Martin Franklin, 39, of Harrison, New York, spent eight months training for the grueling Iron Man Triathlon Championship meet in Hawaii. The race, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race and a 26.2-mile run, pitted champions from across North America against each other. During that intense training period, Martin felt the need "to race for something more meaningful than just racing for myself."
He and his wife, Julie, decided to raise money for victims of terror in Israel. "Martin wrote an impassioned letter to 200 friends and associates, setting a goal of raising $250,000," Julie explained in an interview with Aish.com. "He challenged his sponsors to double their donation if he finished the Iron Man in under 13 hours.
"The race became even more intense because we knew Martin was racing for a cause. If he would beat 13 hours, thousands of lives in Israel would be enhanced or changed. We could make a difference."
It took Martin 11 hours, 45 minutes and he ran the last half-mile with his wife and three sons, holding hands as a family and crossing the finish line together.
The outpouring of support was extraordinary -- Martin raised just under half a million dollars.
But the completion of the race turned out to be just the beginning. "The whole experience in Hawaii made us realize that we had a much greater task ahead of us," Julie explained. "We needed to go to Israel with our family and begin to allocate the funds we had raised." On November 12, the Franklin family went to Israel with their close friends, Peter and Stacy Hochfelder and their two sons, to meet victims of terror and lend their support. Peter's partner, Mitch Kuflik, and Martin's sister, Caroline Friedfertig were also inspired and decided to join the trip. Rabbi Yitz Greenman of Aish HaTorah New York and Rabbi Yaakov Beinenfeld of the Young Israel of Harrison also joined the group.
When Peter first told Stacy about the trip, she had no intention of going. "I told him, 'You're out of your mind.' I was just too afraid to come. So I just ignored the situation. Three weeks before the trip he said, 'I'm going,' and I told him that I'm coming with. I would be more worried at home alone worrying about him being there than going."
Coming to Israel and making an impact on people's lives would be an incredible real-world, real-time bar mitzvah lesson.
Peter thought the trip to Israel would be very important for the entire family and took along his sons Jake, 12, and Harrison, 10. "We didn't want to just send the checks over to Israel. We had to come here to do it, to see it, and to feel it. And I thought that an integral part of doing this was bringing our older kids. Jake is going to have his bar mitzvah in a few months and we thought this would be an incredible opportunity for a real-world, real-time bar mitzvah lesson -- coming to Israel to see what is really going on here, making a real impact on people's lives, and experiencing the importance of tzedaka, [charity]."
The Franklins took their three sons, Robert, 12, Sam, 10, and Michael, 8. "We knew it would be a difficult trip and we wondered if the kids could handle the exposure," Martin related. "But this is what people live with every day and I want my children to be exposed to real life. I thought it would be a powerful and positive way to understand what is really happening to Jews in Israel. In the end, they handled it brilliantly -- they were strong and sensitive."
|Martin Franklin and two of his sons with terror victim Bilha Boshirian in Hadera.|
The children had mixed feelings when they were first told about the trip. "I thought it would be scary because I've never seen victims of terror," said Jake Hochfelder during an interview in their hotel. "I was afraid we might see people with their faces burnt off or an arm cut off. We knew it wasn't going to be fun and that we were going on a mission to care."
With the help of the OneFamily organization, the group visited terror victims all over the country, in their homes and in groups over meals. They also had a bowling tournament with 50 children who were directly or indirectly affected by terror.
The parents and the children felt humbled and strengthened by meeting the victims face to face. One of their unforgettable encounters was at a rehab center where they met Kineret, a bartender who received severe burns on 85% of her body as a result of a suicide bombing.
"A suicide bomber came to the bar, ordered a drink and blew himself up. The bar was made from wood and immediately went up in flames. The alcohol behind the bar ignited and went all over Kineret. I held her hand and wept as she told me the story," Julie Franklin recounted.
"She has to wear a burn suit because she was burned so badly," explained Robert Franklin. "She said that she looks at herself as a 'survivor' not as a 'victim'."
Stacy Hochfelder remembers that "her face was scarred terribly. But she had a smile on her face from ear to ear, and I said to her, 'Your outlook is amazing. You have such a twinkle in your eye.' She responded, 'I can only see out of one eye. The other one is dead.'"
"She smiled and we all just cried," Julie said.
"Kineret was looking across the room at another woman who lost her mother and baby in another attack," continued Harrison Hochfelder. "She said, 'Look at that woman… I don't know how she does it…' Then my father said, 'How does she do it? How do you do it?!' She was the one hurt and here she is talking about other people. And Kineret answered, 'My cup is half full.'
The trip had a powerful impact on the parents. "It was such an enriching experience," Julie described. "We all knew we were going to meet with victims and we hoped we would be able to provide them with comfort and support. I think we gained more than we gave. We truly drew strength from each of them. They empowered us; they humbled us. Above all they demonstrated the need for all of us to support Israel financially, emotionally, but mostly we need to visit and show our presence in our beautiful homeland." Both families are committed to raising even more money to help victims and coming back to Israel.
But the trip made its greatest impact on the children.
Jake Hochfelder, 12, thinks the trip made him a better person. "We didn't just hear the news back home and pretend its not happening. We actually came and helped and talked to the victims. I also learned not to take anything for granted because one day it could easily happen to you. All it takes is one suicide bomber. That's why you should listen to your parents and be nice to your brothers."
The trip also changed his relationship to Israel. "I used to think Israel is just a country where a lot of Jews live. It's not that important. But now that I came here I see that it's one of the best places in the world. You get to meet some of the best people that you'll ever find in the world over here."
The trip also allowed him to see upfront his parents giving tzedaka and helping others in such a meaningful way. "I saw that my parents are very caring, and that they would do anything to help someone recover and make someone happy."
Jake's brother, Harrison, 10, also learned an important lesson. "You shouldn't cry for no good reason, like if you aren't allowed to do something. The victims of terrorism were crying for a good reason."
"Meeting people who have lost their brothers taught me not to fight as much with mine."
For Michael Franklin, 8, the youngest member of the group, the most meaningful part of the trip was visiting the families. "It was sad but it was also very good because I got to touch their hand. I felt I was really helping them. My mom was more worried than they were. They kept saying, 'It'll be okay. It'll be okay.' I also learned a lot: Do not fight with my brothers. Do not hurt people. And definitely be kind to people."
Sam Franklin, 10, said the trip changed him. "I learned to not be so self-centered and selfish about what you have. Meeting people who have lost their brothers taught me not to fight as much with mine. I shouldn't get very mad at them."
Robert Franklin, 12, said, "I learned that I should start donating more money. I always knew that my parents gave charity and stuff, but I didn't really know about how much they gave. And I never really knew they would give so much money and then go visit those families. I thought they would just give it to an organization. Now that we came to Israel and met all these families, I view my parents as tremendous, helping people.
The trip also changed Robert's feelings about Israel. "I now feel it's so important to go to Israel. It's our homeland and we should come more often to help out when times are bad. It's up to us to make them good."
Whether it's $400,000 or $40, the important thing is to do what you can and come.