Sheryl Blechner, then president of Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, was talking with Steve Gerson, who now is president of the temple.
“We talked about how we were in a situation where we couldn’t participate in Relay for Life because it was on Shabbat,” Blechner said. “And how great it would be to have a Relay all Jews could participate in.”
Sponsored annually by the American Cancer Society in cities across the globe, Relay for Life is held in honor of cancer survivors and raises money for cancer research.
Relays have always been held Friday night until Saturday morning, which places them in the same time frame as the Jewish Shabbat. For Jews, Shabbat is a day in which everyday labors and activities should cease in favor of spiritual contemplation and time with family.
After four months of discussions and due diligence by the ACS, the Relay for Life Ruach Atlanta was born. In Hebrew, Ruach translates to spirit or everlasting light, the essence of what a Relay is about, said steering committee member Marsha Mathis. “It is about life, survival and remembrance,” she said.
This is the first Relay of its kind in Georgia, and might be the only one nationally, according to ACS staff.
“We can’t say with total certainty that there has never been a Sunday Relay, because we have 5,200 Relays worldwide,” said Amy Haygood, the local ACS representative who is the liaison for the event.
The inaugural Relay for Life Ruach Atlanta will be on Oct. 14 from 1 p.m. to dusk at Roswell Area Park. Though it will not be 12 hours, it will maintain the key components of the relay, including an opening ceremony, a Survivor Walk and Survivor Dinner.
The initial participant goal was 20 teams of 10 and a financial goal of $30,000. Already 30 teams have signed up, including a team of Seventh Day Adventists, a team from a Muslim mosque and a few that have no religious affiliation, Haygood said.
Years one and two of the new Relay will incorporate 12 congregations north of the Chattahoochee and year three would see the event move to a larger venue and include the entire Jewish community. The year one Steering Committee includes representatives from Temple Beth Tikvah, Temple Kol Emeth, Congregation Ner Tamid and Congregation Etz Chaim.
For more information or to sign up to participate, go to www.relayforlife.org/ruachga or email Haygood at Amy.Haygood@cancer.org.