July 18, 2024
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Scaling the Summit for SHALVA: Jews Come Together to Move Mountains in Global Effort

Scaling the largest free-standing mountain in the world is an unbelievable accomplishment. A test to human endurance and tenacity. Raising a special-needs child can require the same tenacity.

This October, some 30 Jews from around the world climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for SHALVA, The Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Jerusalem: helping the parents and kids of SHALVA scale their own personal “mountains.”

With participants from as far away as the UK, USA, Canada and Israel, the climb attracted an eclectic group of trekkers all bound together with a common goal. The group spanned the spectrum of the Jewish community from secular to ultra-Orthodox. Each one had their own reasons for choosing to reach beyond their own limits to do something incredible. Trip coordinator Gaby Hirsch said, “Everyone at SHALVA is touched that so many SHALVA supporters have come together to climb for one cause. What started as a UK initiative became a global effort as the unique opportunity captured imaginations around the world.”

Grandfather of nine John Corre, a Jerusalem resident, participated to celebrate his 70th birthday. He said, “The climb up Kilimanjaro was the most wonderful Jewish experience, as well as being a very enjoyable and satisfying challenge, with a group of wonderful people, who became one big, happy family.”

These intrepid climbers were the latest members of the SHALVA family. For 25 years, SHALVA has been helping children with special needs move beyond their limitations. SHALVA programs and services are designed to provide individual treatment for the child while also strengthening the fabric of the family. Providing services for more than 500 infants, children and young adults, SHALVA accompanies each child from birth to adulthood. Individual tailored programs are designed to help participants reach their full potential and integrate into the community.

John Corre explained, “Our ages ranged from 27 to 71 (me), but age differences didn’t matter, because we all realized that whatever challenge we faced on the mountain was insignificant compared to the daily challenges faced by the children of SHALVA, for whom we were delighted to have raised over $300,000 from our incredibly generous family and friends.”

Each climber pledged to raise $10,000. Each one found his or her own unique methods of raising money, from running an “Auction of Promises” to sponsored paragliding. The money raised is helping to fund SHALVA’s National Center, due to open in the heart of Jerusalem next year. This state-of-the-art facility will enable SHALVA to expand its services to offer treatment to four times as many children, making SHALVA a beacon of hope throughout the Middle East. Climb participant Helen Silverstein recounted that she left her comfortable home in Toronto because “I wanted to do it because the kids at SHALVA can’t.”

To make the trip as inclusive as possible, the organizers decided to make it adhere to the highest possible standards of Jewish law. The trek is served vegetarian food and the organizers purchased new cooking and eating utensils. On the seventh day of the trek, the group rested for Shabbat on Mt. Kilimanjaro, allowing them to join millions of Jews around the world keeping Shabbat as part of the “Shabbos Project.” While no participant was required to keep Shabbat, by making the trip adhere to the most stringent feasible level of Jewish observance all climbers were able to maintain their own comfort level.

Corre was moved by the level of Jewish observance possible while climbing the world’s highest freestanding mountain. He recounted that they had “a minyan three times a day; a Chumash with Rashi shiur every day given by a young rabbi; an eruv built at 4,200 meters so that we could carry on Shabbat; a Carlebach Kabbalat Shabbat led by a young chazan from London; wonderful services on Shabbat; and a siyum on Shabbat with a shiur given by Shoshanna Baker from Ra’anana who had been learning Daf Yomi.”

The would-be trekkers were not without their apprehensions before the climb, and for good reason: in the course of nine days they hiked approximately 100 km. Trekking through five different ecosystems, participants would be pushing their personal endurance to the limit. One of the biggest risks was altitude sickness. This condition occurs when the body responds badly to the reduced level of oxygen present at higher altitudes. Climbers were warned to watch out for headaches, dizziness and nausea. As the climb progressed, altitude did prevent some of the climbers from reaching the summit, but all climbers were winners.

Helen Silverstein explained that the camaraderie among the group was the real highlight of the trip. “The actual climb was amazing, and the scenery spectacular; however, the ‘one on one’ interaction with the various climbers over the course of nine days was priceless and irreplaceable. If I could have handpicked our ‘team’ it would have included each and every one of the players.”

Just as SHALVA has brought together people from across Israeli society, united by the desire to give all kids the best start in life, the SHALVA Mt. Kilimanjaro climb brought together Jews from every possible walk of life to continue that vital work. This unique trip demonstrates how we are all climbing mountains of one variety or another in our lives, and reminds us that it is incumbent upon us to reach out our hands and help the other up.

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