There was no mistaking the enthusiasm of Meir Kaniel of Passaic, the North American representative of Kav L’Noar, as he announced the participation of three local rabbis in RabbisCanRun, a contingent of American rabbis who will be running in the Jerusalem Marathon in March.
The rabbis, all part of the Kav L’Noar team, will have the unique opportunity to focus on their health and help at-risk kids while participating in a very special Israel experience. The local rabbis include Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg of Highland Park, Rabbi Nachum Wachtel of Passaic and Rabbi Ephraim Epstein of Cherry Hill.
Kav L’Noar (KLN) was founded over 10 years ago by Dr. Ronald Wachtel, who made aliyah from the U.S. with his wife in 2002. As an experienced counseling psychologist, his vision was to create a family center that provides behavioral and emotional rehabilitative services to families in Israel with at-risk adolescents. KLN confronts the challenges of adolescence by implementing a holistic, family-systems model of intervention that empowers hundreds of families, many of whom are recent olim, to engage their teens and strive for healthy and stable relationships. The guiding philosophy of KLN is “to provide gentle interventions that provide powerful results.” Through individual, family and school-based interventions and mentoring programs, KLN has contributed to reducing school dropout rates, improving school performance, reducing at-risk behaviors of teens and strengthening family relationships.
When a child is referred to KLN by parents or a school, an initial assessment is made, after which a custom-made plan for therapy is designed that can include individual therapy for adolescents and adults, marital and couples counseling, family and parenting counseling, and individual mentoring for youth. KLN works with youngsters ages 10-18. Progress is assessed regularly during the therapy process, which typically lasts from 18 to 24 months. KLN also arranges lectures and seminars and provides educational materials for families, professional staff, educators, mental health professionals and the general public.
Kaniel, a licensed social worker with a full plate of professional activities, can himself attest to the value of running for physical and mental health. Only four years ago, Kaniel could not sustain more than a 90-second sprint. Today he runs between 12-15 miles each week and has completed more than 1,000 miles of training in preparation for the multiple marathons in which he participates. He ran in the Jerusalem Marathon twice, the first year running the 10K and last year completing the 21K half marathon. He plans to run the half marathon in Jerusalem this coming March as well. In the U.S. he has also participated in several marathons.
Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg, long-time resident of Highland Park and former rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Achim, serves as the director of the Morris and Gertrude Bienenfeld Department of Jewish Career Development and Placement at the Center for the Jewish Future of Yeshiva University. In discussing the motivation behind his joining the RabbisCanRun contingent with The Jewish Link, he shared a personal watershed experience. As a result of a back injury in the 1990s, Schwarzberg underwent major surgery in August of 2010. After an extensive period of physical therapy, he was motivated to continue these life-changing activities. Through working out at the YU gym and studying up on the physiology of the human body, he was determined to maintain his regimen of physical exercise. To date he has been exercising and running and has even become certified as a personal trainer. His overall health has improved dramatically and he no longer needs regular medications.
When approached by Kav L’Noar to run with the rabbis he was intrigued. He saw it as a double opportunity—to support the vital work of the organization, especially for families of recent olim, and to serve as a role model to others for healthier living. In preparing for the event, Schwarzberg shared, “I have run in local 5ks but never a 10k. And never on the hills of Jerusalem. I am enjoying the training and am already up to 3.75 miles in 35 minutes. I hope to run the 6K in about an hour or less.”
Rabbi Nachum Wachtel serves as the lower school Judaic studies principal at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey. He shared his feelings about the Kav L’Noar organization by saying, “Funds raised through this program help families in Israel by equipping them with the tools needed to confront their challenges. By participating in this initiative, I hope to create more of an awareness of looking at a child in conflict as a product of the various settings he is in. I feel that I am not only running for myself and my health but I am running for the children of the future generation in Israel.”
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein, rabbi of Congregation Sons of Israel of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, never imagined that he would be running a marathon. He described himself as a person who needs to improve his eating habits and “somehow turn back the clock 30 years and get back into shape.”
“Every summer when we vacation, I eat more healthfully, exercise frequently and come back to town energized to greet the upcoming holiday season. However, by Simchat Torah, I gain back any weight lost during the summer. I revert back to bad eating habits and exercise only sporadically.”
When he was presented with the challenge of running with RabbisCanRun he was hesitant, but took it on for the sake of his health and his family. Rabbi Epstein shared that his decision was also influenced by his congregation’s president, a long-time runner, who not only encouraged him to run but recommended that he share the experience with the entire community. In that way he would inspire others to improve their health, publicize his progress in training, raise awareness of the mission of KLN and inspire support for their vital work.
Kaniel wishes to thank the local corporate sponsors who are enabling the participation of the local runners. They include ABC Communications, Centurion Anesthesia, Scott J. Rothenberg, Esq., Red Group Management and Soveya.
To learn more about opportunities to participate in the Kav L’Noar marathon or to learn more about the organization, visit www.kavlnoar.org or contact Meir Kaniel at [email protected].
By Pearl Markovitz