From all over the country, they will converge on New York in August. They will span the spectrum of Jewish practice -- in fact, some aren't even Jewish. They include passionate advocates for the environment as well as people who are merely interested in environmental issues. They will range in age from about 12 to 69. What do they have in common? They are bringing their bikes.
After only two years, the Hazon New York Jewish Environmental Bike Ride has become an institution. While the first two rides occurred in October and took riders through Fall foliage territory, the third Hazon ride is scheduled for August 15-18 and will take participants to the beach.
Hazon (Hebrew for "vision") is a non-profit committed to fostering new vision in the Jewish community -- especially, though not exclusively, through outdoor and environmental Jewish education.
Hazon is a resident project of Bikkurim, a business incubator for early-stage, New York City-based Jewish organizations, sponsored by United Jewish Communities (UJC) and the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA).
Through the environmental bike rides, Hazon seeks to build awareness of the need for environmental protection in the Jewish community, to create an inclusive Jewish community and to raise money to support programs that foster environmental and outdoor education and advocacy. And, as anyone who has biked in a Hazon ride would add, to have a great time!
For Lindsey Savoie, who is working toward a Master's degree in Jewish education and is a member of the Washington-based Jewish environmental group Shomrei Adamah, the ride brings together all the things she loves -- including her husband, Brian.
During last year's Hazon Ride, the Savoies celebrated their first wedding anniversary. "The ride helped me share with all my friends and family my passion for the environment, Judaism, nature, outdoors," said Savoie. "I had to ask them for money, so I had to explain why it was important for me." This year, Savoie is participating in the New York ride as the captain of a team from Washington.
The program for the New York ride begins with a Shabbat retreat hosted by the Jewish Center of the Hamptons. Scholar-in-residence Jeremy Benstein, director for education at Israel's Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership and one of the world's leading Jewish environmental thinkers, will preside over a learn-in on Judaism and the environment.
On Sunday morning, the ride itself begins: a two-day, 120-mile trip from the beaches of East Hampton to Manhattan's Upper West Side. The route takes participants through the historic village of Sag Harbor, across exquisite Shelter Island and along Long Island's North Fork.
The bikers will cycle through vineyards and stop at the beach at least once for ice cream and a swim. On Sunday night, they will be hosted at Huntington Jewish Center in Nassau County. Exhausted and exhilarated, they will arrive on Monday evening at the JCC in Manhattan.
Last year's Hazon ride attracted 140 bikers from 15 states, and Nigel Savage, director of Hazon, projects that up to 180 people will participate this year. Many of those who are already signed up are veterans of last year's New York ride and previous Hazon events -- the ambitious cross-country trip that was Hazon's inaugural ride, and the first Israel ride, which took place April 27-May 2, 2003.
On the Israel ride, organized by Hazon and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, 44 cyclists, including 31 from the United States, biked from Neve Shalom to Eilat (over 300 miles) and raised over $125,000.
The event made news in Israel and the United States in part because it sparked a reunion of families who share an unusual piece of Jewish history: Dr. Robert Zurawin of Houston, whose grandfather and nine friends biked to Israel from Poland to make aliyah in 1932, participated in the ride along with his son, Jonathan. News of Zurawin's participation spread, and a group of descendants of the 1932 bikers, most of whom had never met, united in Israel.
Of the 81 riders already signed up for Hazon's third New York ride, many are from the New York area, while others hail from as far as San Diego. Jeffrey Davis, principal of the upper school at San Diego Jewish Academy, cycled in last year's ride along with his wife Mardelle, and they're already registered to do it again in August.
"To ride for an environmental cause with Jews on bikes was too good an opportunity to pass up, and it's worth flying across the country to do it," Davis said enthusiastically.
Among the New Yorkers riding with Hazon in August will be Ruth Messinger, formerly the Borough President of Manhattan and a New York City mayoral candidate, and now President of American Jewish World Service.
"In 2001, Nigel asked me to help publicize the event, since I'd been in NYC government and I'm now running a Jewish agency. I said I'd rather ride in it, which I did." In 2002 Messinger's daughter, her daughter's partner and their 7-year-old daughter (part of the time on a trailer bike) rode, and this year that family group will be joined by Messinger's son and his daughter.
"It's a tremendous community-building activity," Messinger said. "There are obvious and strong environmental connections, but most important is where the money goes, to Jewish groups here and in Israel concerned about environmental issues."
Each rider is required to raise $500 in sponsorships, and the proceeds from the ride go to Jewish environmental projects locally, nationally and internationally -- most of them small and run on small budgets like Hazon itself.
Beneficiaries last year included the Coalition on the Environment & Jewish Life, and the Teva Learning Center, a national pioneer in creating immersion Jewish environmental learning for Jewish middle schoolers; the Shalom Center, which has done pioneering work in raising ecological awareness in the Jewish community; Shomrei Adamah; Project Noah; Tel Aviv Bishvil Ofanayim, which encourages bike use in Israel; Kibbutz Lotan; the Jerusalem Alliance for Sustainability; and the Arava Institute.
The Hazon website (www.hazon.org) is a trove of information on the organization, previous rides, environmentalism and lots more, and it is also the place to go to find out how to register for the New York ride in August.
Or e-mail Nigel Savage, at firstname.lastname@example.org. As he says: "You don't have to be an experienced cyclist, or a committed environmentalist, to participate in the Ride -- but we hope that in doing so you'll learn and celebrate Jewishly, environmentally and physically!"