Jack Roth Run benefits special needs kids in Israel

Students in Israel with special needs have been able to participate in bar and bat mitzah ceremonies, and attend summer camp, through the Masorti movement, one of the organizations supported by the Jack Roth Rock & Run, to be held June 8 at Bexley High School. The event, in its third year, also supports cancer research in the name of the Bexley resident who died of the disease in 2004.

Bexley native Jack Roth believed in not letting life’s hurdles get in your way, and making a difference in the lives of others.

"Jack was an activist. He was a quiet activist, but still an activist," explained his wife, Janice Roth, who has been busy planning with their daughter, Maren, for the third annual Jack Roth 5K Rock & Run, June 8 at Bexley High School.

The event was launched following Jack’s death of lung cancer in 2004 at 57. He had never smoked, and part of the funds raised have gone to the Arthur James Cancer Hospital for research of the disease, particularly as it affects non-smokers.

They raised $135,000 in the first two years, and have brought in $70,000 in donations so far this year, not including registration fees for participants.

The other portion of the donations has gone to enrich the lives of developmentally disabled children in Israel through Camp Netaim (Hebrew for "seedlings") and the Bar/Bat Mitzah for the Special Child Program.

As part of the Masorti Movement, these programs have helped to remove barriers to participation in the social and spiritual life of the community.

"It’s about tolerance," Janice Roth, herself a teacher of special needs students and an early advocate of inclusion, explained. "Everybody’s a little different. It’s about having a chance to develop your potential."

During his lifetime, Jack supported Conservative Judaism, advocating for more religious freedom than proscribed by the Orthodox tenets recognized in Israel.

"He said ‘If we don’t support Conservatism, it will die out there. And if it dies out there, it will die out here,’ " Janice said.

One area where special needs young people encountered difficulties has been in participating in bar and bat mitzah ceremonies in their synagogues.

Completing the ritual means "becoming a man in the sight of God," for boys turning 13, Roth explained. Bat mitzah is for girls.

But it requires learning Hebrew and reciting sections of the Torah before the congregation, formidable or impossible tasks for children with varying degrees of disabilities.

A project was founded in 1995 to assist these children in performing mitzvot (good deeds) in the community, and creating their personal blessings.

It expanded to serve children with autism, behavioral problems, hearing loss, and mental retardation, including Down Syndrome.

By 2000, an educational kit had been developed to teach the children about mitzvot.

By the program’s 10th anniversary, 2,000 children had celebrated bar and bat mitzahs, living out the creed "not one of us is like the other, therefore, every person must say: The world was created for my sake."

Some of the ceremonies in Israel have included sign language. In one class, a child who rarely speaks uttered the word "Torah," Judaism’s holy book.

The more open atmosphere has spread to synagogues here, that are creating special needs programs, Roth noted.

"It’s so important to them" to take part in the bar and bat mitzah ceremonies, she has witnessed, "even if they only say a few words."

Among his many other passions, Jack Roth was a camper and avid outdoorsman. So it was a natural that he would support Masorti’s Camp Netaim for children with special needs.

Most campers have participated in the Bar and Bat Mitzah Program, but the reputation of the camp is spreading through other congregations and attracting more participants.

The camp is held in conjunction with the Ramah/NOAM camp for mainstream students, and has expanded to fill the three weeks that the other camp lasts.

The Netaim campers take part in activities with their regularly abled peers, providing role models and an experience of inclusion and tolerance.

Some of the parents have been reluctant at first to be away from their children for the duration of the camp, but have seen them grow in confidence and self-esteem.

At the end of the summer, Netaim campers can participate in activities of NOAM, Masorti’s national youth movement.

Jack Roth had several opportunities to travel to Israel and see the camp, and came back every time "beaming," Janice recalled.

He had raised $20,000 on his own for the project before his unexpected death.

Author Bob Greene chronicled his lifelong friendship with Jack, and his courageous effort to live to the fullest during his nine-month illness, in You Know You Should Be Glad, released in 2006.

Jack is mentioned prominently several times in Greene’s latest book, When We Get to Surf City.

In one episode, one of Greene’s bandmates with Jan and Dean gets to spend an afternoon with Bob and Jack.

After the brief encounter, the musician offers a succinct judgment on the character of Jack Roth: "What a good guy."

News anchor and journalist Andrea Cambern has been named the honorary chairperson of the 3rd Annual Jack Roth Rock’n’Run, to be held  June 8,  at 9 a.m.

Bob Greene will be at the Rock & Run signing copies of his book.

The 5K run/walk will start and finish at Bexley High School (348 S. Cassingham Road).   Participants can pre-register at http:/www.premierraces.com/Races/Roth.html.

Also, new this year we are offering all race participants an opportunity to set up a personal sponsorship page through   http://www.firstgiving.com/jackrothrun.

Corporate and Personal donations can also be made through the Firstgiving site http://www.firstgiving.com/jackrothrun, as well as through the Columbus Jewish Foundation: The Jack Roth Fund, c/o the Columbus Jewish Foundation 1175 College Avenue, Columbus, OH 43209.

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