I’m not going to say that the winter in Israel is anything like the winter in Minnesota. We get a few nights with frost, the threat of snow, but it’s mostly just a cold, windy and rainy few months. With the weather starting to become even more beautiful by the day, we packed our bags and headed north to Modi’in to begin our five day journey towards Masada.
I was unsure what to expect from the terrain we would tackle, and how challenging each day would be. I knew I would be going with eight of my friends and classmates and was really excited for an adventure. But I was not prepared for such an incredible bike ride.
Our Journey began with a great send off from the school at Kehillat Yozma in Modi’in. Complete with a recorder concert and Havdallah ceremony, we got to see the some of the work that the IMPJ does through helping to develop communities in Israel.
Only a few kilometers out of the city, I was reminded of just how beautiful this country is. Over the course of the trip, we saw kilometer after kilometer of rolling farms and kibbutzim, some of them were pretty difficult to bike through because the paths were bumpy tractor paths between fields.
Another of our days took us out of the farm land and into the forrest. To get there, we had to fight our way up a steep incline, followed by a short descent, only to begin climbing through the humid forrest after a fresh morning rain. And once we finished the 500 meters (vertical distance) of climbing, we left most of the greenery behind us as we started into the desert.
It was incredible how quickly the scenery changed from green and full of life to the vast expanses of brown dust and sand. On the way to sea-level, we were challenged by powerful winds that tried the best they could to knock us off the trail. Successfully, we made it through the point of sea level to an incredible overlook of the Dead Sea.
The lower we got, the warmer the temperatures became until we got to our destination, Masada, where we were greeted by a group of Israeli Rabbis – who were at a conference in Arad – and shortly after our arrival a bus-load of our classmates who had come to meet us for the closing of the journey.
I was moved by the fact that so many people had come together to support us and the IMPJ.
The biking itself was challenging enough at times that I needed to completely block out the surroundings in order to not being thrown off my bike, or struggle up the mountains. But not every kilometer was so tough that we didn’t have the chance to talk.
I got to know a wide variety of people from all over the world. Rabbis from congregations across the USA, HUC Rabbinic Students in later years from the Los Angeles campus, people affiliated with various congregations in the States, Israelis from across the country and some very spirited teenagers from the IMPJ affiliated Mechinah in Jaffa.
Everyone had great stories to tell, and the camaraderie was amazing. When the biking got tough, people continued to support each other the entire way. For some of the riders it was their first time joining the bike ride, and for one rider, it was her very first time being in Israel.
When we finally settled into our last lunch together as a group one thing was apparent to me, we had come together for an important cause.
At times this year I have found it difficult to be a Reform Jew in Israel. There are things that I took for granted while living in the States, and the Progressive Movement here struggles for recognition and to be adequately funded to support communities. Every person on the Ride4Reform raised funds to help support our community in Israel.
Between an opportunity over dinner to get to know some of the Israeli Rabbis, talking with all of the different people who had come to Israel for the Ride4Reform, and even coming together for services in the morning, it was an incredible adventure and an amazing experience.
I want to take the chance to thank everyone that supported us in our efforts to raise money for the IMPJ. Not just those that donated through me, but anyone that sponsored any of the riders.
I am incredibly grateful for the chance I had to bike my way across the center of this country. Living in Jerusalem since July it is easy to forget just how varied the landscape of Israel is. I’m having trouble coming up with the perfect word to describe the chance I had to get to know people I never would have met without this opportunity. They have already posted the route for next year’s ride, from Haifa to Mevaseret Tzion, and I hope I can make it back here to do it again.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I was able to put my legs through the punishment of 5 days of mountain biking (it’s very different from the road biking I usually do around the lakes and suburbs of Minneapolis). But with help from everyone involved, we made it!
Shalom from Jerusalem,
If you are interested in reading more of the details of my journey, you can read all about it on my personal blog, Just One Year in Jerusalem.