By Sujany Baleswaran
CEO by day and Batman by night. On the one hand, Josh Aryeh is running his real estate empire, Lions View Development, and on the other hand, he is speeding around New York in exotic cars, visiting sick and underprivileged children with the mission to change the world one smile at a time.
Josh Aryeh’s life changed when he met Jessica, an 8-year-old girl in Queens, NY, battling a rare form of cancer. As a car enthusiast, Josh decided to borrow a family sports car and hit the road on a mission to make her smile and Smiles Through Cars was born. New York’s very own Batman founded the non-profit organisation, Smiles Through Cars in 2008, and since then, he and his super team of volunteers have visited over 30,000 children.
How did your interest in exotic cars turn into an amazing charitable cause?
Like many other teenage boys, I grew up having an interest in exotic cars. One of my cousins was a member of an exotic car club. This enabled him to bring home a different exotic car almost every week during the Spring and Summer months. In the beginning, I was only allowed to go for rides, but as I got older, I was allowed to drive the cars. After a while, I developed a reputation for driving high-end cars, so occasionally I would receive phone calls to give rides to kids in the neighbourhood.
One day, I received a call asking if I could give a ride to an 8-year-old girl that had cancer and always dreamed of going in a Lamborghini. Luckily that week I had a Yellow Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder (Spyder means convertible). I coordinated the surprise with the family to meet the girl at her house in between chemo treatments. It was an experience that changed my life forever and enabled me to visit thousands of sick children since then. I was sitting in front of her house, and I saw a little girl being brought outside her house in a wheelchair. The girl is looking down at the ground, and to say the least, she doesn’t look happy. A few moments later, she looked up and saw a bright yellow Lambo in front of her house. Her entire face lit up with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen! She got into the car, and I drove around for 30 minutes. The top was down, music was blasting, and her smile remained on her face the entire time.
As soon as she was wheeled back into her house, the mother started crying hysterically! I thought that maybe I said something or did something offensive since it was my first time giving a ride to a sick child, so I apologized to the mother. She said, “No, you don’t understand why I’m crying. My daughter was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 4! She had more than 20 surgeries, she had to be quarantined, she had a bad infection which caused her to become paralyzed.” The mother continued and said, “This is the first time I’ve seen my daughter smile since she was diagnosed 4 years ago!” I realized that if I was able to have such a positive impact on this girl’s life during a time of despair by doing something so simple, I knew that I wanted to do whatever I could to do it more often.
How did your life as Batman begin?
For approximately 7 years, I continued visiting sick kids and giving them rides in the various exotic cars. One day, I heard on the news about someone in MD named Lenny Robinson who would dress up as Batman and use his convertible Lamborghini to visit sick kids. I thought it was amazing since I never heard about anyone else using their exotic car to help sick kids. A few years after that, I heard the unfortunate news that Lenny was on the highway and was run over by a car that didn’t see him. I never had the privilege to meet Lenny, but I wanted to continue his legacy and visit the sick kids as Batman. I sent my car to Impressive Auto Body in Oceanside, NY to have my car transformed into a “Batmobile”. I teamed up with the NYPD, NCPD, and other various agencies to make the experience even better for the kids. I truly feel honoured to be able to visit thousands of sick kids and meet so many amazing and inspiring families. Their strength, courage, belief, and determination always amaze me. I recently created an Instagram account “Batman Real Account” to inspire others to do simple acts of kindness. I always tell people that “kindness is something that everyone can afford to give”. Since then, I’ve had the privilege to volunteer to visit more than 20,000 children to keep Lenny Robinson’s memory alive.
Aside from your secret life as Batman, you are also the founder and CEO of Lions View Development. Do you find yourself struggling to balance these two very contrasting lifestyles? Do you see yourself choosing one over the other one day?
Life is about learning how to balance the various jobs/tasks that you have. For example, on the one hand, I want to dedicate my life to volunteering but, on the other hand, I need to have an income to be able to pay my bills. I try to spend the majority of my time volunteering, but I always make sure to dedicate time to work as well. Some days I spend almost the entire day visiting children, while other days, I am on the phone speaking with potential investors or doing due diligence for potential investment opportunities. Throughout life, we will constantly have changes, so we need to learn how to prioritize and to create a balance to be able to achieve everything that we need to.
Have you ever experienced any life-changing events that changed your perspective, shaped who you are today, and led you down this path?
I was bullied as a young child for many years, until the middle of high school. Additionally, towards the end of my teenage years, my sister suddenly became sick and passed away seven days later. I’ve had many other issues and struggles, but these dark moments have made me more empathetic toward others who are struggling in their own lives. I believe that it’s important for us to talk about our hardships in order to help others realise that they’re not alone and that they can and will get through the tough times. The hardest and darkest moments in my life helped me realise the importance of helping others. I was always empathetic and caring, but I wouldn’t have been as empathetic or wouldn’t have decided to dedicate my life to volunteering if I didn’t experience those dark moments.
I’m sure your success has not come easily. What challenges have you had to overcome? How did you get through those challenging times?
People generally look at someone when they’ve achieved success, and they think that it’s easy since they see how the person is now. However, what the people failed to see was the struggles and hardship that was endured to be able to have success. For example, if someone was flying on a plane and saw someone walking on top of a mountain, they might think that the journey was easy since the mountain they’re viewing is pleasant at the top. What the onlooker failed to see was the years of blood, sweat, and tears that the person sacrificed to be able to get to the top of the “mountain”. When I was younger, I wasn’t the most studious child. I liked to learn, but I hated studying, doing term papers, etc. I had to work a lot harder to be able to achieve the results that were needed, but in life, we all need to remember that the only person we should compare ourselves to is the person we were yesterday. Far too often, people use their hardships as an excuse instead of using them to motivate them to work harder to be able to achieve their goals. Besides not being studious, being bullied throughout my childhood definitely did not make my experience in school any easier. Truth is, I was not always a straight-A student. I wasn’t failing, but I certainly wasn’t maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
You’ve created a business that has given you financial freedom, and you are using that to create a positive impact in the world. That feeling inside you must be special – a happiness that’s bigger than any achievement or car. What does happiness mean to you?
I was raised with the mentality that no matter how little I had, there was always someone else in the world that was wishing for the things that I was blessed with. At a young age, my father taught me to donate at least 10-20% of every paycheck to charity prior to me spending even 1 cent. My father wanted me to know that before we start thinking of what our needs are, we must first remember to give to others and then we can enjoy the remaining 80-90% that we earned. This mentality has had a lasting impact on me, and in the future when I am blessed to have my own children, I plan to teach this to them as well.
To me, happiness is one of the greatest gifts that we can receive. We live in a world filled with sadness and depression. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to what happens. Meaning, if someone is driving and he/she is cut off by another driver, or if someone says something that’s not nice, are you going to let that ruin your day or are you going to continue driving and remain in a positive mindset? Only you have the power to decide if you will be happy or not. Far too often, people replay these scenarios over and over and over in their head which is preventing them from being happy. Therefore, to me, happiness is a state of mind and extremely important. I am a firm believer that if we are happier, we will also be healthier!
You partnered with the NYPD and the police force, and they have gotten involved in your mission. Can you tell us more about this?
My partnership with the NYPD and multiple other emergency agencies was formed in an extremely interesting way. Throughout the years when I first started driving exotic cars, I would allow the police officers and others in the emergency field to take pictures in the cars.
After a while, I developed a friendship with some of the police officers. A short while after, the NYPD was enforcing their new initiative to drive 25mph or slower in school zones and other areas where the NYC Officials deemed it was unsafe to travel at faster speeds in those areas. One of the officers saw me driving in the White Lamborghini, and he asked if he could take a picture of his car behind me with the lights flashing to post on Twitter with a caption stating, “if this car can drive within the posted speed limits, so can you”. I told the officer that I would be glad to be a part of their new initiative – he took the photos and posted them on the NYPD Twitter account. After this Tweet, I was contacted by Chief Maddrey from Brooklyn North to ask if I could meet with his team to talk about some of their upcoming events for the community. I met with the Chief and his team, and they talked about their annual “Sleigh Ride”. The Sleigh Ride was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
Within 7 days, we gave out more than 15,000 toys to sick & underprivileged children! Imagine seeing more than 50 police cars with their lights/sirens on while driving in a row, with a Batmobile in the middle, flatbed trucks following behind with more than 20 police officers dressed as superheroes, princesses, and tons of other costumes as well. The words that I am typing don’t give justice to the picture/experience that I am trying to explain. We have a set schedule of the hospitals, neighbourhoods, etc., that we will be going to and how many children will be at each location. I am truly glad and honoured to have partnered with the NYPD and other agencies. Unfortunately, the media prefers to portray them in a negative way, however, there are countless acts of kindness that they perform on a daily basis that the world deserves to see. The children’s faces literally light up when they see the cars approaching, the majority wouldn’t receive any presents for Hanukkah or Christmas if it weren’t for the selfless acts of kindness of the NYPD. Since the first Sleigh Ride, I’ve attended multiple other events with Chief Maddrey and lots of other precincts. I can honestly say that the impact that my team has on the children’s lives wouldn’t be the same without the help and partnership of the NYPD/and other emergency agencies.
Seeing someone in a Batman suit is always an incredible experience. How do you feel when you put on your Batman suit?
In the beginning, it was strange to wear the Batman costume on a regular day. However, over time I got used to people staring and pointing at me. I mean, I don’t blame them for wondering why I am dressed like Batman at 2:00 pm on a Wednesday afternoon. By now, I’ve been dressing up like Batman for almost 7 years, and I have more than 165,000 followers on Instagram, so people know who I am and why I’m doing this. Now that I’m used to it, I look forward to dressing up for the children. Unfortunately, a lot of the children are fighting medical battles that no child should ever have to face. Therefore, knowing that I’m part of the reason why they smile is priceless! I am extremely grateful for all my team members in our non-profit organization “Smiles Through Cars”.
Finally, are you more of a Bruce Wayne or Batman?
Life has a lot of unexpected twists and turns. When I was younger, I always wanted to be like Bruce Wayne. The young Multi Billionaire who had tons of exotic cars, private jets, mansions, etc. – that’s what I aspired to own and be like. However, during my journey to become like Bruce Wayne, I had some life-changing events that changed my outlook on life and helped me reshape my mentality to a healthier way of thinking. I was bullied in school until the end of 10th/11th grade, my younger sister suddenly became sick and passed away within 7 days, and other unfortunate events as well.
I started off wanting to become Bruce Wayne, but in the end, I ended up becoming Batman. Life will throw punches at you; the trick is to roll with the punches. Learn to know that you can’t control what happens in life, but you can control how you decide to react to what happens. I will never be able to take back the years that I was bullied, or the loss of my younger sister. I will always have an emptiness in my heart – she was my closest and only younger sibling at the time when she passed away. She was a healthy child, and those 7 days were the worst days of my life. I had a choice, to either become a victim of my past, or to become a survivor. Only I was able to make that choice for myself, and the same applies to everyone else that is reading this. This does not mean that I don’t cry or mourn for the loss of my sister, it means that I won’t allow hardships to stop me from being happy and achieve my goals. The choice is yours!