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Movers and Shakers

C. B. Lieber

Some people come up with great ideas that end up snowballing… turning into a movement that affects other people in their community, their city, even their country

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

Have you ever thought of a great idea for self-improvement? How about an idea other people would want to try too? 

Some people come up with great ideas that end up snowballing… turning into a movement that affects other people in their community, their city, even their country. You may have learned about some of these movements in school; others you may have participated in personally. How did they start? Some of the facts will surprise you!

The Brachos Contest

We all try to say brachos, right? Sometimes we have more kavanah than other times, sometimes less. Wouldn’t you feel more motivated to say your brachos out loud if you knew you’d get an immediate reward for it? That’s the idea behind the Brachos Contest, launched in Lakewood, New Jersey.

Starting Small

The contest is the brainchild of Mrs. Sori Berkowitz, whose father-in-law was very ill one summer. “I wanted to do something as a zechus for him,” Mrs. Berkowitz recalls. “I created a chart to encourage children to make brachos, photocopied it, and gave it out to all the neighbors. After my father-in-law was niftar, we got such positive feedback that we decided to go public. We advertised the contest in the local paper, and since then it’s really mushroomed.” 

As a graphic artist, Mrs. Berkowitz had no problem designing a chart with boxes to check off for each brachah recited out loud. Once a child fills in a chart (with the number of spaces according to his age), he drops it off at Mrs. Berkowitz’s home or at another drop-off spot across town, and gets a can of soda. Every few months, a raffle is held of all the completed charts, and the winner gets a bike.

Still Going Strong

Not only is the contest still going strong today, but it’s also spread to many different cities, as people hear about it and ask Mrs. Berkowitz for permission to bring it to their own communities. Mrs. Berkowitz’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Tzippy Fishbane, for example, has been running the contest in Cleveland for over five years. In Cleveland, about 50 to 100 charts, sometimes more, are entered in each raffle, and there are three different drop-off spots where kids can leave their charts and claim their sodas. The lucky winners get a choice of a scooter, a bike, or a RipStik as their prize, and their names are announced in the next contest ad.


“Even adults have entered the contest,” says Mrs. Fishbane, “but they tell me that if they win, I shouldn’t announce their name!” 

Once families start entering the brachos contest, they often get hooked! “Because of the contest, we’re all better about making brachos out loud,” says Mrs. Berkowitz. “I have some families who started 13 years ago, and they’re still going strong.”

Team Lifeline

We all put money into the pushke. But have you ever dreamed of starting a program that would generate tens of thousands, even millions, of dollars for tzedakah? That’s what Ari Weinberger of Scarsdale, New York, did when he decided to challenge people to run a marathon for Chai Lifeline.

Creating a Team

In 2005, Mr. Weinberger participated in his first half-marathon (a 13-mile or 21-kilometer race, used as a fundraiser by people sponsoring the runners for their efforts) with a secular organization. Afterward, he thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to do this for a Jewish organization too? 

As Mr. Weinberger had long been involved in Chai Lifeline, which helps cancer patients and their families, he immediately thought of it. Once the organization agreed to the plan, he had to choose a race location, find volunteers to help out with the technical details, and create a way to arrange both participants and sponsors. 

Coordinating a marathon includes not just the running but also creating a full race weekend, where participants get Shabbos accommodations and prerace and postrace events as well. “Our first year we got 26 runners,” Mr. Weinberger recalls. “We chose Miami because we wanted a race that offered both a full marathon (26 miles/42 km) and a half marathon, and we felt Miami would be an appealing destination for people from colder climates. Shuls and kosher catering were easily accessible. The race weekend coincided with many schools’ winter breaks, so it worked out well.” 

That first year, 2006, Team Lifeline raised $145,000. The next year they had 63 runners, and by the third year they had grown to 200 and raised close to $1 million. “Now, our 12th race year, we have three runs and a bike ride, for a total of four events each year,” says Mr. Weinberger proudly, “and we’re raising, in total, close to $3 million. It’s become an event on many people’s calendars.”

Rising to the Challenge

The Miami event is still the biggest of the four, with 430 plus runners in the last couple of years. While Mr. Weinberger isn’t involved in the day-to-day organization anymore, he still plans strategy with the race director. In addition to recruiting runners and making sure they have a great time, there are many logistics involved, from finding a hotel that can accommodate 800-plus people to making sure all the runners are safe. When there’s bad weather, things get even more complicated! 

One of the most amazing things about Team Lifeline is how Chai Lifeline patients rise to the challenge to join in the marathon. “We have one Camp Simcha camper who’s in a wheelchair and on a ventilator,” says Mr. Weinberger. “Last year she trained to walk the last 1,000 steps and ended up doing 1,500. We had another camper who trained himself to walk the last mile, then did two miles. Another pushed himself in his wheelchair for five or six miles.”

Anyone Can Do It

“In Miami, Team Lifeline is a fixture in the race. We’re the biggest charity team there,” Mr. Weinberger continues. “Every year in the airport people see me wearing the Team Lifeline hat and stop me to tell me what a great team it is. 

“When I started this, people told me, ‘I don’t know any runners. I don’t know if I can help recruit.’ I said, ‘This isn’t for runners, it’s for anyone who wants to try, anyone who wants to help an organization.’ It’s an amazing experience. We have plenty of people who couldn’t run around the block before they signed up and successfully ran the half marathon. Anyone can do it.”

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