Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Reflections on the Hazon/Arava Ride, One Month Later

It has been just over a month since I completed the Hazon/Arava Institute Bike Ride from Jerusalem to Eilat. I wanted to share with you a few impressions that have stayed with me and a few reflections.

First, thanks to the generous support of our donors, Team Liz raised $8,224, impressively exceeding our goal of $7500. Truthfully, we are even more proud of the fact that this amount represents 99 separate donations, from individuals and families, friends and colleagues, Jews and non-Jews, from high school students to grandparents. This diversity among our supporters mirrored the diversity of the ride itself; in particular, I was astonished and delighted by the number of parents riding with children – and not only teenagers with their adult dads, but also adults who came along with their mom or dad (or both!).

The ride was, as expected, the greatest physical challenge of my life: 350 miles over the course of five days of riding, from Jerusalem to Eilat. It is indeed as beautiful as it sounds.

The ascents ranged from difficult to nearly impossible, but I am proud to say that somehow I managed. One moment stands out in my memory: At the base of the Makhtesh Gadol (the “Big Crater” - which I learned on the ride is not technically a “crater,” as it is usually translated, but the image should still work for you), at the end of our 2nd day of riding – a day that consisted almost exclusively of riding uphill (we started at the Dead Sea) – my friend and future colleague Rabbi Leon Morris and I looked up to the heights, at the extreme limits of our energy, and did what any good rabbi (him) and Jewish educator (me) would do: Started singing psalms: “Esa einai el heharim, me-ayin yavo ezri?” “I lift my eyes to the mountains – where shall my help come from? My help shall come from God, who created heaven and earth, he will not let your legs fail!” We couldn’t remember exactly which psalm this was, but in any case – we both made it up to the top. Well, I walked most of the way – but I made it nonetheless. Here is a photo of Leon and me at morning services at the beginning of the fourth day of riding.

The downhills made all the climbing worthwhile and I can say without hesitation that over the five days of riding I experienced the most exhilarating bicycling of my life, screaming down the hills of the Negev and finally down through the mountains of Eilat. Incredible! You can actually view a video of this final downhill, shot by rider David Eisenberg, – it doesn’t get interesting until several minutes in, so you might want to skip forward. And, kudos to David for calling out while passing riders! There’s other videos, photos, and so on, for those interested, at the Hazon website.

On Friday night, I led the “alternative” worship service for 60 or 70 people, on guitar, accompanied by three drummers. The group included kids and adults, people who normally prayed at Reform congregations and Orthodox congregations and everything else you could imagine, and a smattering of people who’d never been to services before, some because they weren’t Jewish. We sang and prayed for peace and for unity and for strength, and I think we all walked away feeling hopeful.

Nevertheless, the most inspirational part of the ride was not the scenery, nor even the participants, but hearing from the primary beneficiaries of our fundraising at the Arava Institute at a panel on Shabbat afternoon. These 20somethings who come together from Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan to study environmental science shared stories of skeptical families and unsupportive friends, and detailed with great honesty the prejudices they had to overcome in order to share rooms, meals, and classes with students from “the other side.” That they succeed year after year in building real friendships and working towards a healthier ecology in the Middle East is a tremendous achievement.

And so, Liz and I express our deep and heartfelt thanks to all of you who sponsored us for the ride. And don’t worry about whether you’ll be hearing from us, you know we’ll be hitting you up again soon!

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