Saturday, November 22, 2008

Home Again!

I'm home again, the 2008 Israel Ride behind me. I've come home with my favorite souvenirs - plenty of photos and videos. I haven't made an album (yet?), but I have posted a complete set of the photos to Flickr and Picasa. The links are at the end of this posting.

I come home reminded that the Israel Ride is definitely a ride, not a race. Through the course of the ride, we learn, make new friends, challenge ourselves, and come back as part of a community that has shared a very special experience. Cycling is just the route that we use to get there!

That said, the cycling is pretty special! Every day of this year's route had something that made it stand out -- the ride through the Jerusalem Hills on the first day, the transition into the desert on the second, the off road biking at Sde Boker and the climb to Mitzpeh Ramon on the third, the spectacular ride through Machtesh Ramon and the final descent to Kibbutz Ketura on the fourth, and, on the fifth, the ride down the mountain road into Eilat, with the city and the Red Sea rising up before us as we sped down the road. Yes, even though I had done it before, each day of riding had something special to offer, something that left you saying to yourself, "wow, I can't believe that I'm here, and doing's incredible!".

Each day of riding also had plenty of time, mostly in the rolling hills and flats, that offered a chance to get to know our fellow riders. From that, I've come home not just with the photographs, but also with friends that I know that I will keep in touch with for a long time to come, and hopefully also see on a future ride.

And, finally, every day was a learning experience. We had the benefit of Bill, a wonderful guide and a resident of Kibbutz Ketura, as a guide throughout the ride, as well as Alon and Noam to provide very helpful environmental education and insight. We also learned from the crew and volunteers on the ride, many of whom were alumni of the Arava Institute. The result is that this is not just a ride (though it is a spectacular ride), but also a community building/learning experience.

Of course, I did take a few photos on the ride. I've split them into two albums on Flickr. The first is of the "pre-ride", including the JNF's Northern Exposure tour on the Monday before the ride. The second is from the ride. The links to both albums are:

pre-ride (including the Monday "northern exposure" trip):

Or, both can also be found by going to my "Israel Collection" on Flickr, which includes this ride as well as photos from some other trips to Israel. That link is:

If you have any questions about the ride, or the great organizations that it supports, don't hesitate to ask!

Monday, November 17, 2008

We Did It!

We did it!

It is hard to believe that it is only six days since we cycled out of Jerusalem -- five days of cycling, a wonderful, relaxing Shabbat in Mitzpeh Ramon, and, today, 282 miles later, we pedaled into Eilat!

I still owe some details on the past few days, each of which had it's own unique and special character. Even though this was my third Israel Ride, it was still a remarkable experience.

Today was a wonderful, if mostly uphill, ride from Kibbutz Ketura (and the Arava Institute) to Eilat. The treat came at the end, after miles of gentle (some not so gentle) uphill, when we got to the final descent into Eilat. We come in on the mountain road, with the final few miles of the ride beginning at about the same elevation as when we left Jerusalem, and ending at sea level. The group, all 105 of us, were metered out down the mountain, then regrouped at the edge of the city. From there, with a police escort, we rode as one group for the last few miles to the beach. It was wonderful, and exciting, and a bit sad -- we've all shared a great experience together, and the time to make our goodbyes, so some newfound friends, was here. It's been an emotional afternoon. For me, it was truly exciting to be here, and to do the ride again. A few of the riders asked me if it was different, how so, etc. For sure, it was different, but in now way less meaningful than the other times that I did it. Each has been marked by the same three events -- new friends, being able to witness and learn more about the remarkable work of the Institute and Hazon, and the sheer joy of finding myself cycling through this incredible setting, in a place that I love to be. I love it! (hard to describe, but just a wonderful, exhilarating week - the photos, or videos, will never do it justice)

Still, a few photos from the fifth, and final day of riding. I've posted about 30 photos to Facebook. The link to the album is:
I'll also post a complete set of photos to Flickr in the next few days.

Separate from the incredible experience of cycling almost 300 miles on a remarkable route, the real experience of the ride can best be described in five words -- We Have Seen The Future! Or, at least, one possible future. The students, and alumni, of the Arava Institute are remarkable young men and women -- they are from Israel, several of the neighboring countries and territories, Europe, and the U.S.; they are of diverse religions, as well as nationalities, and they all work to
gether as one. As a result of their experience at the Arava Institute, they find a common ground, an ability to understand each other's different perspectives, and they are building deep respect, friendships, and relationships across the borders of the middle east. It is really remarkable, especially in a region that has been marked by such deep conflict for much of it's history. The future that we've witnessed, through students at the institute is the one that all of us who care about Israel have prayed for for generations. The ride gave each of us a chance to witness this first hand, and to support allowing the work of the Institute and Hazon to reach their full potential.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Fall 2008 Israel Ride, Day Three

Great day, details to follow.....

The Fall 2008 Israel Ride, Day Two

We awoke at about 4:30 a.m. this morning, before first light, to a bit of a surprise (at least for me) ... from the balcony of my hotel room, we could see lightening over the Mediterranean. I've seen it rain before in Israel, but lightening was a first.... wonderful day for a bike ride!

The other surprise is that many of us seem to have come down with some kind of malady overnight. We consulted with the authorities, and there is apparently no biblical precedent. It was, however, diagnosed successfully, and, apparently, we will all completely recover. The Latin name for the ailment, when diagnosing an entire group, is rbutticushrtzs. Apparently it has happened before. Best course of action....get back on the bike!

Much to my pleasant surprise, in the moments before leaving my room and getting to the lobby, the rain ended. The rain ended! We still started the ride in rain gear, but it turned out to be unnecessary.

Our departure from Ashkelon, a city that has often been in the news as a target for missiles launched from Gaza, was great! Traffic was light, and we had a police escort through the city ... it was a very special feeling, 105 riders, in loose formation, riding together in the morning light, through the city. We would spread out later in the day, as well as divide into smaller groups, but, for now, it was one large group, riding together .... and, in increasingly clear weather!

Our first stop for the morning came about 15 - 20 (I didn't look @ the cue cards for this) miles south of Ashkelon, for breakfast. We stopped at a great site, overlooking a JNF reservoir. To our right, in the not so far distance, we could still see Ashkelon. In front of us, the reservoir, and, behind the reservoir, in both directions, the Gaza strip. Over the strip were two large balloons, similar looking to weather balloons, except that their purpose seems to be early eyes and ears for incoming missile attacks on Israel. We didn't witness any, though I understand one did follow later in the day -- missed us!

Today is a "transition day", both in terms of the ride, and the look/feel of the land of Israel. Yesterday, I decided to ride the "Tzofim" route this year, missing out on the "Chalutzim" route, which includes a spectacular ride along the Egyptian border, but able, instead, to do a mountain biking excursion tomorrow. Tough decision, but I'm in better shape for Tzofim this year, probably not quite there for the two very tough climbs on Friday's Chalutzim route. So, proudly, I am Tzofim!! We will ride about 71 miles today, the Chalutzim about 25 miles further (that is the route that I did in 2005). The other transition is the land itself.... yesterday was all green, farms, etc. Today, we enter the desert. The transition will come quickly, in the early afternoon.

The ride goes quickly today, as it is mostly rolling hills, flats, etc. No big climbs, just some wind. The sky, maybe reflecting the overnight weather, filled with clouds, against blue sky. It was great weather for cycling. While I don't recall the names (will try to add them later), we stop at about half dozen parks in the course of the day, virtually all of them JNF parks. The last, shortly before the end of the day, was Golda Meir park ... a seeming oasis in the desert. The ride, ever well supported, has set up mats and a rest area there, along with a volunteer to help with stretching, teaching us some yoga, etc. Just another day on the road!!

A couple of memories that will stay with me....

- at the lunch stop, the bongos played by several great members of the crew, and accompanied by Noam, a fellow rider, playing the spoons. All of that, combined with some education from Bill, and others, as we finished our lunch break. If it wasn't clear before now, it is clear not, this is not just about the ride....we are a community.

- getting to know some of my fellow riders, with great, long conversations on the road. As the miles roll by, we make new friends, and re-acquaint ourselves with old ones. I won't share the stories, not my business to do that, just the fact that these are some very inspirational and special people. It is a privilege to spend this time with them. To each of the riders who shared a bit of their story with me, thank you!

- the crew and volunteers on the ride are incredible. In addition to the professional staff, most are actually alumni of the Arava Institute. By there example, as well as through the opportunities that we get to visit with them, they are a wonderful testimony to the pioneering work being done at the Institute.

- two environmental facts, one that was new to me, and the other that I was reminded of -- Israel leads the world in recycling waste water (75% gets recycled) and, as I already knew, Israel leads the world in re-forestation. I'm here as part of "Team JNF" -- it is great to see how deeply the JNF is involved in each of these activities.

Tonight is at a guest house in the Negev. Tomorrow, we head towards Mitzpeh Ramon -- Day 3.

The Fall 2008 Israel Ride, Day One

Greetings from Mitzpeh Ramon, where we pause for a day of rest after the first three days of the Israel Ride. This is my first post since we started riding, three days and, for my group, about 170+ miles ago. A lot of the memories blend together, but I'll try to touch on a few highlights of each day.

Day !, Jerusalem to Ashkelon

The plan is to leave Jerusalem at first light. Our hotel is on Mt. Scopus, and we would like to get across the city before morning traffic converges on us. We also need to finish the day before dark. Hence, by 5:30 am, we are on our way!

I quickly get to see how adept and helpful the ride crew is, as I have a blowout within a mile or so of the hotel. Before I even have the tire off the bike, a member of the crew (Roy?) has stopped to help, and in minutes the SAG wagon is there as well. I'm probably on my way within about 5 - 6 minutes, and catch up to the rest of the group a short time later -- no time lost! This crew and support team is amazing - they are ever-present and always helpful!

Our route for Day One takes us from Mt Scopus, through Jerusalem, then over the Jerusalem hills and west towards the Mediteranian and the city of Ashkelon. I won't go through all the details, as the photos do some of that, just a few impressions....

The beginning of the route, once we get to the western side of the city, is a wonderful descent into the Jerusalem forest and the hills on the western side of the city. As we descend down into the valley, we can see Hadassah Medical Center above us. Our first rest stop is 'down in the valley'. Bill, our guide, fills us in on some of the history of the area, including noting the steps of stones in the hills above us, remnants of people who farmed these hills, in ages longs past. The next hour or so will include some of the most dramatic part of the first day's ride. First, comes the hill....the up hill. Have ridden down into the valley, now we get to climb out the other end. This will be one of the longest and, at times, steepest climbs of the ride. It is also beautiful. For most of it, we are in the forest, with the valley opening out below us and morning light off of the rolling hills in the distance.

We take a break at a JNF (Jewish National Fund) site at the top. While there, in addition to resting, regrouping, and having something to drink, we also hear from Alon Tal. Alon is the founder of the Arava Institute and one of Israel's leading environmentalists. In the past, he has joined us for the whole ride. This year, his stay will be shorter as he is a candidate for the Knesset, and the campaign and other commitments call. Once we leave the rest stop, we are in for one of the most exciting descents of the ride... just a few switch backs, and then a couple of miles (longer) downhill, with great visibility and virtually no traffic....the police have closed the road for us!! On my first Israel Ride, in better form than this year, this is where I clocked my personal fastest speed ever on a bike. I'll be slower this year, but it is still a thrilling ride. Later in the day, Bill (our wonderful guide) will fill us in on the history of the area, including the Israelites on one side of the valley, the Philistines on the other, and that fateful day when the Israelite, David, met the Philistine, Goliath, in a short battle in the valley (that we are riding through).... but, for now, we just enjoy the ride!!

Most of the rest of the day will be through farm land and in a steady descent (with a few exceptions) towards the Mediterranean, and our evening in Ashkelon. It was a great chance to get to know some of the other riders, as it is a very social group, and the ride gave us plenty of chances to visit -- except for times when the headwinds made conversation harder.

One special moment, from near the end of the day. We stopped at a park about 15 miles from Ashkelon, to regroup and enjoy a break before heading into the city together. As we were preparing to leave, we noticed a group of pre-school children watching us through the fence that surrounds their school. They were maybe 30 - 40 yards away, all lined up, with there teacher behind them ... first watching, then, when we noticed them, waving to us. As a few of us started to walk over to them, there was a moment of "now what", as the space between us closed. Then, Mario, on of the riders (and a Rabbi) started to sing the song, "Havenu Shalom Alechem" (peace unto you). The kids quickly joined in, as did anyone else that new the song. Hard to describe to people who weren't there....but it was a very special moment. As different as we were from the children, in age, where we live, what we were doing, language, etc., in that moment we were all connected!

Some of my pictures from the first day are in an album on Facebook. The link is:

I uploaded a more complete set directly to Picasa. Those are at:

Day Two will be next!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The flight to Israel was "uneventful", which I always find an event in itself. After all, this is a place to was all but unaccessible for so many years. Now, you can get on a plane almost anywhere in the world, and find yourself in Israel the next day! Very nice.

Unlike last year, my luggage made the flight as well, and we all arrived in Israel together. At the airport, staff for the ride met us, picked up our bikes for delivery to Jerusalem, and a few of us grabbed a taxi for the 40 mile drive to Jerusalem. We were in the hotel by 7 pm.

Dinner in the old city? Unfortunately, that wasn't to be on Sunday night. Four of us, two from Boston and two new friends from San Jose grabbed a cab to the old city, where I was hoping for dinner at my favorite shwarma place, but they were closed. Darn! Instead, we took a walk through the market area, though it was mostly closed. We made one wrong turn (not good), but a young, tennis racket toting (and playing) priest was walking by, and walked us back to jaffa gate, before going on his way. From there, we walked to Ben Yehuda street, a very busy place on a Sunday night. We quickly found another excellent place for schwarma (yes, i had a craving), and had a great dinner, with sidewalk seating, and a chance to get to know three of my new riding companions. Even had a few minutes to do something that I've never done on the Israel Ride, shop!

We leave Monday morning for a JNF organized quick tour of Northern Israel...more on that in the next post!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Getting Started

I am writing this as I travel to Israel for the Fall 2008 Israel Ride. I will keep it as my journal for the ride, then see where we go from there.

For more information about the ride, you can go to their website,

About me, and the Israel Ride.... this is the third time that I've done the ride. The first, in 2005, was one of those 'life cycle' events. I thought that I would do it once, love it, but not feel any pull to do it a second time, 2007, and surely not a third time, now! Much to the surprise of many, I'm back! Hopefully not for the last time. I ride as part of Team JNF (Jewish National Fund). And, I ride in memory of my stepfather, Rabbi Morris Gordon. And, I ride to help support two great organizations, The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, in Israel, and Hazon, in the USA. But, truth is, mostly I ride for me -- the ride is an incredible way to visit Israel, explore the Negev, challenge myself, and meet some wonderful people along the way. This year, I'm also riding to celebrate my Bar Mitzvah. The service was this past spring, only 40 years late, but worth every minute of the wait. I would have liked to get each of my six fellow b'nei mitzvot to join me, but it looks like I ended up as the designated rider!

More to follow. Next post from Jerusalem!