On July 1st, 200 people set out from the Auschwitz concentration camp by bike. It was the hottest first of July in Polish history. The riders biked 60 miles from Auschwitz to the Jewish Community Center in Krakow (JCC Krakow).
The event, Ride For The Living, is JCC Krakow’s largest annual fundraiser. It draws people from all over the world. Grandparents ride alongside their grandchildren, and the participants enjoy days of educational programming, tours, and parties in Krakow before and after the ride.
This year, a group from the Los Angeles Jewish community IKAR participated for the first time. IKAR, which welcomes people from LA and far beyond, brought 57 people to Central Europe in June and July. Forty of them, ranging in age from 12 to 74, participated in the Ride For The Living.
“As a Jewish person, going to Central Europe is emotionally stirring, generally awful, and mostly about death,” says Marla Brockman, one of the top fundraisers from IKAR’s group. “But this trip was about life and living. This trip was about emerging democracies. It was about young people understanding the past and working for a better future.
The Ride For The Living focuses on supporting survivors, explains Ryan Kaplan from JCC Krakow.
The JCC Krakow directly supports 50 Holocaust survivors with counseling, physical rehabilitation, financial support, and community connection. This year, Krakow-born survivor Bernard Offen kicked off the Ride For The Living by riding away from the gates of Birkenau on a tandem bike with JCC Krakow CEO Jonathan Ornstein.
“The Holocaust survivor is 93 years old, and pedaled away from Auschwitz on a bike,” says Ryan. “It was indescribable.”
Welcoming refugees with open arms
In addition to supporting Holocaust survivors, JCC Krakow runs a preschool, young adult programming, and young family programming. And this year, JCC Krakow has devoted itself to supporting Ukrainian refugees of all backgrounds. The need has been so intense, the center has gone through its annual budget every two months.
“Krakow has had a huge influx of refugees,” says Ryan. “Our center has shifted from being a programming space to being a humanitarian center. We’re providing direct housing to 380 people every night. We estimate that between 100,000 and 150,000 people have come through our tiny building since February.”
A portion of every dollar raised for Ride For The Living went to support Ukrainian refugees.
For Shawn Landres, who co-chaired IKAR’s Central Europe trip, that just made the Ride For The Living even more significant.
“IKAR connects religion, community, and social justice, so commemorating the Holocaust and particularly focusing on the needs of the living is really important to us,” says Shawn. “And with this new aggression in Ukraine, people were looking for a way to actively support humanitarian efforts for Ukrainian refugees as well.”
Joining the Ride For The Living was the perfect way to do both.
To symbolize JCC Krakow’s support of Ukraine, this year’s Ride For The Living included a second ride. The Thursday before the larger group left Auschwitz, a smaller group of six pro and semi-pro cyclists left the border of Poland. They biked 207 miles to Krakow, where they met up with the group from Auschwitz and came to the finish line together.
“It was amazing to have everyone finish together and celebrate,” says Ryan.
Another tool to make a difference
Each Ride For The Living participant had to raise money to do the ride. Shawn from IKAR was familiar with Charity Miles and realized it could be a useful and meaningful tool for riders to raise their funds.
Ryan at JCC Krakow agreed. JCC Krakow uses another fundraising platform as well, but that platform didn’t track people’s miles. Combining them both gave people options to suit their fundraising style.
“If someone was actively training, then Charity Miles was the best platform for them,” says Ryan. “Giving people more options is always a good idea. Fundraising is hard for many people, and having a tool like Charity Miles helps even the playing field a bit. It gives another way of making the ask, which is the most important thing.”
Shawn and his wife, IKAR trip co-chair Zuzana Riemer Landres, both used Charity Miles while they were training and for other long rides before the Ride For The Living.
“What I like about Charity Miles is that it’s extremely personal,” says Shawn. “It shows the donor that you have skin in the game, literally that you’re putting in the miles. I think that personal connection is critical. It gives people a journey to be on together.”
Marla, on the other hand, used Charity Miles as a one-time donation site.
“Having this online platform made the world very small and made the fundraising very doable,” she says.
We’re happy that Charity Miles could help IKAR’s group raise money for such important causes.
“It was very powerful, to do something for the present and the future,” says Shawn.
For Marla, the trip was about a personal transformation as well.
“One of my personal goals for the trip was when I hear the word Poland, I don’t want to only be angry and mournful,” says Marla. “I want to understand that this is a living country that has a terribly difficult history and is moving forward to a better future. All of our meetings with younger people fulfilled that goal. When I hear Krakow mentioned now, I think of a beautiful city with young people quickly responding to help others — as they are responding to the Ukrainian refugees who came with just the shirts on their backs. So many are now employed, with a place to live, and their children in daycare.
“I want to actively switch the pictures in my own head, as well as hopefully make a bit of a difference.”
Marla and the other Ride For The Living participants certainly made a big difference — in the end, Team IKAR raised more than $55,000 for the 2022 Ride For The Living. We’re proud that Charity Miles could help them do it. #EveryMileMatters