I’m sitting on the plane on my way back from the Rock-N-Roll half-marathon weekend in Pasadena, California in which Team HASC actively participated. The last three days have been nothing short of magical and I find myself reflecting on one of the most exhilarating and inspiring experiences I’ve ever witnessed in my entire lifetime. It’s been some time since I’ve had such nachas and joy, since I was so fully choked up with emotion.
Three months ago, when my wife expressed a desire to run with Team HASC to help raise funds for the incredible camp in which our son, Eli, lives during the summers, there was no question that, b’ezras Hashem, it was going to happen. There was but one question left to ponder: Was I too going to have the z’chus and honor to participate in such an awe-inspiring event? As a rebbe in a yeshiva, my ability to attend was very much up in the air. Baruch Hashem, with the help of family, friends, and many volunteers, supervision for our children was arranged and the school where I teach made sure that my classroom was more than adequately covered. We were off to Pasadena!
For my wife and me, a weekend away is indeed a very rare occasion. A weekend away with the amazing and special people of Team HASC, who work at a place called “Heaven on Earth” was far more than I could ever have asked or imagined. Wow! The excitement and the emotions were palpable from the moment of our arrival. We were greeted by the warm Team HASC committee and staff that worked tirelessly for months arranging all the details of the weekend. From the head staff, directors, counselors, volunteers, and countless others, the goal was clear: the entire event and all details were painstakingly arranged for the precious neshamos of Camp HASC.
Those of us who have experienced Camp HASC don’t require any further introduction. Camp HASC is nothing short of a living miracle, a testament to the spirit of its visionary founders who some 40 years ago had the foresight to grasp what it would mean for children, teenagers, and even adults with special needs to enjoy the summer camp experience. For those who have yet to experience Camp HASC, even as an observer, you are urged to make arrangements and stop by; you likely won’t believe what you are experiencing.
Our Shabbos was filled with ruach, the spirit in the room vibrant. From the riveting Kabalas Shabbos to the heartwarming drashos, zemiros and Havdalah, every moment was truly inspiring and uplifting. As we sat with Reb Shmiel Kahn and his wife and Rabbi Shlomo Stern and his wife, we couldn’t stop observing the smiles and pride on their faces as over 140 current and past staff took a weekend off to fly across the country to improve the quality of life of their beloved campers. One dedicated counselor, whose schedule did not allow him to spend Shabbos in California, boarded a plane immediately after, flew through the night and arrived in time to push his camper during the marathon. Almost immediately after the race, he was back on a plane.
What drives these dedicated and selfless young men and women? We need to applaud them, their schools, and their families. We need to understand the gravity of the chesed being shown and delivered by this group of unpaid, all-volunteer group of special angels. There really aren’t enough adjectives that can adequately describe the pure devotion these malachim show and give to these special children of Camp HASC. Indeed, we have a lot to be proud of in our own communities and schools.
There were so many observations and highlights from the weekend, too many to reduce to writing in this short review. Many brought me to tears. Counselors and other volunteers walking and pushing jogging wheelchairs, a number of them ran while pushing the jogging wheelchairs. Among many special moments were those when I observed the HASC volunteers lifting their campers out of their wheelchairs and urging those who could walk somewhat, albeit clumsily, to actually walk and event trot—a true sense of running in the marathon.
Strangers who had never seen or heard of Camp HASC stopped in their tracks to observe the HASC volunteers walking and cheering their campers on. It was a true sanctification of Hashem’s name, one of many on that day; tikun olam at its finest.
As the team members were lining up for the start of the race, the announcers couldn’t help but notice how the participating runners from Team HASC were brimming with enthusiasm. The announcer singled out the group and was impressed with their purpose and spirit. She asked, “What is HASC!?” She was told that it was an organization for children and adults with special needs. As she listened and grasped the immensity of what she was witnessing, she uttered the following two words: “Good L‑rd!” This too was a massive public kiddush Hashem.
Numerous individuals stopped by the Team HASC tent to inquire about Camp HASC and expressed aloud how impressed they were with our turnout and dedication. One gentleman asked to take a picture of my T-shirt so he could look up the organization on the Internet. As my wife and I were leaving the hotel to the airport, two runners from another group came over and said, “We were extremely impressed to see college kids pushing children with special needs.”
A very overwhelming and touching finish line incident dictates that I share; allow me to have you picture it. Two Team HASC counselors were pushing a boy with special needs in a jogging wheelchair. They were about 100 feet from the finish line and they instinctively unbuckled their camper. They pushed the wheelchair aside and struggled together with the camper, hand in hand, stride for stride, as they crossed the finish line with their arms raised. The crowd roared with cheers and I felt my eyes well up.
Disregarding any physical or mental disabilities that they may have, in total, 12 campers with special needs crossed the finish line on their own accord. Among the finishers was a camper who is stricken with cerebral palsy. He walked with his counselors over the finish line. Another with a prosthetic leg raced through the finish line on crutches with his counselors cheering right beside him. As each camper crossed the finish line, tremendous cheers and thunderous applause erupted spontaneously from strangers and spectators.
To the committee, head staff, counselors, nursing staff, volunteers, and all that are associated with this holy place: You have made us so proud and inspired us greatly from what we have experienced on this special weekend. “Heaven on Earth” is indeed a good descriptor of what is accomplished daily in this special place. Let us hope that through your incredible actions that, G‑d willing, Camp HASC will be in Yerushalayim where all will be healed, and everyone will know that you are from the true heroes of Klal Yisrael. v