Lawrence Rekblatt, 22, is getting ready to ride in a bike-a-thon to honor senior citizens.

Organized through Chabad’s United Jewish Generations program in North Miami Beach, Fla., the ride will bring different generations together on Grandparents Day, which is celebrated annually on the first Sunday after Labor Day. This year it falls on Sept. 11, marking the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and U.S. Pentagon.

The bike ride has two tracks: Some will pedal 34 miles north from Miami to Boca Raton, while others will bike eight miles within Miami itself. The goal of the ride is to raise awareness for senior citizens in a larger society that often neglects them, says Rabbi Menachem Smith, director of United Jewish Generations. “One of the mitzvahs is to stand up for the elderly,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is develop awareness for the importance and the blessings we have—and what we can learn from seniors.”

The 12-year-old United Jewish Generations provides services such as a retiree club, klezmer concerts, Torah classes, an “Adopt-a-Grandparent” program for high school students and senior citizens, a “Links of Life” program that matches up adults and seniors, and Shabbat and holiday programs. This is the first time the organization has ever sponsored a bike-a-thon.

“We hope this will change the trend, and make people think more about the importance of honoring and giving and sharing with seniors—the nachas they could have shared all along and probably didn’t realize, and the current difference they can make in a senior citizen’s life,” emphasizes Smith.

Rekblatt, whose grandmother lives with him and his parents, feels that it’s important to take part in the event: “It’s showing to the elderly community and to my grandmother that I’m here to support her and help her.”

Lawrence Rekblatt and his grandmother
Lawrence Rekblatt and his grandmother

He expects hot weather, even though the event is scheduled for early morning, but says he doesn’t mind: “The heat is not going to stop me from trying to achieve what I’m going to achieve.”

‘Programming Fills a Need’

Between 60 and 100 bikers are expected to join the ride, including 10 children who are already registered. Riders (who need to be at least 11 years old) are asked to fundraise as part of their participation; the money will go towards life-enhancing programming for senior citizens, says the rabbi. People can also volunteer or donate online. Smith notes that area synagogues and schools have expressed interest in participating as well.

Senior Shulamit Gittelson, who met the rabbi about a year ago when he was arranging a local klezmer concert, has taken part in many of his programs. She hopes the bike-a-thon gets the word out about the variety of activities and classes that elders can participate in through United Jewish Generations. “I have friends who have reached the age where they have retired from their professional lives and are searching for meaningful things to do,” says the octogenarian. “They are underserved. This programming fills a need.”

She and her late husband, Abraham, attended Shabbat dinners and holiday programs, the rabbi’s Tuesday classes and a retirees’ club that drew folks from all kinds of backgrounds to learn about Jewish history and general-interest topics. “His programs are geared towards making seniors feel like they still have something to live for—that they’re still capable of coming out for activities.”

The extended Gottlieb family, with some 30 grandchildren; a few of them will bike as well.
The extended Gottlieb family, with some 30 grandchildren; a few of them will bike as well.

Residents of the area for 60 years, their needs changed as they grew older. When her husband became ill last year and went to a nursing home, Gittelson says the rabbi continually asked what he could do to help, even bringing someone in to study with him. “We found in the things Rabbi Smith is doing such a warm and giving community. I have been very inspired with what he offers to seniors.”

Grandparents and North Miami Beach residents Frumma Rosenberg-Gottlieb and her husband, Simcha Gottlieb, are looking forward to riding in the bike-a-thon with some of their grandkids. They have 30 grandchildren between them, ranging in age from 3 months to 23 years old. “We love riding, and getting outdoors and exercising,” says Simcha Gottlieb. “It’s a perfect fit for us, and it promotes health and wellness to this target audience in a positive way.”

Between 60 and 100 bikers are expected to join the ride to raise awareness for seniors and funds for more programming.
Between 60 and 100 bikers are expected to join the ride to raise awareness for seniors and funds for more programming.

They’re also big fans of the rabbi and his wife. “Their work is close to our hearts,” attests Gottlieb. “So it’s a ‘no-brainer’ to get involved.”

Meanwhile, Frumma Rosenberg-Gottlieb references the saying that success is 5 percent inspiration and 95 percent perspiration. “We’re sure we’re going to fulfill both those criteria on this bike ride,” she says, adding that this is the first time she’s heard of an event incorporating real physical activity to fundraise for grandparents.

Co-authors of the forthcoming book Awesome Aging: Getting Better All the Time, the Gottliebs speak frequently across the nation on such topics as health, relationships and spiritual fulfillment.

“I think we’re a very ageist culture, and so the example you set by maintaining a youthful attitude and continuing to play, coupled with the mature attitude of honoring your commitments to the community around you—those are big role models for the kids.”