Throughout the United States, the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s work has inspired countless people to put their pedals to their mettle with vigorous bike ride benefits.
The Philadelphia-area Bike MS: City to Shore Ride is no exception, with an approximate 7,000 riders giving it their all to show their support for friends and families affected by the disease.
Andrea Rosenthal is among those wholly committed to the spirit and physical effort of the race, which takes place this year on Sept. 28-29 (www.mscycling.org ; 800-445-BIKE). And she’s taken that commitment to new heights by bringing together a team of 100 riders — an extended family of like-minded souls.
“My father, Jersey Brownstein, was diagnosed with progressive MS at the age of 50 21 years ago,” recalls Rosenthal. “Shortly after that, a family friend, our ‘Uncle’ Elliot Menkowitz, started riding for Bike MS.
“After two years of staying on the sidelines, my husband and I decided to join Elliot for the bikeathon. As soon as we voiced our intention, Elliot appointed me ‘captain.’ Each year, the team grew, with friends and family joining us at first, and their friends joining in.”
It grew and grew: “Jersey’s Team catapulted from three riders a few years ago to 75 to 100.”
In addition to raising an army of riders since its inception 14 years ago, Jersey’s Team has raised over $1 million, with this year’s goal to raise $100,000.
Fundraising is not new to Rosenthal. A recent past president of Temple Sinai in Dresher, she is still active in their fundraising efforts. She credits her parents for raising her with the fundamental Jewish values of philanthropy and giving back to the community.
“I am very much hands-on, and treat this as my full-time job from May until the ride,” Rosenthal explains of the benefit ride. “I work with each rider individually to make sure that they have all of their gear and other needs addressed. I contact people by email and phone to ensure they have their waivers completed, have enough money in their accounts to meet their commitments and get the incentives such as T-shirts based on what monies they raise.”
It is indeed a communal event, “an amazing community builder,” says Rosenthal.
Her father, the team namesake, beams with pride as he speaks of the event. “The responsibilities of philanthropy I passed on to my children were lessons I learned beginning in early childhood,” says Brownstein. “I always had a few coins available for ‘Keran Ami’ ” —
a program in many Jewish schools stressing the need for tzedakah by having students contribute to a cause of their choice on a regular basis.
He recalls a pushka at home, “a small blue JNF can sitting on our kitchen window sill.”
“Flash forward more than six decades, and now I have been honored through the team’s support, having raised over $1 million for MS in my name. It’s so exciting and, at the same time, very humbling.”
And they are so good at it: Last year Jersey’s Team won the Larry Kane Chairman Cup, named after the eminent broadcaster and MS bikeathon founder 33 years go.
Rosenthal is proud of her father’s resilience and strength, as he still works full time as a steel broker.
Rosenthal’s daughters, meanwhile, are just as inspired, as they have committed themselves to several editions of the race physically (150 miles, crossing Ocean City and Cherry Hill) and emotionally.
In the 2012 race, older daughter Mindy, 16, convinced eight of her friends to join Jersey’s Team while younger daughter Rachael, 14, did it as part of her Bat Mitzvah project.
“By raising awareness in their peer group, an inspiration that comes from my father, we have done our job,” says Rosenthal.
Prior to every ride, the team stages a pep rally dinner held at Jersey’s house, and every team member has the opportunity to meet Rosenthal’s father and talk about why he or she has committed to the race.
Elana Rivel got involved because of what she observed when her roommate was diagnosed with MS when they were juniors in college. Within 10 years, the friend was in a nursing facility. “Learning about the ride gave me an opportunity to feel like I was doing something to help her,” says Rivel, associate director of Jewish Learning Venture.
“Over the last six years, various members of my family have participated, with my son raising funds and choosing to ride last year in honor of his Bar Mitzvah.”
Like Rosenthal and Jersey Brownstein, executive recruiter and Temple Sinai treasurer Cindy Warkow tries to teach her children the importance of philanthropy. “My family participates yearly for many reasons,” she says. “Above all else, the ride is actually a family outing with my father and brothers. It’s also a great way to stay in shape while being part of something important."
Concurs family friend Alan Casnoff, “The community reason is my strong belief that everyone of us has a duty to give back to our community in many ways as possible. We are all fortunate to live our lives as we do.”