A global pandemic won’t check Chai Lifeline’s determination to raise money for children in need. 

On August 13th, Bike4Chai’s 11th annual fundraising ride kicked off in Vernon, New Jersey. The course’s two-day, 120-mile route traced through winding hills and breathtaking scenery in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, both beginning and ending in Vernon. Riders also had the option of taking on abbreviated — but still ambitious — 90- or 100-mile courses if they so chose. Each biker must raise at least $5,000 to qualify for the trip.

Why take on such a daunting ride? Every rider who commits to the Bike4Chai challenge does so with the intent of raising money for Camp Simcha, a two-week summer program that provides an opportunity for children who struggle with severe or chronic illness to enjoy a brief reprieve from the anxieties and pain of their everyday lives. As the nonprofit itself describes, “A summer in Camp Simcha is an extraordinary opportunity for hundreds of children to restore their fighting spirit and renew their determination to defeat illness and suffering.” 

In typical years, triumphant riders cross the finish line in Vernon and enjoy an afternoon of celebration at Camp Simcha’s Glen Spey location. With the current need for social distancing, however, those plans were necessarily altered. This year, riders had staggered start and finish times to allow for proper distancing. After landing, they enjoyed lunch and entertainment at a site across the street from Camp Simcha to facilitate a safe celebration. 

This year’s Bike4Chai event followed Tour de Simcha, the nonprofit’s ride equivalent for women. The women’s Tour was initially slated for July but was canceled due to concern over COVID-19 risks. Not to be deterred, the event’s organizers rescheduled the event for August 4th, taking additional steps to protect Tour de Simcha’s riders. 

The philanthropic spirit that Chai Lifeline’s organizers and supporters have demonstrated this year is remarkable — but not, given the Chai community’s strength, all that unexpected. As one event organizer remarked in a comment on the nonprofit’s website, “Though everything looks different these days, the heart and spirit of Bike4Chai remain unchanged – and stronger than ever.”

The first Bike4Chai event kicked off in 2009, when Chai volunteer Dovid Egert decided to combine his love for biking with his passion for Chai’s cause. Riding alone, Egert embarked on a revolutionary, 135-mile ride from his home in Lakewood, New Jersey, to Camp Simcha. By the time he crossed the finish line in Glen Spey, he had raised $10,000 in donations for campers. From that year onward, a tradition took root — hundreds of riders flock annually to Vernon to raise money for Camp Simcha. 

This year, over 500 people signed up to Bike4Chai and ultimately raised a whopping $5.5 million for Camp Simcha.

It is inspiring to see that Chai Lifeline’s determination to support children in need persists, even amidst the hardships and anxieties posed by COVID-19.