Israel invites you to pedal with purpose, hike for hope

Three years ago, Betsy Diamant-Cohen had a double knee replacement. Once healed, the Baltimore resident got on a bicycle and slowly built up her strength to the point that she recently flew to Israel to participate in a cycling fundraiser for the Arava Institute and Hazon Israel Ride

The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies ( trains Jews and Arabs to be environmental leaders, and Hazon ( is America’s largest Jewish environmental group. Diamant-Cohen, a 57-year-old literacy expert, said she decided to participate in the ride supporting the two organizations after her husband, Stuart, did so a year earlier. 

“He came home so enthusiastic that I decided I wanted to go with him this year,” she said. “We trained ahead of time by riding on weekends to build up endurance and muscles. But I kept reminding myself what I had been told: It’s a ride, not a race, so I didn’t push myself to exhaustion.” 

As the popularity of physically demanding fundraisers has grown dramatically in Israel during the past decade, so too has the number of participants over the age of 50, some of whom travel to Israel expressly to take part in the events.  

Diamant-Cohen said she took advantage of the option to sit out some of the tougher hills on the ride, thanks to the air-conditioned bus that accompanied the cyclists throughout their journey in southern Israel. The riders could enter the bus whenever they chose. 

“I’m proud of myself for completing the journey, exhilarated at having ridden downhill to the Arava desert, glad to have raised money for causes I believe in, and a deep sense of kinship with the other riders,” she said. 

Diamant-Cohen and her husband together raised a total of $11,395.

She said the fundraiser “allowed me to experience Israel in a way I have never experienced it before. I shared a unique experience with my husband, and I used the bike ride as an opportunity to come back to Israel to visit my friends and relatives.” 

Israel’s most successful sports fundraiser is Wheels of Love (, the annual charity bike ride on behalf of ALYN Hospital, Israel’s only pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation center. Last month, 700 riders, including many from abroad, took part in the strenuous five-day ALYN bike ride, as well as shorter routes. This year’s event has so far raised $2.44 million “with money still coming in,” said Erez Ezrachi, director of Wheels of Love. 

Each participant commits to raising a minimum of $2,500, though many raise more than $5,000, and, as with other physically demanding events, must bring a doctor’s note certifying they are healthy enough to participate. They must also have health insurance. This year’s riders ranged from age 14 to 81, but Ezrachi said the average age of the participants was just over 50.

“Riders who have participated for years are getting older, so our average age is rising. But it’s also true that people in their 40s and 50s are more aware of their responsibility to the community, more philanthropic than their younger counterparts, and that’s who we tend to attract,” he said.

Thomas Shipley, 53, who lives in Demarest, N.J., raised a total of $22,000 during ALYN’s last two bike rides. He chose the most difficult on-road route: 350 miles, including the hilly Negev desert, from the great Ramon Crater to Eilat and then to the hospital in Jerusalem.  

As the cyclists reached the hospital’s finish line, “We were greeted by the staff and the volunteers dancing and singing,” Shipley recalled. “The children were beating drums. We couldn’t help but feel the emotion.” 

Mark Render, 62, is both a founder of and participant in the Hike for Hope, an event that has, over the past decade, raised more than $300,000 for Tsad Kadima (A Step Forward), a rehabilitation organization for children, adolescents and young adults with cerebral palsy and other motor dysfunctions. The annual event offers both extreme and newbie hikers a choice of routes. Several of the organization’s young beneficiaries participate in some of the hikes, often in wheelchairs. 

“We started with 10 hikers and now we have 45,” Render said. “We are a small but very motivated group and have a lot of fun on the hike together.” 

Render, a Jerusalemite whose daughter has cerebral palsy, said about 60 percent of the hikers are over 50. 

“Many are personal friends who come back year after year,” he said. “But aside from the personal connection, hiking is a physically challenging activity that brings a tremendous feeling of achievement and can be enjoyed well over the age of 50. Together with the younger hikers, we feel we make a difference in the kids’ lives.”

Andrew Eisen, 52, from Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., said his past participation in a fundraising walk for AKIM, an organization that serves intellectually disabled Israeli children and adults, and more recent participation in ALYN’s Wheels of Love, has given him “an emotional high.”

“It’s wonderful working together with so many for the good of Israel as a people, and physically it is wonderful to challenge myself in ways that I enjoy. Were it not dressed in the clothing of assisting others, I would not find the time to do it,” he said.

Eisen, who lived in Israel from 1997 to 2004, said traveling to Israel for a fundraiser presents only one problem: “I suffer each time I have to leave.” 

2015 fundraiser sampler:

  • Hike for Hope: March 11-12
  • Wheels of Love: Oct. 25-29
  • Arava Institute and Hazon Israel Ride: Oct. 27-Nov. 3


Cardinelli Couture Shines

Fashionistas noticeably gasped as each model paraded down the runway recently at the incredibly perfect United Hostesses’ Charities luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The annual fundraiser for the cardiac unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center featured a spectacular fashion show of vintage designs from Marilyn Lewis, who worked under the name Cardinelli. Lewis’ new book, “Marilyn, Are You Sure You Can Cook? He Asked,” is a memoir of her illustrious career when everyone from Nancy Reagan to Marlo Thomas donned her exquisite creations; Thomas even selected Lewis as her designer for her classic “That Girl” television series.

Each design was more beautiful than the one before and the sighs were audible as it became more and more apparent Lewis was eons ahead of her time as the styles reflected the au courant look of fashion today. Sumptuous fabrics, silks and drop-dead designs only brought home her incredible genius.

Fashion icon and Giorgio owner Fred Hayman, who featured Lewis’ sportswear in his chic Rodeo Drive Giorgio boutique, sang her praises.

“She is a timeless and magnificent designer of couture whose designs have passed the test of time and are still relevant and exquisite today,” Hayman said.

The room, decorated to perfection by floral designer Yonelli, was the ideal backdrop for the stunning runway show.

United Hostesses President Marilyn Gilfanbain, unfortunately under the weather, nevertheless outdid herself this year, and everyone turned out to enjoy this wonderful effort including Nancy Sinatra, Eva Marie Saint, Simone Friedman, Michelle Kaye and former Beverly Hills Mayor Donna Garber.

Glickman’s Pix at UCLA

The Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel held a reception to celebrate the opening of Judy Ellis Glickman’s photography exhibit titled “Resistance and Rescue in Denmark.”

The event featured Dr. David Myers, professor of Jewish history and director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

The exhibition, sponsored in part by the Royal Danish Embassy in Washington, D.C., the German Consulate General in Los Angeles and Villa Aurora, features Glickman, whose photography has been an integral part of her life since early childhood. Her father, Irving Bennet Ellis, was a recognized early California pictorialist photographer of the 1930s and 1940s. Glickman has been photographing and exhibiting extensively since the late 1070s. Her work has been shown in over 100 exhibitions nationally and internationally since 1992. In January 1993, Judy Ellis Glickman was honored as a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, the highest honor bestowed by this prestigious organization.

The show will run through June 30 at UCLA Hillel, located at 574 Hilgard Avenue. For more information, call (310) 208-3081, ext. 125.

New Young Professionals

A new nonprofit for young professionals held its inaugural soiree May 14 at a private estate in Beverly Hills and raised $40,000 for three Jewish charities.

The Society of Young Philanthropists (SYP), an organization that targets professionals between 21 and 40, attracted 475 revelers to its fundraiser gala. Guests made a minimum donation of $150 a ticket to feast on sushi and other delicacies, quaff their thirst at an open bar and take in the Latin beats of The Gypsy Boys and the sounds of indie rockers Paramount. A DJ spun hip-hop and dance beats until 5 a.m.

“We definitely met our expectations,” said SYP founder and president Elishia Shokrian, a recent graduate from Cornell’s Hotel School who now works at Califco Inc., a real estate development and management company in Beverly Hills.

Although not a Jewish organization, all 22 of The Society of Young

Philanthropists’ current founding committee are Jews, including some Israelis, said Jessica Kimiabakhsh, media relations director. Leveraging their personal and professional networks for financial and other support, the group chose to donate the proceeds from its first event to three Jewish causes: Magbit Foundation, which provides interest-free loans mostly to Israeli university students; IMA Foundation, a nonprofit that gives money to poor Israelis and for relief efforts; and Beit T’Shuvah, a rehabiliation center for Jewish ex-criminals and addicts. Future beneficiaries of the SYP’s largesse could include other Jewish charities as well cancer research, orphanages and tolerance education.

Going forward, the SYP plans to hold equally high-profile, trendy and enjoyable fundraisers. Among the ideas under consideration is a battle of unsigned bands or a fashion show, Kimiabakhsh said.

“We want to create really fun and appealing events. Young people already spend so much money on entertainment, and it just makes sense to raise money for important causes at the same time.,” Kimiabakhsh said. “We feel that is the best way to motivate this age group.” – Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

A Tribute to Tolerance

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance held its annual National Tribute Dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on May 4. The evening honored Bob Wright, chairman and chief executive officer of NBC Universal and vice chairman and executive officer of General Electric. Wright was presented with the center’s highest honor, its Humanitarian Award, for his lifelong dedication and commitment to philanthropic efforts.

“The Tonight Show” host Jay Leno served as master of ceremonies, Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx provided the entertainment for the evening and “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams delivered tribute remarks to Wright. Chairmen for this year’s dinner were Universal Studios President Ron Meyer, DreamWorks SKG’s Jeffrey Katzenberg and NBC Universal Television Chairman Jeff Zucker.

The Wiesenthal Center also presented Medals of Valor for individual acts of heroism, which included Pastor Carl Wilkens, who remained behind after the forced evacuation of Americans from Rwanda, and is responsible for saving hundreds of lives; Devorah Schramm, an Israeli woman, who transcended the bitter divide of the Middle East conflict to teach music to a blind, autistic Palestinian girl; the untold story of a young Jewish lieutenant, Jerome Shapiro, who arrested Hitler’s second in command, Hermann Goering (the last surviving member of the platoon, Alfred Frye, accepted the medal); and Japanese American veterans of World War II who, as members of the most decorated unit in the history of the Army – themselves victims of discrimination in the U.S. – liberated the Dachau concentration camp death march.

Museum of Tolerance board of trustees chair Larry Mizel thanked the entertainment community for its support at the dinner, which raised $1.5 million.

Bicyclists Raise Funds

Five men from Southern California took part in Riding4Reform, a five-day, 300-mile bike ride through the Negev to Jerusalem, raising more than $40,000 in funds for the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, the Reform movement in Israel.

Howard Kaplan, executive director of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles; Cantor Evan Kent, Temple Isaiah, Los Angeles; Charlie Niederman, president of Temple Beth David, Westminster; Mickey Rosen, Los Angeles; and Rabbi Ron Stern, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Los Angeles, were joined by 25 other riders from the United States, Canada and Israel. Together they made the trek from Reform Kibbutz Yahel to Jerusalem, stopping to visit with other Progressive communities in Ashkelon, Modi’in, and Tzur Hadassah along the way. Rabbi Ron Stern decribed the ride as “a terrific trip-by far one of my best experiences in Israel.”

The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism oversees 25 Reform congregations, 46 preschools, the Noar Telem youth movement, the Young Adult Leadership Forum and the Mechina post-high school/pre-military leadership program in Israel.

For more information, call Mandy Eisner at (818) 907-8740, ext. 28, or e-mail

Magbit Celebrates Israel

More than 500 guests, including local and state government officials and Iranian Jewish leaders, celebrated Israel’s 57th Independence Day at Magbit Foundation’s annual gala event held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on May 22.

Beverly Hills City Councilmember and outgoing Magbit President Jimmy Delshad welcomed some of the evening’s guests, which included L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Beverly Hills Vice-Mayor Steve Webb and California State Assemblymember Paul Koretz. Newly installed Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch praised the Magbit’s directors and contributors for having provided nearly $5 million in interest-free loans to Israeli university students in the last 16 years.

“Over the years, Magbit has given a new hope to the students of Israel that would otherwise not had a chance to receive an education,” he said.

The event’s keynote speaker, Walid Shoebat, a former Palestinian Jihadist turned Christian Zionist, surprised those in attendance with his inspiring tale of leaving the hate-filled environment of the Palestinian Authority and speaking internationally in support of Israel. Guests at the event also enjoyed the performance of up-and-coming pianist William Joseph and award-winning Israeli magician Amos Levkovitch. – Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer