ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in Honor of My Father, Dr. Jonathan Wirtschafter, z”l


August 2014

This past month marked my father’s tenth yarzheit. It’s hard to believe that it has been that long. So much has transpired since he died. So many things he would have loved to see. So many times when his presence was missed. Can anyone come up with a logical reason why anniversaries ending in a zero or a five get more attention than all the others? I wouldn’t have guessed that the tenth would hit me so hard. But it did.

Then, one evening this summer, I started receiving Facebook videos of people pouring a bucket of ice water over their heads to fulfill the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. A longtime family friend, Anne Hope, took the Ice Bucket challenge in memory of my dad and nominated me to do it too. At first I was kind of skeptical: “Seems kind of silly for something so serious”, I thought. But then my sister videoed my youngest nephew dousing her in ice water and “double-dog-dared” Zachariah to do it. Well, when your aunt from California double-dog-dares you to do something, what do you think is going to happen? Suffice it so say it wasn’t long before we were all standing in our backyard with a computer recording us pouring containers of ice water over our heads and nominating others to take the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. I’d like to think that I’m too sophisticated to participate in it social media schtick but clearly I’m not.

The effort continued to snowball over the following days. Politicians, coaches, talk show hosts, entire pro football teams taking the ice bucket challenge and making donations. By the end of last week the NPR reported that over five million dollars had been raised (As of September 1, 2014, they had raised over 100 million dollars to help fight the disease). In the segment, NPR reporters interviewed the woman who heads up the ALS Foundation’s marketing efforts, and with a self-deprecating laugh she said: “I wish I could say I my team and I came up with this. But we didn’t.” The wild success of this ice bucket effort is a powerful reminder that the best marketing campaign is to have a product, or better yet a cause, that excites people. Find a way to make the pitch personal and empower people to spread the word.

In his provocative and fiery poem, Awake You Sleepers! that we read each year at the High Holy Days, Maimonides implores us to remember what really matters and allocate our time accordingly. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has proven to be just such a wake up call for many.

May the reminder that life is a gift, that diseases can be cured and that hostilities can be diminished flow down on us like freezing cold water that makes us gasp for breath. May conscience, courage and compassion inspire us to shake off the nightmares of cruelty, hatred and ignorance. May we rub the sleep out of our eyes with cold, cold water and reimagine what our lives and this world can be.

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