On the morning of Dec. 29, the weather was beautiful, the smiles were plentiful and the inspiration was off the charts, as ADI, Israel’s network of specialized rehabilitative care for those touched by and living with disability, hosted its second annual “Race for Inclusion,” a jubilant celebration of ability at every level. Gaining considerable momentum since its first year, the 2.5K fun run drew more than 400 North American gap-year and college students, while also raising over $17,000 to enhance the care of ADI’s residents and special education students with severe disabilities.
As the race began, the 160 participants of JNF-USA’s Alternative Winter Break led the pack along a fully-accessible track that encircled ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, the renowned 40-acre rehabilitation village. Following close behind were many of ADI’s international and National Service volunteers as well as gap year students studying at Israeli yeshivot and seminaries, including Mechinat Ruach HaNegev, Torah Tech, Tiferet, Yeshivat Ashreinu, Machon Maayan, Amudim, Aish Gesher Women and Midreshet AMIT. Tens of ADI residents and special education students met the throngs of runners at the finish line to complete the race together in the spirit of inclusion, friendship and acceptance.
“Discussing disability inclusion, equity and access is essential, but we can’t rely on dialogue alone to encourage our future leaders to promote social change. That’s why we developed an event that allows gap year and college students to live and breathe true inclusion in a way that will inspire them to make it a reality,” said Elie Klein, ADI’s director of development for the United States and Canada.
“At the starting line, these young altruists may see the event as just another race and simply hope to take great strides to empower others. But when they cross the finish line with people using walkers and wheelchairs, and experience next-level joy while singing and dancing with our ADI residents and special education students with severe disabilities, everything comes into focus. There is a realization that celebrating ability at every level enhances our collective lives and makes us stronger as a society, and these newly minted agents of change pledge to do their part to make true inclusion the new normal.”
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, inspirational speeches from ADI’s leadership, and a medal ceremony for the top three finishers. Second-place finisher Ben Hadad, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and a JNF-USA Alternative Winter Break participant who is currently studying at Johns Hopkins University, noted that he had “never participated in an event quite like this before.”
“Winning a medal definitely came as a surprise to me, but I was even more amazed by how the event’s inclusive atmosphere made me feel,” explained Hadad. “When my peers and I were dancing and singing with the ADI residents, I felt truly happy. I wasn’t focusing on how sad it was that these children had to live with disabilities; instead, I was elated that they were receiving so much love that they were always smiling. That was eye-opening for me.”
Yakira Colish, an intern at ADI Jerusalem and one of the dozens of Tri-State residents who participated in the event, said that she felt strongly about raising funds for ADI via the “Race for Inclusion,” because it struck a personal chord.
“It’s been incredibly meaningful volunteering at ADI week after week and experiencing firsthand how love stems from giving. When I heard that the funds raised from this amazing event would help secure equipment that would save and enhance lives, I knew that I needed to encourage my family and friends to spread the love by lending their support,” said the Long Beach resident, who is studying at Amudim this year. “Recently, someone very close to me became reliant on medical devices, and it made me appreciate the value of modern medical technology, as well as the warm, uplifting and curative environment that pervades the ADI centers.”
“Having been a part of the ADI family for several months now, I knew that this event was going to be extraordinary, but the enthusiasm from the hundreds of students in attendance really took it to the next level. Still, my ultimate highlight was the hug I received from a young resident after crossing the finish line. It touched me deeply and reinforced why I need to continue my involvement with this incredible organization for years to come.”