After months of training for a charity run in Florida, Elana Rutner, 16, could have been really upset when snow forced cancellation of the flight that was to take her there. Instead, she said, “How can I make a big deal about that when I think about what these children face every day?”
The Feb. 16 half-marathon — in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — was to raise funds for the summer camp in the Catskills, NY, run by the Brooklyn-based Hebrew Academy for Special Children. Established in 1963, the nonprofit, nonsectarian agency provides a wide range of educational and clinical services to children and adults with special needs, in addition to its summer camp.
Three days before the run, it looked as if the barrage of storms and the resultant cancellations of flights would prevent participants from this area from getting to Florida. And then a rescuer appeared: HASC supporter Eli Rowe of Queens, the president and CEO of LionCage Shredding, organized a Feb. 14 flight for 109 race participants and facilitators from the region, in partnership with JetBlue Airlines.
Rowe said, “I see it as something anyone would have done. When given the chance to help children in my community, how could I turn my back? I have to also thank JetBlue for their tremendous help in making it all possible.”
Elana, who lives in West Orange and attends the Jewish Educational Center’s Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth, decided last year to participate together with some of her friends from another Jewish day school, and began training. She also raised $3,000 in pledges, mostly from her family members.
“I love running for fun, but I wanted to translate my hobby into a greater cause,” she said. “I have always admired Camp HASC and plan on working there as a counselor in the future. When my friend Arianna Kigner, also an avid runner, told me that her school, Frisch [in Paramus], was forming a team to run in the HASC half-marathon, I jumped at the chance of joining.”
“Watching the HASC campers complete the half-marathon with their counselors was truly amazing,” she said. “The smile on the face of each camper upon crossing the finish line was indescribable.”
Arianna, a junior who lives in Springfield, said she was struck by the devotion of the staff to its campers. They made sure “they had the right food, got involved in the atmosphere, were comfortable, and could participate in the race — even if it meant pushing a stroller for four and a half hours in the sun,” she said.
Also on the flight with Elana and Arianna was West Orange resident Ben Hershkowitz; all three assisted special-needs participants in completing the half-marathon.
Hershkowitz, 21, took part in the race for the second time. A JEC graduate who is now a junior at Yeshiva University in New York City, he worked for the past two summers as a counselor at Camp HASC, which provides a seven-week sleep-away experience for over 300 developmentally and physically disabled children and adults.
At the camp, Hershkowitz worked in the early childhood division. “My co-counselors and I had four amazing little boys aged between eight and 12,” he said. “Even though they were all nonverbal, we communicated in different ways, and I still keep in touch with them. The past two years my camper Gavi Sacks has come down to participate in the marathon with me. We had a Shabbos full of ruach and an inspiring marathon, as my co-counselor and I pushed him past the finish line.”
Like Arianna, he was also awed by determination of everyone involved. “It’s hard to believe that despite a snowstorm and just the regular complications of moving 160 people, including ones with disabilities, that this managed to happen in such spectacular form,” he said. “It’s rare and truly incredible to see such love, passion, and energy from so many, all with a laser focus on the betterment of this special organization.”