights,” she added.

Teams of charitable bikers signed up from Teaneck, Passaic, and Monsey, among other places in the New Jersey-New York-Pennsylvania area, as well as from Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Montreal, and Ohio.

There was a new twist on Tour de Simcha this time around — a 10-mile or 5-mile run/walk option, according to CP Koenig of Lakewood, Tour de Simcha’s director for the second year.

Ms. Koenig explained that the run and walk allows women who don’t bike to join the cause. “Multiple routes have been meticulously planned to accommodate the diverse range of skills and abilities among the participants,” she said.

The race kicked off on the evening of July 10 at Crystal Springs Minerals Hotel in Vernon Township, where participants stoked up with a pasta party to prepare for their departure the following morning.

“The continuous support leading up to and throughout the event, combined with the pure joy of crossing the finish line to the cheers and love of the campers at Camp Simcha, motivates and inspires all of our participants,” Ms. Koenig said.

“The actual cause is very dear to me and my husband, because our 8-year-old daughter goes to Camp Simcha, and we are very appreciative of Chai Lifeline and its Sunday clubs in Lakewood,” she said.

Ms. Koenig related that her daughter was crying out of frustration in a difficult therapy session earlier this year, “so I put on Camp Simcha songs, and that calmed her and got her through. It’s such a wonderful experience for her.”

The fact that the camp is well supervised and free of charge — thanks to donors like those who support Tour de Simcha riders and its counterpart for men, Bike 4 Chai, during the boys’ session later in the summer — makes all the difference for the Koenig family.

“We have so many expenses, with equipment and therapies, that it’s nice to have a program where we don’t have to worry about our daughter,” Ms. Koenig said. “It would be prohibitively expensive if we had to pay for it, and anyone who can pitch in to help is so appreciated.”

Rabbi Simcha Scholar, CEO of Chai Lifeline, said the bikeathon and associated activities “truly embodies the spirit of Chai Lifeline. It unites people, ignites resilience, and enables us to tangibly improve the lives of those facing illness. We express our deepest gratitude for the dedication and generosity of each participant and supporter.”

To learn more about Tour de Simcha and make a tax-deductible contribution, go to www.tourdesimcha.org.

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