TORONTO — A prominent local Jewish organization that helps kids with disabilities is downsizing its signature annual fundraiser in response to declining attendance.
“I calculated the cost and unfortunately, it takes a lot of time,” said Hershy Weinberg, the founder of Zareinu’s Moveathon. “It’s a 12-month-a-year plan. Also, the numbers just were not adding up. I don’t have the city of Toronto supporting it – not the Orthodox, not the non-Orthodox. It’s just not being supported.”
Last year’s proceedings followed the two-day template of recent years: a one-day festival, devoted to athletics for various skill levels, with entertainment, food, rides and games, and a second day two weeks later for more challenging bike rides.
The 18th edition dispenses with the festival and instead features four bike rides of varying distances, from 25 to 135 kilometres. Scheduled for June 7 in Richmond Hill, this year’s event is called the Zareinu Bike Ride for Kids, by Moveathon. While the festival has been discontinued, participants and anyone who “comes to cheer them on” will enjoy inflatable children’s rides.
As in previous years, participants are being sponsored by donors, who pledge funds to Zareinu. Weinberg hopes to raise about $500,000 from 300 riders.
As recently as five years ago, the Moveathon boasted 8,000 attendees and more than $1 million raised. But numbers have flattened since then: last year’s event saw 4,000 participants and raised $600,000.
In part, the event has fallen victim to Zareinu’s larger fundraising success, Weinberg said. The Moveathon and Zareinu’s golf tournament once dominated the group’s promotional schedule, but the group’s fall fashion show has developed its own niche after 11 years. And this year’s poker tournament, held in March, further crowds the calendar.
“Everybody thinks if I give to one, my responsibility has been satisfied,” he said. “However, what they don’t realize is that the fashion show is geared to a certain segment of the population, and not children. And the golf is focused on golfers – it’s not for the children. In their mind, they gave to Zareinu. And you gave to Zareinu, yes, but what opportunity did you give to your children and grandchildren to spend the day with them?”
The Zareinu Educational Centre of Metropolitan Toronto provides programming for children with physical and developmental challenges. At its school in the Sephardic Kehila Centre, in Thornhill, it complements classes with physical and other therapies.
Additionally, Zareinu brings off-site programs to other institutions. At an annual cost to Zareinu of $250,000, its satellite classes in day schools integrate its students in less formal activities. A newer fee-for-service model offers Zareinu therapists to deliver treatment paid for by the schools.
Several Zareinu students have overcome physical disabilities to lead next month’s ride, as part of the We Can Bike program.
Organizers say the demise of the Moveathon’s festival will affect the Jewish community’s social fabric.
“What it really became,” said Weinberg, ”was more of a community gathering than just a fundraiser for Zareinu, which was really the aim of bringing achdus [unity] for the city, bringing black and white [religiously right- and left-wing Jews] together with kippah srugah [knitted kippot, common among the modern Orthodox], Orthodox and non-Orthodox. That was really the aim of it all.”
Despite the community-wide support, the event skews Orthodox, although Zareinu wants to counter a false impression in the community about the organization.
“We are perceived as an Orthodox institution, and our values are based on Orthodox traditions,” said Liora Sturm, Zareinu’s director of events and campaigns. “Yet most of our kids are not Orthodox. The students in school come from Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and non-denominational backgrounds.”
The stripped-down Moveathon returns it to its roots as a modest, one-day event, but organizers don’t know if the festival component will be revived next year.
“It depends how many people miss it,” said Weinberg. “If I have people that say they want to come out and support it, well, I do whatever the community wants me to do.”