The professionals, students and supporters of Hillels of Westchester are taking the phrase "giving their blood, sweat and tears" to Hillel literally – with emphasis on the "sweat." Five teams of students, board members, professionals and community members have registered to compete in the Westchester Triathlon on Sept. 25 as a novel way to raise money for Hillel programming at Sarah Lawrence College and SUNY Purchase.
Hillels of Westchester Director Shira Shimoni and board chair Stuart Kolbert, both veterans of several marathons and triathlons, came up with the idea earlier this year. Both had raised money for various causes through previous races and determined Hillel was deserving in its own right.
"Hillel is a good cause, too," Shimoni said. "We said to ourselves, 'Why don't we just get a bunch of teams together and raise money for Hillel at the same time?'"
Shimoni generated enough interest in the event to create five three-person teams. Each team member will compete in one leg of the race – running, swimming or biking. Participants range from the associate dean of student affairs at Sarah Lawrence College, to a local woman who recently won a bronze medal at the Maccabiah Games, to students who had never thought of participating in an Olympic-distance event like this.
Melanie Weiss, a senior at Sarah Lawrence College who will swim 0.9 mile as part of one team, enjoyed swimming for pleasure but had never done so competitively. But when she received an e-mail from Shimoni inviting her to join, she decided to take up the challenge.
"The e-mail said, 'Let's take a moment to think about what Hillel, UJA-Federation of New York and other Jewish organizations do for us. Wouldn't it be nice of us to do something in return?'" Weiss said. "I actually think I have the easy part. Running is much harder."
Participants must each raise $500 that will be earmarked for Hillel programming. Shimoni is helping the student competitors, who may have little experience with fundraising, to garner pledges, and Weiss is planning on soliciting some familiar faces.
"My parents don't know it yet, but they'll be getting a call," she said.
Hillels of Westchester will also be sponsoring a carbo-load Shabbat on the Friday prior the race to help the participants prepare and rally support for the teams.
"Hopefully, it'll generate some excitement. Next year we'd like to register 10 teams," Shimoni said.
According to Weiss, who recently attended Hillel's Charles Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly, students in Westchester and beyond are already talking about the triathlon.
"I talked it up at Schusterman a lot. People are very much impressed when I say I'm swimming to raise money for Hillel," she said. "It's also another way of opening up a Jewish experience to a lot of people."
Hillels of Westchester is accepting donations for its triathlon efforts online. Please visit www.hillelsofwestchester.com to contribute.