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21.1 Kilometers, or 13.1 miles. That’s the total distance run by the ten MTA students who ran the Jerusalem Marathon on Friday, March 17. And while that’s an impressive accomplishment in itself, our experience in our four days in Israel far exceeded the two or three hours that the marathon consumed.

Most importantly, we raised a minimum of $2,800 per student for Shalva, an incredible organization in Israel that provides services of all types to children with developmental disabilities and to their families. With the money MTA students raised, Shalva will be able to provide more programming, more therapy, and more respite service to more students than it already does. We had the pleasure of seeing the great work Shalva does in action, visiting their amazing new facility in Bayit Vegan, which just opened this year.

In addition to what we were able to raise for Shalva, it was impressive to see what Shalva did for us. On a most basic level, Shalva workers took care of our every need, not only providing airline tickets to Israel for the runners and chaperones, but excellent transportation, meals, hotel accommodations, and everything we needed. We were even taken to visit important sites in Jerusalem on Thursday and Motzai Shabbos, including Yad Vashem, Har Herzl, and of course the Kotel.

Perhaps the most moving part of the experience was meeting Mrs. Esther Wachsman, famous as the mother of Nachshon Wachsman, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped and killed by Hamas in 1994. While that story, and the Wachsmans response to it, are truly impressive and a huge Kiddush Hashem, what most of us did not know until Shabbos was that Nachshon had a brother Refael, a young adult with disabilities who is served by Shalva. Mrs. Wachsman told us that in the middle of her grief over Nachshon’s kidnapping, she was visited by Kalman Samuels, the founder of Shalva. He walked in with an empty suitcase, packed up some clothes for Refael, and took Refael to live at Shalva until the Wachsmans could put their life back together. This showed us what Shalva is about, a family of caring about others and doing chessed whenever and however that chessed is needed.

After a restful and inspiring Shabbos, we met up with MTA alum Matthew Albert and traveled on Sunday to Midbar Yehuda, where we visited the probable location of a number of important events in Jewish History. We climbed to the spot believed to be the place where the “ish iti” went each year on Yom Kippur to push the “seir l’azazel” off a cliff. Then, we visited a cave of the type where David hid while being chased by Shaul Hamelech. While looking around there, we happened to meet an Arab shepherd with a flock of goats, two of whom were only half an hour old! They were surprisingly cute.

Finally, we visited the techelet factory in Kfar Adumim, an effort to reinstitute the wearing of tzitzis with techelet. This effort is being led by olim who are very close to the MTA family. Dr. Ari Greenspan is an MTA alumnus from the class of 1981, and Mrs. Judy Sterman is the sister of our Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Taubes.

All in all, it was an amazing trip. We pushed each other to physical accomplishment, raised tzedaka for an amazing organization, and had a moving and educational experiences in Eretz Yisrael. We would like to thank Mr. Sragow for chaperoning the trip and making it an unforgettable one.

 

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