Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Hill/Climb that Had my Number

Tomorrow is the fourth day of riding on the 2014 Israel Ride.  The first three days (about 170 miles, for my group), and a very relaxing Shabbat at Mitzpe Ramon (above), are behind us.

But, the hill that "had my number" came on day three, the first climb after lunch.  It isn't the longest hill (about nine miles) on the ride, or the steepest.  But, it is a tough one.  It runs from Sde Boker to a less known local landmark, the Naftali prison.  And, for the past three years, it's "had my number", I've avoided it.  In 2011, while I hadn't been diagnosed yet, I knew that I was sick, and I opted to take the bus halfway up the hill.  Yes, I had good reason, but mostly it was the hill.  The next two years, 2012 and 2013, I opted for the Shomrim riding group on Friday.  Their route substitutes a beautiful desert hike for "the hill".  I liked the hike (and would recommended it to anyone -- it is beautiful), but I knew the truth.  I was avoiding the hill.

Day three of the 2014 Israel Ride included a new route for the Tzofim riders (the group that I mostly ride with).  We started in Yerocham, rode "rolling hills" about 15 - 16 miles to Golda Meir Park, and then another 15 or so to Sde Boker, David Ben Gurion's kibbutz.  The second leg includes a long, beautiful climb, and then couple of smaller descents into the valley where Sde Boker is located.  It is a beautiful ride.  From there, the next leg of the ride was "the hill".  Or, taking in the hike at Sde Boker.

At the Israel Ride's Rest Stop at Golda Meir Park, a JNF Park
I decided, it was time to meet the hill again.  I suggested that Benji go ahead, and anticipate that I'd arrive at the next rest stop with the SAG vehicle.  And off we went!  First one mile, then the next.  At one point, before the steepest part of the climb, a shepherd was bringing his flock of sheep across the road (this is the Israel Ride!).  I slowed up, not wanting to stop, not wanting to get the crossing before they were done.  Then, it was a pedal stroke at a time, finding a new groove.  Finally, I saw a break ahead in the wall of the hill.   Never has a prison looked so good!   The rest stop, and the peak of the hill, was less than a mile away!

From the rest stop, "the hill" behind us, we pedaled the rest of the route, including several smaller climbs, to Shabbat at Mitzpe Ramon.  

Every ride has it's challenges.  For me, despite whatever other challenges I've been able to face these past few years, this hill had my number.  I'd climbed steeper ones, and longer ones, but couldn't face this one.   This year I faced it...and left it behind.  The hill HAD my number, it doesn't anymore! 

Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The 2014 Israel Ride -- Number 9, A Community on Wheels

Registration and orientation are over, the bikes are assembled and ready to go, Benji and I are ready, and the 2014 Israel Ride leaves Jerusalem at sunrise tomorrow.   This year's ride is the largest since 2007, with 165 riders and a crew of almost 50 people.   For the next six days, on routes from 150 to almost 400 miles, we are a community on wheels.  There will be quiet times, cycling through the Negev.  And, there will be our own challenges with the demands of the ride.   But, we will never be alone.

For me, that community starts with Benji, my 2nd oldest son, who is riding with me this year.  While he is a veteran of many PMC rides, this will be his longest ride, and, for sure, the longest time that we've spent together without the rest of the family.  For me, that is very exciting!   I look forward to the time with him, and to sharing the Israel Ride with him.

We are also honored by the support that we've received from friends and family.  Between the JNF Guardian of Israel event in September, which will ultimately benefit the Arava Institute, and the direct donations to the Israel Ride, we have received donations from almost 150 friends and family.   Each donor is on honored on a flag that will ride with us from Jerusalem to Eilat.  We will never be alone!

I hope to post more from the road, and share some of the excitement and good fortune of having the opportunity to participate, with Benji, in the 2014 Israel Ride.  

For now, this brief note is just to acknowledge the moment, and thank everyone who has supported and encouraged our participation in this ride and the good work that it supports.  I hope that each of our supporters can one day personally participate in the Israel Ride.   In the mean time, you are each part of the 2014 Israel Ride.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Guardian of Israel Award, Remembering Guy Bar-Yosef

I had the very special privilege this week of being honored by Jewish National Fund and the Arava Institute with the 2014 Guardian of Israel Award.   JNF and the Institute presented the award at a wonderful luncheon at Elm Bank, on September 21st.  My goal is that proceeds from the event will be used to build a new outdoor classroom/amphitheater at the Arava Institute, on Kibbutz Ketura. The amphitheater will be named in memory of my nephew, Guy Bar-Yosef, and in honor of the Israel Ride. To reach my goal, and build the amphitheater, we need to raise a total of $100,000.  We are almost there, but not quite.  I hope that you will consider contributing.  The link for contributions is: 2014/new-england-guardian-of-Israel

Several people have asked that I post my comments from the event.   They are below.

Guardian of Israel Award
September 21, 2014

Thank you.

This is an honor that I should be accepting on behalf of many people in the room, as you have helped to make possible any of my achievements. 

Fran, Adam, Sara, Josh, Benji, and Michelle.    You are patient with my commitments, supportive of my love for Israel, and, at the most challenging time in my life, you were with me each step of the way.  I was never alone. 

My Mom, Lori Gordon.  You’ve been my most steadfast supporter, and your husband, my stepfather, Rabbi Morris Gordon, always encouraged my love for Israel.

I’d like to thank Howie Rodenstein and Paula Reckess for organizing and co-chairing this event, along with my family and friends who served on the organizing committee.  Thank you!

The staff and board of Jewish National Fund is passionate about what they do, proud of the amazing work of JNF, and outstanding to work with.  Sharon, Sara, Debi, and Rami, you make it fun to be a volunteer and board member.
The staff and directors of Friends of the Arava Institute, Hazon, and the Israel Ride have made the Israel Ride an amazing, life changing event for nearly a thousand riders and for the people and organizations that it supports.   And, in particular, I want to thank David Rendsburg and Branwen Cale.   David, you’ve been patient with me as a very squeaky wheel, and you are ever attentive to the details of making the Israel Ride a success.   Branwen, you fully embraced the growth strategy that we developed for the Israel Ride.  You are the professional staff leader that we needed to move forward these past two years. As some of you may have noticed, Branwen extended the start of her maternity leave so that she could be here with us today.

One reason why the Israel ride has such an impact, is that we see the results of the Arava Institute’s work.  We learn about projects that alumni are working on.  More important, we learn from their example.  The alumni are from a diversity of backgrounds – Jewish, Christian and Muslim, Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian.  They have built a strong community, committed to co-existence.  The lesson of the Israel Ride is the unity in their community, and the better future that they represent for all of us.

As you know, we are raising funds to build an outdoor classroom and amphitheater at the Arava Institute.  The amphitheater will be in memory of my nephew, Guy Bar-Yosef, and in honor of the Israel Ride.  I’d like to tell you a bit about Guy. 
Guy was born in 1973 to a liberal, Jewish, Israeli family.
Guy was an explorer.  He traveled the world in search of his own spiritualty.  In one of many discussions with his grandfather, Rabbi Morris Gordon, Guy realized that that the lessons that he was seeking all exist in Judaism.

Guy became a devotee of the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the 18th century founder of the Breslov Hasidim.   Two lessons stand out – the importance of community, that “there is no despair in this world” – reflecting a devout faith in G-d, and a belief there is a reason for everything.

Guy was a popular tour guide.   His impact was summed up in this note from a young adult on a birthright trip:
“When I got off the plane and saw you, with the big kippa and payot, I thought ‘oh no, what are we in for?’   After your initial greeting to us and a couple of jokes, I knew we’d be OK.  After the ten days we spent with you I want you to know that if I learned nothing else, I learned not to judge a Jew by the length of his payot.” 

Guy made Israel and Judaism alive and vibrant.  He believed in “Unity in the Community”.  He instilled a sense of belonging to something great and spiritual in everyone he met.

The Israel Ride and the Arava Institute ultimately reflect that same belief in “Unity of the Community”.  You’re all familiar with the ride.   You’ve seen the photos, it is beautiful.  You’ve heard the stories, we have incredible crew and staff. But, the real secret is the community that we become a part of, and lessons we learn from our fellow riders.

For me, one of those lessons came on the Shabbat morning of my first Israel Ride, in 2005.

Another first time rider, on the ride with his son, told the story of what it meant for him to be doing the Israel Ride one year after cancer surgery.  He spoke of what it meant to:
  •          Be alive
  •          To be challenging himself
  •          And to be giving back

In 2010, that story helped me give my first cancer a “lower case c”.  With the support of my family, it helped me navigate my surgery and recovery.

In 2012, we learned that I had a much more advanced and aggressive cancer.
Over the next eight months, as I went through aggressive chemotherapy, surgery, and starting on a road to recovery, my family and friends, and the Israel Ride community, the people in this room, were there for me every step.
  • When I was too weak to walk, you sat with me or offered to walk for me.
  • When I started to walk, you were by my side, guiding the way
  • And, when I was able to ride again, you were my training wheels.

You were there for me on a journey that no one should travel alone.

Shortly after I started my treatment, Guy was diagnosed with leukemia.  I felt like we were in parallel universes.  Mine in Boston, and Guy’s in Israel.  Through his treatment, Guy’s family and friends were always by his side.  People he had touched, through his work as a guide, reached out to him, and prayed for his complete recovery.  When he needed a bone marrow transplant, there were donor drives across the world.  Marrow sampled from those drives continues to save lives today.  Guy’s faith and spirit never faltered.  

There is no despair in this world. 
We prayed for a miracle.  I hoped that the good fortune that had found me would find my nephew too.

Sadly, it didn’t.  In August of 2013, Guy passed away.

I hope that this new amphitheater at the Arava Institute will continue Guy’s lessons and impact.  I hope that it will be a classroom in which they build a community that is excited and passionate about Israel.   I hope that it will be a place where, in the midst of conflict and distrust, people will remember that “there is no despair”, and will to work to build a better future together.  And, for Guy’s young children, family, and friends, I hope that it will be a place where they find that his spirit and vitality live on.

I thank all of you for being here today, for this award, for your generosity and support, and for your commitment to Israel and to building a better future.