July 23, 2014 —
TRI-STATE REGION — Hundreds of cyclists from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and as far away as LA, Miami, Montreal, England and Israel hope to raise more than $3 million on a two-day, up to 180-mile bike trip for a cause they believe in—sending hundreds of Jewish children with life-threatening or lifelong illnesses to summer camp. The event, Bike4Chai, now in its fifth year, is a project of Chai Lifeline, a Jewish charitable organization. This summer, Camp Simcha Special, located in Glen Spey, NY, will host 420 of these children for two-week camp sessions.
Setting off from Piscataway, NJ on Wednesday, July 30, 350 men will choose whether to bike 50, 75 or 100 miles on day one. After over nighting in Scranton, PA, they will ride another 65 miles on day two, through the scenic Pocono Mountains, along the Lackawaxen River, across the Delaware River, ending at Camp Simcha Special, where they will be greeted by and celebrate with the campers.
Riders representing all different skill levels participate—those who can ride 20 mph, those who ride 12 mph; some have been training all year for this event, others not. Both medical and mechanical support vehicles are strategically placed all along the route. Anyone who gets too tired or decides to stop at any point can get a bus ride to the hotel.
Interestingly, this ride is not a competition, according to Bike4Chai event coordinator Yoel Margolese. “We’re all a team. We’re all doing this together.”
Each registered rider is pledged to raise a minimum of $3,600. “Many raise much more,” Margolese said. As of July 9, the top fundraiser had pledges of $155,330 and the top team had pledges of $243,139.
The idea for Bike4Chai came about in 2009 after one lone Camp Simcha volunteer decided to ride his bike to the camp from Lakewood, NJ. The following year, the event began officially when 38 riders raised $200,000. Since then, it has grown every year, with 300 riders raising $2.8 million last year. The 2014 ride is capped at 350 participants, and the hope is to raise as much as $4 million.
Chai Lifeline, a worldwide charity founded in 1986, takes care of children with serious pediatric illness and offers a wide range of support services to their families. “Our goal is to think of what the family needs before they see the need themselves,” Margolese said, whether it be counseling or help with food and transportation on long trips to the hospital or providing a vacation to siblings. Starting out to help children with cancer, the organization’s work expanded over the years to include genetic and other diseases.
“The camp is our flagship program,” Margolese reported, “providing summer camp for those wouldn’t be able to have the experience. For two weeks, they have the time of their lives. They’re normal kids, spending time with others like them.”
On July 31, hundreds of men will ride into Camp Simcha and cross what Margolese calls “the world’s greatest finish line.”
“It’s where you see all of your hard work and training pay off. You get to see firsthand where all of your fundraising efforts will go,” Margolese reported. “It’s an unbelievable experience.”