After a recent move to Arizona, Rabbi Leib Bolel will be toeing the starting line at Ironman Arizona on Nov. 20. The Ironman is a triathlon race totaling 140.6 miles consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and culminating in a marathon, 26.2-mile run, all within a 17-hour window.
However, even with several Ironman races under his belt, this year’s race will mean something more than the others. This year’s race will mark one year since he first began thinking of moving his family from Des Moines, Iowa, and relocating to Scottsdale.
Bolel served as rabbi of Beth El Jacob Synagogue in Des Moines for six years, where he saw the synagogue’s membership double during his tenure. He was also active within the wider community, where he sat on the boards of several organizations.
Bolel’s passion for helping people and the organizations was well-known in Des Moines, yet he found, at times, that there would be added benefit if he were to annually invest in an unaffiliated nonprofit that resonated with him. This would in turn enable him to refocus on the boards he was serving on with the same attention and mission that he had originally agreed to serve on them with.
This new way of thinking led him to race in triathlons for the last several years for many different causes. With funds raised, he has enabled a well to be built in a Zambian village providing its residents clean drinking water; assisted “lone soldiers” serving in the Israeli military; partnered with charities assisting destitute families; and, most recently, partnering with SmileTrain to raise funds to provide children in developing countries born with cleft lips/palate with the opportunity to undergo life-changing surgery to correct their cleft lips/palate.
His partnership with SmileTrain allowed him to race Ironman Arizona last year and help over 20 children benefit by undergoing corrective surgery.
That visit to Arizona also spurred the idea of moving to Arizona.
Bolel and his wife, Devorah, had been talking about relocating from Iowa to enable a stronger Jewish education for their three children but were not actively looking at communities at the time. Upon returning from Arizona, several opportunities in the pulpit presented themselves, but it was the larger Jewish community and prevalent Jewish education for their children that were of utmost importance to them.
Having just been in Arizona, Bolel had a fondness for its active lifestyle and having been made aware of the plethora of Jewish resources and opportunities in Phoenix, it was a place that needed considering.
After several months of assessing several other cities in the country, Bolel and his family moved to Scottsdale to lead MAKOR, a new center for young Jewish families and professionals that is affiliated with JAC (Jewish Arizonans on Campus) to provide educational opportunities and Shabbat services. He also runs a coaching and consulting business, Bolel Coaching and Consulting, that focuses on coaching rabbis and executives of Jewish nonprofits around the country.
Once again, this weekend, Bolel will be at the starting line of Ironman Arizona, which begins at Tempe Town Lake, helping to provide many children with the life-changing opportunity to lead a normal life by having their cleft lip/palate corrected, which in turn has now also resulted in a life-change for him and his family.
Adam Miller is a writer based in New York. Visit Rabbi Leib Bolel’s Ironman donation page at bit.ly/Ironman2016Bolel.