The central Israeli city of Rishon Letzion celebrated the opening of a new educational center whose main donor, former rap artist and Marquis Jet co-founder Jesse Itzler, ran 100 miles, non-stop, for its benefit.

All told, Itzler raised $1 million for his 10 favorite charities, among them Colel Chabad, a Chabad-Lubavitch social welfare organization founded in 1788, which used its share of the money to build the 100-Mile Man Educational Campus, housing an extended-hours day care and preschool for low-income families.

“Today, we walked in to 25 super smiling and friendly little boys and girls,” Itzler, a longtime supporter of Colel Chabad educational initiatives, said at last week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, “and we’re looking forward to providing that for years to come.”

The entrepreneur’s relationship with Colel Chabad goes back almost a decade. Eight years ago, Rabbi Sholom Duchman, the organization’s director, began teaching a weekly Torah class in Itzler’s office in New York City, and the 39-year-old businessman quickly became drawn to Colel Chabad’s efforts to provide educational opportunities to underprivileged children in Israel.

Itzler, who has a history of running innovative fundraising events, completed his 100 mile run in less than 23 hours.

According to Rabbi Zalman Duchman, Colel Chabad’s own marathon began shortly thereafter. The organization, which operates similar educational centers in cities throughout the Holy Land, had already pinpointed Rishon Letzion, a community founded in 1882 by Russian Jewish immigrants that today is Israel’s fourth-largest city, to be home to a government-subsidized preschool campus when Itzler volunteered to fund just such a center.

After identifying the needs of the community, Colel Chabad began the process of screening and training staff and refurbishing a preexisting building, and worked with local welfare offices and other institutions to identify families in need of the center’s programs.

Jesse Itzler stands with his parents, Daniel and Elese Itzler, outside Colel Chabad’s new educational center in Rishon Letzion, Israel.
Jesse Itzler stands with his parents, Daniel and Elese Itzler, outside Colel Chabad’s new educational center in Rishon Letzion, Israel.

The new center offers classes for children aged six months to five years, and provides hot meals prepared under the guidance of a nutritionist.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger called the center a “second home” for its students, noting the warm, nurturing atmosphere and individual attention it provides. He praised both Colel Chabad and Itzler, who since his run, has gone on to organize physical fitness challenges to raise still more funds for children’s education. Metzger wished him continued success, while Sholom Duchman pointed out a lesson from Itzler’s dedication.

“It is inspiring that even in these hard economic times, he is continuing his commitment to giving,” said Duchman. “He has even increased his efforts to support the organizations he has given to in the past.”

Another guest quipped that, as 100 miles is equal to 160 kilometers – the exact number of students who will be learning at the center – Itzler achieved a “return on his investment” of one child’s education per kilometer, not a bad return at all.

Itzler seemed to agree.

“I think the kids are going to get a great benefit out of the amazing work that everyone has done,” he said. “They have put together a fantastic learning center and my family and I are honored to be a part of it.”