On the morning of March 21, a parade of color streamed through the streets of Jerusalem. With over 25,000 runners from across the globe, the marathon, half marathon and 10K race routes for the 2014 Jerusalem Marathon were peppered with running jerseys of every color of the rainbow.
Still, everyone was seeing red.
With bright red jerseys and even brighter smiles, the dedicated runners and volunteers of “Team OneFamily,” one of the largest teams assembled by a non-profit organization for this year’s Jerusalem Marathon, appeared to be everywhere at once.
“In a way, it is very fitting that those outside our group felt like members of Team OneFamily were waiting around every corner, because in order to help victims of terror and their families rebuild their lives, we must always be there for them, even before they ask for help and often because they don’t know how to ask for the help they require,” explained Rebecca Furhman, OneFamily’s Director of Communications and a survivor of the 2011 Jerusalem bus bombing.
Boasting over 280 runners, Team OneFamily was a composite of OneFamily supporters, including students on gap year programs and tourists, as well as victims of terror and bereaved children assisted by the organization. In addition to the registered runners, close to 100 other red jerseys – bereaved parents and longtime OneFamily volunteers – darted around Jerusalem cheering on the team.
“Running a marathon is the ultimate display of resilience and defiance. With every stride, these victims of terror showed that they are survivors and that they will not allow terror to win,” added Furhman.
“But as they ran past the sites of numerous Jerusalem terror attacks, it was important for them to feel that they were part of a family. At OneFamily, we always make it clear to the survivors that we are overcoming terror together.”
For more than 12 years, OneFamily (www.onefamilytogether.org), Israel’s leading national organization solely dedicated to the rehabilitation of those affected by terror attacks, has been caring for victims of terrorism and their families from the moment of impact and for as long as they require assistance, with services ranging from counseling to support groups to summer camp for kids. Through a unique and personalized combination of legal, financial and emotional assistance, the organization assists over 3,550 traumatized, wounded and bereaved families across Israel.
Team OneFamily, a powerful force at almost every major marathon and triathlon around the world, is one of the many ways that international supporters can contribute to the organization, both as runners and sponsors.
Tens of North American gap year students were drawn to OneFamily and raised thousands of dollars for the organization as member of Team OneFamily. A.J. Mandelbaum, an 18 year-old Los Angeles native studying in Jerusalem for the year, fell in love with OneFamily while contributing to the annual Mishloach Manot campaign and was eager to find additional ways to stay involved with the cause.
“The thing that really impacted me is that the people affected by terrorism are normal people going about their everyday lives,” noted Mandelbaum, who raised over $1,000 for OneFamily via his Team OneFamily page for the Jerusalem Marathon.
“People who are hit by terrorism need everyone’s help. I think OneFamily is doing wonderful work helping these victims of terror, and I want to do what I can to get their name out there.”
Avi Korn of New Jersey, a dedicated member of Team OneFamily, also feels strongly about the cause and flew to Israel just to run the half marathon with the organization.
“It is so important for me to be involved because I know that OneFamily is constantly giving back to real people. I know that they are an organization that is really making a difference in peoples’ lives,” said Korn.
Elisha Moses of Efrat is among those who benefit from OneFamily’s personal touch.
In March 2008, Elisha’s brother, Avraham David, was murdered in the Mercaz Harav massacre. Ever since then, OneFamily has done everything in its power to help Elisha and his family move beyond the pain and trauma. Adorned with red jerseys, 17 year-old Elisha, his 10 year-old sister, Ayelet, and their father, Naftali, ran with Team OneFamily to honor Avraham David’s memory.
“I’ve made so many new friends through OneFamily, and the organization has done a lot for my family. It’s nice to know that there’s a place where everyone loves you,” said Moses.
In 2007, at the age of 19, Miami native Izzy Ezagui moved to Israel with his family and immediately enlisted in the IDF. The following year, a few weeks after the launch of Operation Cast Lead, he was almost directly hit by a 120mm mortar shell, instantly losing his left arm from just above the elbow. OneFamily visited him in the hospital following the attack and have remained a support to Ezagui and his family ever since.
After a grueling rehabilitation period, Ezagui made an unprecedented and heroic return to active duty in the Givati Brigade. Though he now lives in Brooklyn, NY, he returned to Israel to run the 10K as a proud member of Team OneFamily.
“I flew in so that I can give back to the organization that helped me and my family in our time of need. Running through Jerusalem with all of these other red shirts is a way of showing solidarity for victims of terror while also expressing our gratitude to OneFamily,” explained Ezagui.
At OneFamily’s pre-race pasta party the night before the Jerusalem Marathon, Marc Belzberg, a co-founder of the organization, stood up and requested that everyone introduce themselves and share why they joined Team OneFamily.
Pia Levine, a survivor of the 2011 Jerusalem bus bombing, volunteered to speak first.
“The day after the attack, Chantal Belzberg, the executive vice chair of OneFamily, took me to the hospital, where I was treated for shock. I fly back to Israel every year from New Jersey to run in the Jerusalem Marathon with OneFamily because I would not be able to function without their support.”
As victims of terror know all too well, a marathon is an excellent metaphor for the recovery process. Like a marathon, recovery is a long and grueling journey, and at times, a victim loses faith in his ability to reach the finish line. But with constant support and encouragement from those closest to him, he can accomplish almost anything.
“OneFamily has always encouraged me to run as a way of showing that the terrorists didn’t beat me, that I still have the opportunity to live my life to the fullest,” added Levine.
“When I run together with so many other red jerseys, I’m showing that I have not been defeated by terrorism. Together, we can rise above it.”