Ernie Blumenthal’s life began in Vienna in 1938 amid the horrors of the Holocaust and abruptly ended last July in Philadelphia after a short and difficult battle with pancreatic cancer. But despite the tragedies that bookended his 77 years, his life was a celebration of joy, family, and fairness, according to his son, Ed Blumenthal, who will be embarking on a quest next week to honor his dad in an “epic” way, he said.
Blumenthal, a Philadelphia native, will be trekking almost 400 miles from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia by bicycle on what he is calling his “Journey for Ernie,” raising funds for the Anti-Defamation League and pancreatic cancer research in memory of his dad.
Blumenthal’s journey will begin in Pittsburgh on the morning of May 5 — Yom HaShoah — and will raise funds as part of the ADL’s 2016 WALK Against Hate, an annual event unique to Philadelphia that will take place this year on May 15. Blumenthal, a biking enthusiast, will be accompanied on his three-day ride to Philly by friend Brett Kligerman.
“The ADL was very important to my dad,” said Blumenthal, who sits on the board and executive committee of the organization’s Philadelphia branch.
Ernie Blumenthal immigrated to the United States with his parents and grandparents when he was a child, but most of his family did not get out of Europe in time and were murdered by Nazis. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last summer on Father’s Day.
“For my dad, the beginning and the end were bad, but the journey was pretty good,” Blumenthal said.
Although he is an avid biker, Blumenthal has never before attempted a trip of this magnitude, he said, but he has been training and is looking forward to his cross-state ride.
“At least I don’t live in Texas,” he said.
Blumenthal, 47, and Kligerman, 50, will be riding self-supported, which means they will be carrying all their belongings in a pouch on their bikes and will not be accompanied by anyone in a car.
On May 4, the two men will drive from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and stay overnight at a hotel near PNC Park. The next morning they will launch their tour by riding their bikes over the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
The first day’s ride will cover 156 miles and will commence on the Great Allegheny Passage, a bike trail that extends from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. They will stop for the night in Bedford.
The second day of their journey will span about 131 miles, ending in York and will cover some steep climbs on back roads. On the third day, the men will traverse the last 87 miles home to Philadelphia.
Blumenthal is hoping for good weather but is committed to the ride either way.
“If it’s pouring rain, the Allegheny Passage will not be the best way, and we will take an alternative route,” he said. “If it rains, it will be a miserable experience, but the ride will go on.”
To date, the most Blumenthal has ever ridden in a single day is 125 miles.
“The next day, I took a long nap,” he recalled. “But this year, I won’t have that luxury. But it comes down to it’s OK for me to suffer. I will be thinking of my dad and his family.”
With a goal of raising $5,000 for the ADL, Blumenthal has already received more than $5,600 in pledges. He personally will match the first $5,000 of that amount and donate those funds to PCAN, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
The ADL’s 6th annual WALK Against Hate will be held on Sunday, May 15 from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. Blumenthal, a chair of the event, hopes to increase attendance this year from the usual 2,000 participants to 5,000. The 5-K WALK features family-friendly games, activities and entertainment and attracts a diverse crowd.
“This is not a Jewish walk; it’s an everybody walk,” Blumenthal said, adding that members of various synagogues and churches and scores of schoolchildren from the area’s public schools participate.
Funds raised through the WALK will be used to support several of the ADL’s anti-bigotry, anti-hate and anti-bullying programs, many of which are adopted by local schools, according to Nancy K. Baron-Baer, ADL regional director.
“The mission of the ADL from its founding 103 years ago is to stop the defamation of Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all people,” she said.
The Blumenthal family has been and continues to be a valuable asset of the ADL, Baron-Baer said, noting that the mission to combat hate has been handed down to the next generation as well, with Blumenthal’s own children participating in the ADL’s training program for high school students.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.