By Karen Billing
Local resident Ron Lifton ran the Jerusalem Half Marathon for Team SHALVA last year, raising funds and awareness for SHALVA, a nonprofit organization for children with physical and mental challenges in Israel.
After running those 13.1 miles for SHALVA, Lifton wanted to take his involvement one step further and brought the organization’s founder, Kalman Samuels, to San Diego last week for a fundraising reception at his Carmel Valley home.
“Ron understood we were a great organization nobody knew about,” Samuels said. “He opened his heart and home and went the extra mile to share the message.”
Founded 22 years ago, SHALVA currently serves 450 families with free programs that are filled to capacity. They have a budget of $4 million a year; $1.1 million comes from the government in “dibs and dabs,” but SHALVA is tasked with raising the rest.
The organization has a big project in the works with the new SHALVA National Children’s Center, a $46 million, 200,000-square-foot facility in Jerusalem that would be the largest in the world for children with disabilities.
When Lifton decided to participate in the Jerusalem Marathon, he wanted to take part for both the challenge of the run but also to benefit a local organization and in his search he found SHALVA.
He joined Team SHALVA for extra motivation and raised $3,600 for the organization.
Lifton had the opportunity to meet Samuels at a pre-race pasta party in Jerusalem last year.
“Nobody knew about SHALVA in California,” said Lifton. “I set a challenge to him to try and change that, that’s why he’s here.”
The birth of SHALVA came out of Samuels’ own family tragedy.
Samuels is not Israeli, he was actually born in Vancouver, Canada. In 1970, he went to Europe planning to study French and while touring abroad he visited Israel.
“I kept delaying my trip home and at the end of the day I never left,” Samuels said, noting he was drawn to the history of his roots and eventually decided to become a Rabbi.
He met and married his wife Malki and they had two children together. When their son Yossi was 11 months old, he went in for his DPT (diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus) vaccine. It turned out that there had been a problem with the vaccine and Yossi was left blind, deaf and very hyperactive.
The family had two more children and Malki was struggling to take care of Yossi on her own, especially as he was living in a “closed world with no one able to penetrate his bubble.” Malki made a vow to God that if he helped Yossi, she would dedicate herself to helping others.
The Samuels received their miracle when Yossi was 8 years old. A deaf teacher named Shoshanna Weinstock was able to make a breakthrough with Yossi, spelling words into his hands in the same way Annie Sullivan had reached Helen Keller. The first word he learned was “shulchan” — Hebrew for table.
“He lit up,” said Samuels. “Suddenly he could communicate…His thirst for knowledge was insatiable. I remember when he knew 10 words, then he knew 40, and then 100.”