On Wednesday morning, Dec. 29, following a week of gloomy weather, the Negev clouds gave way to abundant sunshine and an atmosphere of heightened hope and humanity, as ADI (adi-israel.org), Israel’s most comprehensive provider of residential and rehabilitative care for individuals with severe disabilities, hosted its First Annual “Race for Inclusion.” The 2.5K fun run highlighted the importance of disability inclusion while also raising over $14,000 to enhance ADI’s Respiratory Therapy and Hydrotherapy programs, thereby empowering their residents and special education students with multiple disabilities.
In the spirit of true inclusion, more than 250 runners of varied ages, backgrounds and levels of ability ran together along a fully-accessible track that encircled ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, the renowned 25-acre rehabilitation village. This newest iteration of “ADI Fleet” – the organization’s inclusive running team – featured ADI residents, special education students and international volunteers, as well as nearly 180 North American gap year students studying at Israeli yeshivot and seminaries, including Mechinat Ruach HaNegev, Torah Tech, Tiferet, Yeshivat Ashreinu, Yeshivat Torat Shraga, and Amudim.
“From start to finish, every minute of our first ‘Race for Inclusion’ was simply magical. We always talk about the spirit and positivity that pervades our ADI centers, and it was so gratifying to bring these young leaders right into the middle of the action, to welcome them into our family and allow them to further enrich the inclusive atmosphere,” said Elie Klein, ADI’s North American Director of Development.
“There is something very special and wonderfully symbolic about others coming to meet our residents and special education students where they are. ADI works so hard to ensure that every man, woman and child has tangible opportunities for encountering disability and promoting acceptance, and moments like these prove that we are on the right track and making serious strides for inclusion.”
While the gap year students took every opportunity to meet and connect with the ADI residents and special education students, there was also a competitive element to the race, and medals were awarded to the top three finishers. Ben Roitman, a native of Stamford, Connecticut, who is studying at Torah Tech this year, took home the gold medal and beautiful memories of an unforgettable experience.
“Running can feel overly competitive at times, but ADI’s ‘Race for Inclusion’ was entirely different – it was all about fun and collective pride. The nerves that I usually feel on race day were replaced with a sense of purpose and community. It felt incredible to be part of something so much bigger than myself,” explained Roitman.
“I was thankful to have the opportunity to raise money for ADI, because of the special level of care that I saw on campus when our school visited earlier this year. I was impressed by the personalization and innovation offered by ADI, and how they are helping people in ways that didn’t even occur to me. Winning the gold medal was incredibly meaningful, but I know that I share it with many others: everyone who helped me reach my fundraising goal, my fellow students and my new ADI family.”
Nathan Azagury, a Yeshivat Torat Shraga student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Ben Zatman, a Torah Tech student from Silver Spring, Maryland, won the silver and bronze medals respectively.
At the conclusion of the race, all of the runners gathered in the village’s accessible amphitheater for a joyous inclusive celebration featuring delicious food, live music, and inspirational speeches from special guests and ADI’s leadership. Three finalists from “Israel Ninja Warrior” received cheers after calling those assembled “heroic.”
“We thought we were strong,” said Israeli athlete Gur Arad. “But after seeing all of you running together today, we know that you are the strong ones.”
Major General (Res.) Doron Almog, the Founder and Chairman of ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, closed out the event by thanking the gap year students for raising disability awareness and encouraging them to continue “carrying the message of inclusion and love.”
“Always remember that we are all just temporary creatures. We come one day, and we pass the next, and we need to give meaning to our lives in between. We do that by taking responsibility for one another, especially those with severe disabilities who need extra love and care,” said Almog. “By coming here today to participate in ADI’s ‘Race for Inclusion,’ you fulfilled the most noble of responsibilities, to truly ‘care for your neighbor as yourself.’”
To learn more about ADI and to donate, please visit adi-israel.org.