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Josh Rochlin’s Century Ride

Josh Rochlin, lifelong member of the Jewish community currently residing in Teaneck, NJ, went to Columbia University for his undergraduate degree (‘88) and JD (‘91) and never had much to do with Yeshiva University. Yet, on September 7, he rode in the New York Century, a 100-mile bike race that spans the varying neighborhoods of New York City, and raised nearly $65,000 for Yeshiva’s Scholarship Fund.

This incredible feat was achieved despite a rollercoaster of a year for Mr. Rochlin.  In November, while visiting yeshivas in Israel with his 18-year-old son, Mr. Rochlin fell victim to a horrific accident.  After a nice day out in Yerushalayim with his son and extended family, Josh drove back to Bet Shemesh, where he was staying.  After dropping off his passengers, Josh’s car collided head-on with an Egged bus. Josh was immediately rushed to Hadassah Hospital in Yerushalayim and admitted to the ICU, where he learned of his injuries: 8 broken ribs, a broken clavicle and scapula as well as a punctured lung.  After 3 days in the ICU, Josh was transferred to another area in the hospital to continue to recover, where he stayed another 3 weeks until flying home to America.
Throughout the recovery process Josh experienced an outpouring of support from his friends and family, both in Israel and in America, as he was struggling to cope with his injuries.  Yet, while everyone’s attention was focused on helping him, he was focused on helping someone else.  “While all this was going on, I was very much involved in the conversion process and educational plans of a young man that I met while visiting Spain” said Rochlin.

A few months prior to his accident, Josh had visited Gerona, Spain, a city rich in Jewish history and was home to both the Ramban and Rabbeinu Nissim.  While there, he visited an old synagogue-turned museum where the docent assured him Gerona was devoid of Jews.  Yet shortly afterwards, Josh experienced a strange encounter.  “As I was about to leave the museum, descending from the steps of ‘unauthorized area’ of the library was a young man, who appeared to have just walked off the set of Fiddler on the Roof. I asked in Hebrew “Yesh Minyan Po? [Is there a minyan here?]” hoping that he just stumbled upon a fellow member of the Jewish faith.

The next thing he knew, Josh spent 6 hours with Shalom, a native of Gerona, touring the city.  Shalom guided Josh and told him more about the city’s ancient Jewish history and historical sights, even showing him old mezuzah holes.  As fascinating as that all was, Josh realized something more important was happening. “Halfway through the day I concluded two things: Shalom was the brightest young man I ever met.  He was only 20 but spoke 10 languages, had written many articles, and his intellect was impressive.  At the same time I realized notwithstanding his knowledge and sharing of kosher food, he was not yet Jewish.”  Shalom was in fact not Jewish, but had been on the path to conversion after learning Hebrew.  His love of language roused him to learn Hebrew at 15, which then led him to investigate Judaism. This revelation put Josh on a mission—he knew the best place to further Shalom’s Jewish pursuits was Yeshiva University. Josh suggested the idea of furthering his studies at YU, to which Shalom enthusiastically agreed.

Immediately afterwards, Josh contacted Chaim Weitschner, a member of the RIETS board to find out what could be done to get the ball rolling.  Soon after that, as if by fate, Josh ran into Rav JJ Shachter, who was headed out to Gerona.  Josh explained the whole story to Rav Shachter and put him in contact with Shalom. With the help of Rav Shachter and Mr. Weitschner, as well as assistance from Rabbi Brander, Shalom received admission to Yeshiva and was scheduled to begin his studies in the 2014 fall semester.  During this process, Shalom completed his conversion, and Mr. Rochlin suffered his debilitating accident.

While recovering, one of Mr. Rochlin’s friends suggested he set a goal, something to strive for, to aid in his recuperation.  Josh settled on the New York City Century. “When the opportunity to race in the NYC Century came up, and I was thinking about how to properly acknowledge the tova that Yeshiva was doing for someone like Shalom and looking for a cause to dedicate my efforts too” remarked Josh.  This led Josh to set a goal, a Century for a Century, to raise $100,000 dollars for Yeshiva’s Scholarship Fund, a fund which often offers money to people in Shalom’s situation, to match his 100-mile bike ride.

In his effort to raise the money, Josh made his appeal by e-mail.  Josh explained that although no one in his family attended YU (although his son will be attending after his time in Israel), he and the Jewish community “have been direct beneficiaries of the important work of YU and its alumni.”

When asked if he felt uncomfortable raising such a large sum from his friends, family and community, Josh remarked, “I felt very comfortable asking friends and business associates to support me in this endeavor.  I think a lot of people took it to heart even though they themselves aren’t affiliated understand the central role YU plays in our community.”  Josh noted that many of our shuls, schools and Jewish organizations are headed and staffed by YU alumni and semicha graduates.

Immediately after the race, Josh appreciated all that YU has done for the greater Jewish community when he visited Frankfurt, Germany.  Although home to an orthodox community, Josh noticed a stark contrast between the lack of orthodox institutions there compared to the vibrancy offered to American Jewry by YU.

Although Josh was unable to raise his stated $100,000 dollar goal with his bike ride, he still intends to continue raising money for the Scholarship Fund.  When asked how he felt about his efforts, Josh enthusiastically replied: “I hope that my ride might spur other people to create their own challenges to raise money for Yeshiva to facilitate its contributions to the Jewish community and so it can continue to help people like Shalom.”