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High Hopes

As told to Esther Sender

When I heard about Simcha, an Orthodox wife and mother of seven who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, my first reaction was: “Why does a religious woman need to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro? Aren’t there enough mountains in our own homes,including the one in the laundry room, to conquer? Aren’t there starving people to help?” But only thirty seconds into our interview my attitude completely turned around.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The mountain was a metaphor. Everyone has their own mountain, and I wanted to
climb mine. I suffer from a fear of heights, so scaling the mountain was not
only about the physical challenge, but about stretching myself beyond what I
thought possible.

So many times in life we give credence to others’ wants and
dreams, yet so easily dismiss our own. But everyone is entitled to their dream.
And when one person lives their dream, it gives permission to others to go
beyond their boundaries. HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave each and every one of us the
power to achieve our dreams. This was my dream.


You Can Do This

I never intended to really climb a mountain; I wasn’t brave
enough and was more of couch potato. Then I started going occasionally to the
gym. Then I started going six days a week.

One day I mentioned to someone, just in passing, that I’d
love to climb
Kilimanjaro. But after I heard myself say it aloud, I davened, “Hashem, if you
really want me to do this then let me know.”

I’m a teacher, and the next day I went to work, and one of
my students told me, “My father’s going to climb Mt.
Kilimanjaro; it’s called a kosher climb.” Was this the sign I was looking for?

But my friends thought I was out of my mind. Everyone kept
saying, “You can’t do this,” and I kept answering, “You’re right, I can’t do

I asked one of the trainers in the gym to train me for the
climb, but she said, “No, I can’t train you for that; you really need to train
right.” She pointed me to another trainer who got me running up and down stairs
holding 44 pounds. When I’d be ready to faint, I’d get a short rest, and then
go back to do ten more repetitions. My coach kept saying, “You’re much stronger
than you think you are; you can do it. Don’t quit.” These words gave me the
courage and the belief to go on. I did three months of intensive training. I
had to get stronger in every area, if my strengths weren’t balanced, I’d fall.

All the women I asked to climb with me said no. But I saw
this as a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I took my husband to a meeting about the
climb. At the meeting my husband was horrified, but he saw my sincerity. He
said, “This is my wife’s dream, this is what she needs, and she needs me to
come with her or her dream won’t happen.” We’ve been married for thirty-three
years, together since we were children. My husband wasn’t training; he simply
showed up for me so I could live my dream.”

Many asked the question: “Isn’t it forbidden to put
ourselves in a place of danger?” I read up extensively on the risks. The tour
guides monitored our pulse rates, our oxygen, and our blood pressure twice a
day. Anyone showing signs of sickness was taken off the mountain immediately.
We had proper equipment, and layers of clothing, socks, shoes, head, and eye
protection. Our guide was a top professional who attended to every detail, physical
and otherwise. Before the trip he even sat us down with a satellite video
delineating exactly where the eiruv would be. And I had trained for the
climb. I was ready to face the mountain.


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