Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hey deroma, le Eilat

Sunday we went down a steep hill to get to Keturah.  Eilat is only 51 klms from Keturah on Highway 90, extremely busy road with cars, trucks and buses.  Obviously, we wanted to avoid that highway at all costs so we backtracked and went up that gigantic hill to take a more quiet route to Eilat.  The halutzim actually rode their bikes up that hill.  It took them over an hour to reach the summit, the rest of us were bussed to the top to a previous days rest stop, Ne'ot Smadar, and agricultural kibbutz with organic desert farming techniques.  There is a restaurant there that sells organic ice cream and other snacks which our group took advantage yesterday.

From there I began my 835 meter climb to Mt. Hizkiyahu.  I don't remember whether it is the highest spot in Israel or just the Negev, but the ride was basically straight up.  Near the top of the Mt. there is a short but extremely steep incline to reach the summit.  I am happy to say that I finished strong.  I fell behind Bruce Stanger who is in such great shape going up the mt, but passed him on that steep last incline.  Not because I was showing off, but I felt if I stopped peddling as hard as I was, I would never get up that last grade.  From the top of Mt Hizkiyahu, you can actually see 4 countries, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and of course Israel.  That was pretty neat.  There we ate lunch and waited for the haluzim to catch up to us.  We were determined that  they wouldn't lap us and they didn't.  A small victory.  Somehow out the blue an ice cream truck appeared selling their cool treats on a hot desert day.  Hazon didn't order the truck to come.  Somehow they knew there was going to be customers who would be very happy to cool down with some ice cream treats.

What goes up must come down.  The ride down to Eilat was so scary to me.  It was a long winding 5 mile descent.  Cross winds were also a factor.  As I wrote earlier one rider seriously got hurt going down the mt way too fast.  He is still in the TLV hospital. I even felt at one juncture I was loosing control of my bike and I was afraid of falling.  Thank God, I regained control of my bike and myself and continued downward.  I stopped once to look at the view which was gorgeous of the Gulf of Eilat.  I continued down to the rest stop.  We were all shaken up from the descent and the terrible accident.  So much so that we took the wrong route to  the hotel.  We didn't have a permit to ride thru the city so we were supposed to take some back roads which were safer anyway.  The crew was blocking traffic at the circles to allow us to pass by safely.  One crew member was taken away by the police for doing just that, but I am sure that it all worked out in the end and he was released.

We finally made it to the beach.  I have to admit arriving there was a very emotional moment for me.  Just processing that I had actually rode my bike from Jerusalem all the way to Eilat.  What an accomplishment.   Howie Hausman took my picture on the beach with my bike.  After going into the water for a bit and enjoying some food left out for us, I went to the hotel, got in line to get my bike packed, and went up to my room for a shower.  By the time I was all cleaned up, my bike was up for packing.  I got that squared away and had free time until our final banquet.

The final banquet was just like camp.  There were a variety of speakers and a slide show.  One of the crew members took professional phots along the way.  They were unbelievably beautiful and dramatic.  I didn't see myself, but I didn't have the best view of the screen.  We're all supposed to get a cd of those pics in the mail.  I'll share them when I they arrive.  We each got a certificate of completion and a group photo to take home.

The ride was officially over.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Leaving the Machtash

Shabbat was over and Sunday, Oct. 24,  we were leaving the Machtash. The Machtash is not a crater but a rare geological phenomenon.  Of a half dozen or so Machtashim 3 are in Israel and Ramon is the largest.  Consequently, this phenomenon in academic circles is known as a machtash just like we call a tsunami a tsunami instead of a very large tidal wave. A machtash is made when one side of 3 different layers of rocks with sand stone in the middle become eroded  by water.

I rode my bike to the edge of the Machtash for we were having services outside and after services we had our group picture ( I swear the ride was so much like camp!)  Let me tell you at 5:30 am it was freezing.  The temp had to be in the low 50s with the windchill factor making it feel even colder.  We were all shivering.  Services were kind of renewalish.  We didn't care for we were all so cold that we were looking forward to riding our bikes just to get warm.  As the day worn out temps climbed to the 90s again.  What a swing of temps!

We climbed out the Machtash Ramon and headed further south to Kibbutz Keturah.  As I look at the map we entered Midbar Paran where Ishmael roamed after his exile from Abraham's camp and not earlier as I stated before.  Leaving Midbar Paran we climbed steadily until the final descent into the Aravah valley where kibbutz Keturah lies.  The desent down the mountain was scary.  Only two bikers went down at  a time this winding steep road so that we would bunch up and have an accident.  I was riding with a nice woman from Cambridge who was going so slow that I was afraid I was going to hit her. I picked up enough speed just to pass her. She yelled out, "I'm sorry for going so slow."  I yelled back, "Are you kidding me, I'm scared to death."  I didn't realize that the next descent  was even worse.

We made to kibbutz Ketura around 3pm.  There were 3 tours available as well as a swimming pool for those who wanted to cool off.  One tour was a tour of the kibbutz and the Aravah Institute.  Another tour took the bikers to the date palm orchard.  The final tour looked at the solar power station which has a Jordanian partner (an alum of the Arava Institute) working on the same project from the Jordanian border. I took the kibbutz tour, but all 3 sounded good. I guess I shall just have to take the bike ride again to hit the other tours.

We had an opportunity to meet the students in the program and learn about what they are doing.  I spoke to a Jordanian young man and an American young woman after I went back to my room and showered first for the sake of all of humanity.

We ended the day with a lovely BBQ.  I shamoozed with some old and new friends before I went to bed.  Of course, I made a wrong turn and got totally lost and disoriented going back to my guest house room.  Luckily, I saw a golf cart type of truck pull into a garage.  I went over and asked in Hebrew how to get back to the guest house and the kid replied in English, "I don't speak Hebrew."  He was an American volunteer who just came over a few months before.  Thank God, English is my mother tongue.  I told him of my predicament and he offered to drive me there.  Was I lost.  I would never have found my way back.  Like Moses I would have been wandering in the desert for 40 years.

Sede Boker

Looking over my schedule, I saw that I missed one important stop on our way to the Machtash Ramon Friday.  We had a rest stop at Sede Boker.  In 1962 Prime Minister David Ben Gurion was being driven back to Jerusalem when he saw a new kibbutz going up in the Negev called Sede Boker.  He told his driver to pull over.  When he learned about the kibbutz, he told them this is what he always dreamed of doing, redeeming the Negev by living on a kibbutz.  He added that if they would accept him as a member he would resign from his position as PM and live with them. At first they didn't believe him.  Why would a 60 year old man want to join a Gar'in of 20 year olds and give up the most important job in Israel.  After a lengthily debate, he was voted in as a member (btw not unanimously either)  Ben Gurion actually did resign from the government to live in Sede Boker to the shock of the entire nation.  Ben Gurion was more than the father of the modern state of Israel.  He founded almost every important institution that laid the foundation of the state.  He was like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Ben Franklin all rolled into one person.  You should know that he did go back into politics though later on.

He and his wife Paula are buried there instead of Jerusalem on Har Herzl so people would visit and  be inspired to come and establish new kibbutzim in the Negev.  Back in 1971 or 2 a group of Americans stopped by Sede Boker and asked if they could meet with Ben Gurion.  He met with the group and told them as his wont that they should make aliya and found a new kibbutz in the Negev.  A portion of them took his words to heart and made aliyah together and founded the kibbutz Ketura about 51 klms north of Eilat right after the Yom Kippur war in 1973.  Today Ketura is a thriving kibbutz and the home of the Arava Institute.

We visited their graves and said a memorial prayer. On his tombstone thee are 3 dates, birth, death, and date of aliyah when he was reborn.

A branch of Ben Gurion U is at Sede Boker.  Master students from the Aravah Institute study there as well to earn their MA.  If you know of any students interested in environmental studies and want to study in Israel, they can get full credit thru Ben Gurion U.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Shabbat Shalom

Time marches on.  I can't believe that a whole week has gone by since I celebrated Shabbat at the Machtash Ramon.  We were a mixed group from Shabbat observers to those who treat Saturday like any other day.  We were encouraged to observe the Shabbat as we wished.  Besides traditional Shabbat morning services, a hike to the Machtash, yoga, and messages were available to all.  No matter what one did on Shabbat, all of us were greatful for the rest Shabbat provided us from our saddles and all those miles.  We all needed a rest.

Of course, I went to services and I even read the 7th alilya.  Although I am not a professional Torah reader, I think I acquited myself well.  Services were good.  We tried to sing as much as we could.  The rabbi in charge of the service after each aliyah asked us if something stood out from the text that applied to our experience of the ride.  I spoke up that Sodom and Gemorra was a test to see whether or not Abraham lived the values of Mishpat (justice) and Tzedakah (righteousness and kindness).  These are the values God wanted him to inculcate into us, his descendants.  I spoke how the crew really did embody those values.  Somehow even with a group of 114 riders we always began on time and did what was necessary, but the crew was so kind, friendly and concerned about our welfare.  Never a mean word or gesture was heard or seen.  They embodies Mishpat and Tzedakah. People had a lot to say that we went over the time alloted for tefillot.

Right after services another rabbi gave a class on Beraisheet showing us how through the stories, God teaches us the preference of biocentric and biodiversity over anthrocentric approach to Creation.  One such example was Noah and the Flood.  Noah had to gather all the animals to insure that there will be biodiversity to help us sustain life.  The Tower of Bable story shows the opposite.  When there was no diversity for they all spoke 1 language, life as it was known was unsustainable.  Only when humanity split up and spoke different languages was life enhanced.  He was very good and interesting.

People ask me about the food.  The food was plentiful and delicious.  You could go back as many times as you wanted.  Now that I have returned, people remark that I look like I have lost weight.  They should only know how much rice, potatoes, meat, chicken, and salads I consumed.  I guess you can eat as much as want when you burn in excess of 3000 caleries a day.

After some free time and a short nap and reading the book Seize the Day by Malemud, we had a program in order to meet the Alum of the Arava Institute.  Out of 25+/- alum, 6 spoke to us about who they were, where they came from, and what they are doing.  It was most interesting to hear from the Palestinian and Jordanian students. For the most part, the Palestinians had no problem socially going to school at the Arava Institute and Ben Gurion U. 

The Jordanians had quite a different story.  They learned about the program thru an add that mentioned scholarships but did not the name of the institution and where it was located.  When some applicants learned in a telephone interview that it was Israel, they didn't continue the process.  Some of those who did sometimes had to cut all relationships with the family and friends.  Others were more fortunate.  One Jordanian invited his Israeli room mate back home to a family wedding.  Everybody knew who was who and a great time was had by all.  Another Jordanian with the help of the Institute, brought his family over from Jordan to see where he was learning. Nevertheless, they didn't put on their CV that they studied in Israel at all and earned an MA from BGU.  It would be a death knell to their budding career.

There is a required seminar that all students have to take discusses issues of the Middle East.  Obviously they don't agree on the issues at all like the Turkish Flotilla.  There is yelling and a lot of tension. People leave the room.  But unlike other dialogues of peace, it doesn't end there.  No matter how angry the students get, they are stuck in the middle of the Negev with no where to go.  The next day they still have to see all their friends.  Both Jews and Arabs at the institute learn to disagree without hating the other side.  They see each other as human beings and not characters reduced to faceless stereotypes. You really do see a real transformation in people.  I don't know whether the Arava Institute will reach a tipping point towards real peace, but the little steps that are being taken give me hope.  Now if we can only take away the politicians and politics, peace could really break out.

We ended the day at the Machtash with a Havadala service a la Debbie Friedman with some more touchy feely stuff.  See the sun go down with the beautiful sunset colors, and the full moon rising with lots of stars was just awesome.

Off to dinner and then to bed since we have a full day of riding tomorrow to Kibbutz Ketura which is home to the Arava Institute.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back in the land of the living

Last night Bruce and I (but really only Bruce since I took care of the tip and he paid for the rest of the meal) took out Peretz, Miriam, Adin, his girlfriend Gila, and Jessica to dinner at a Sushi place on Rechov Emek Refaim.  We came home late and Bruce left for to the airport on route to Morroco at 1am.

Now to continue my saga. I really paid attention to the road, the fellow riders and cars, and my body so scenery went by that escaped my attention.  Apparently we passed an ostrich farm.  I learned later from my room mate that some people stopped to take a picture of the birds in the distance and one the birds saw those bikers they walked right up to the fence.  He showed me his pictures he took.  I am not terrible upset that I didn't see more stuff on the road because I am in one piece and alive to tell the story.  This year's ride had more accidents than all the previous 7 combined.  One woman broke her arm and wrist in a collision with another rider who broke her wrist as well.  Another rider had a miscommunication and  bumped into the lead rider and needed 7 stitches. While sleeping at a rest stop a metal pole holding up the tent fell on a kid and he needed 5 stitches.  On the way down the last, longest (5 miles long!), steepest, and most dangerous hill was hitting speeds of 45 mph or more and something happened that he went flying up into the air 8 to 10 feet and hit the street really hard.  They airlifted him to a TLV hospital. So I don't feel bad missing out on stuff since I am coming home in one piece.

By Thursday night I had good news and bad news.  The bad news was my butt was really sore.  I had never ridden so long in my entire life.  First of all 71 miles that I rode on Thursday was a new one day record for me surpassing my previous record of 67 miles.  I was much stronger this time around.  At the North Fork metric century I limped to the finished line.  Today I rode strong.  Add the 53 miles I rode on Tuesday, you get a lot of chaffing.  It really hurt to sit down even on a regular chair with  padding.  The good news was I knew exactly where to put the Butt and Chamois creme.

Friday was a short day of riding since we had to get to our hotels before Shabbat and we had to finish the steep climb to Mitzpe Ramon.  It was almost all uphill all the time.  We stopped at Ein Avdat for a rest stop and learned all about the Nabateans.  They are the people who built Petra.  They had a monopoly on the spice route from Saudi Arabia west.  Only they new the route where all the water was. They were a tough band of people.  According to their way of life nobody was allowed to build and live in a house on pain of death.  They were tough warriors.  Ein Avadat is a fortress near the end of their route because if people were going to attack them they weren't going to attack them in the beginning of the desert but closer to the end.  There was a 9 mile off road bike ride to a cold desert spring that takes an hour to get there and an hour to get back with time to jump into the spring.  I decided not to go on for two reasons.  One my butt hurt enough that I didn't need to ride over large stones and two I still had more verses of the Torah reading I promised to prepare for the morrow.  So I rode directly to the hotel in Mitzpeh Ramon, ate lunch, jumped into the pool, and then studied my Torah portion, Akeidat Yitzhak, until my room was ready.

Friday night services were nice.  Steve Wernick led the davening and Amy Katz acted as the rabbi.  They tried to reach everybody with the prayers all in Hebrew with prayer explanations and permission to do what ever you do on Shabbat... and they did.  Dinner was nice.  I sat with Amy, Howard Hausman, and Sharon, my newest Longmeadow friend and had a nice shamooze.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'm not dead yet

I am sorry that I haven't blogged throughout the entire bike ride. Either computers weren't available or I was so tired that as soon as supper was over I started going to bed.  Something about riding 60 +/- miles a day up and down mountains tires a person out.

I'm now back in Jerusalem and borrowing my friend's computer until he needs it. So if I sign off in the middle it is because he has first dibs on it.

The riders were grouped into 3 groups.  Advanced who rode the farthest and the fastest, the medium and the beginner who rode the first half of the day and then went sight seeing the rest of the day.  I rode with the medium group called Tzofim.

We were still in the middle of a terrible heat wave the first day of the ride.  Before lunch the temps got as high as 113 degrees F!  I heard that somebody was carrying a cell phone in his back pocket and the plastic part of it melted!  Because of the extreme heat, the officials of the tour cut the ride short.  We rode only 23 miles in that heat before lunch.  We took a lot of pit stops.  I remember just sitting down on the lip of the trunk and drinking water bottle after water bottle of water.  And that was after taking sips of water every few minutes coupled with sips of an energy drink.  My mouth was always dry.  Believe it or not the weather broke after lunch.  It was probably only in the mid 90s.We had an option to ride the SAG bus to our hotel in Ashkelon or continue riding.  The advance group called Halutzim not only continued but still rode their extra miles.  They were averaging 20 mph even in that heat.  I decided to push on and off course had my first and only flat tower.  The mechanics couldn't stop were I was so they loaded the bike on the SAG bus, I jumped on the bus and rode for a couple of miles until we reached a bus stop.  They fixed my flat (thank God, my only one) and I continued my ride.  I had to push to catch up to the group.  The road flat with rolling hills.  The sweep rider from the crew complimented me for riding so fast.  Apparently he had some doubts about my ability since he didn't know me or know how hard I trained.  I made it to Ashkelon on my bike, 53 miles in that heat, but boy was I exhausted by the end of the day.

To back up for a moment.  We left Jerusalem and rode past Har Herzl and Yad Vashem.  We took a turn down a very steep hill.   It was the first of 3 major declines.  I've learned that no matter how much I might complain about riding up hill, down hills scare me even more.  To my chagrin, each down hill became steeper and more dangerous especially since we couldn't block traffic.  Israeli drivers had two different honks.  One was a loud angry horn saying get out of my way the other which I have to admit was much more frequent, people beeped us encouraging honks and waved.  They were probably laughing on the inside looking at so many of us crazy people (approx. 120 of us including the crew)  riding in this weather.

Once we got into our hotel, we showered and ate.  Bruce Stanger, my friend who talked me into this ride, called on some of our mutual Israeli camp friends who live in a near by moshav.  They came and welcome us.  I was so tired I could barely speak so I listened a lot.  I went up to my room to get my camera and take their picture.  I was so tired I forgot to take out the camera from my pocket to take their picture.  I only realized it when I went to bed and undressed.

We had to go to bed early because wake up was at 4:30 am so we could be on the rode by 5:45 am and beat some of the heat.

Going to Ashkelon was basically going down hill from Jerusalem.  On Thursday we started our journey to the Machtash Rimon in the center of the Negev and it was basically uphill all the way.  We climbed over 830 meters to get to the Machtash over two days.  Thursday we climbed about a third of the way and Friday we climbed the rest of the way to our hotel.

This week's Torah portion Vayera was perfect for this ride.  One of our rest stops was at a gas station in Gerar.  Once again Abraham tried to pass off Sarah as his sister instead of his wife.  He was afraid that Avimelech, king of Gerar would kill him and take his wife.  I didn't know until our tour guide pointed out that Gerar was outside of Israel's borders up and until David became king.  That's why it was so dangerous and Abraham was willing to use that ploy again.  Why anyone would want to set up a kingdom in that desolate area beats me.

Later we stopped at Gan Golda, named after Golda Meir.  There is a natural pool of water that has been expanded my human beings.  According to Beduin tradition this is the well that saved Ishmael's life when Abraham expelled him from his camp with his mother.  We read this story on the first day of Rosh Hashana and this past Shabbat.  We passed Paran where the Torah says Ishmael and his descendants lived.  It was neat how it made the Torah portion for Shabbat to come even more alive.

As we climbed to our hotel in Mishabey Sadeh, I was happy to live in Northeast Queens.  Climbing 61st Ave and Douglaston Parkway/Winchester really helped me a lot.  Many of my friends from Spfld marveled at my climbing ability.  They began to take it for granted that when I would make my move, I would pass them by.  In their eyes I was speeding along. I didn't let that get to my ego because I knew if I moved up to the Halutzim I would be a straggler.  If fact one day I did pass the Tzofim by and at a rest stop I joined some stragglers from Halutzim with their lead biker.  They left me in the dust.  By the end of the day's ride I had covered 71 miles a personal high for me.

I am turning over the computer to Peretz now so I'll sign off for a bit.

Monday, October 18, 2010

My only free day this trip

I forgot to mention yesterday that Israel is in the middle of a heat wave. It feels like summer but looks like the fall.  The temperatures are in the high 80's and could hit 90's which is unusual for this time of year. What a change from the cold NY weather I left behind.  But it really looks like fall here.  The main drag of the area where I am staying is Emek Refaim St.  I took my hosts out for dinner at a very good restaurant, Moshava 54.  All the eateries were busy, not packed but the street was almost empty of all people.  During the summer the sidewalks on both sides are packed and the stores are opened very late.

I hooked up with Simcha, our friend from Mexico who made aliya 9 months ago, and her boyfriend Ori.  I know her MJCC family will be happy to learn that she is seeing seriously a nice Jewish boy.  I spent half the day with them.  We went to the Israel Museum.  After being closed for a long time the Israel Museum just reopened after extensive renovations and improvements. We took two guided tours, one the Judaica section and the Synagogue section.  4 whole abandoned synagogues were moved to the Museum, one from Italy, one from Germany, one from India, and one from Brazil.  The building styles reflected the country each shul was in.  We saw a movie about the evolution of Israeli artists during the past 100 years.  That was very interesting.

In the museum I bumped into old friends from Spfld, MA.  I looked at them for a while until it dawned on me that it was the Pavas.  Danny's daughter got married yesterday and they were in for the wedding.  The ingathering of the exiles happens all the time here all the time and you never know who you are going to bump into.

I visited with Rabbi Ed Romm who works for United Synagogue here in Israel. I have an idea for an unusual trip to Israel that I will share with you once I put more thought into it.  Rabbi Romm was excited about the idea and offered to help out by connecting us to United Synagogue and the Conservative Yeshiva.  I tried to visit Cantor Avi Zablocki, but he must have heard that I was in the country so he and his wife Rivka are taking a short vacation in Malta. His daughter Adina, if you remember her, filled me in on all the details when she opened up their door.  Same thing with my friends the Renders.  I asked my hosts why didn't they leave the country like the rest of my friends and Peretz told me he had no choice for he drew the short straw.

Tomorrow my bike is put together.  We have orientation, take a short ride, and then leave bright and early Wedns morning.  Eilat or bust!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Well I made it safe and sound

Going through security in the middle of October instead of the middle of the summer with thousands of teenagers was a breeze.  I don't remember making it through the lines so quickly.  The plane ride was uneventful and I was able to sleep on and off for about 5 hours.

When we landed I hooked up with 3 fellow riders, one from West Hartford and a couple from Boston who has children Roni and Asaf's age.  It turns out they all went to Solomon Schechter together.  The Jewish world is indeed small, but as Steven Wright once said, "I still wouldn't want to paint it."  Getting to Jerusalem took a while.  We had to wait for the people from Hazon to pick up our bikes and then we had to wait until the sherut, a kind of taxi, had a full compliment of passengers.  Of course I was the last person to be dropped off.

I am staying with my friends the Rodmans.  Being with Miriam and Peretz is always a treat.  They fed me royally and we caught up quickly.  Their daughter Noa was in Jerusalem with her army staff which she is their commander.  Noa has a really important job working with new recruits who have social issues.  I saw her briefly for 30 seconds.

I'm off to the showers for the sake of all humanity and then it's lights out.  Hopefully I will get onto an Israeli cycle quickly in a timely fashion for my bike ride.

Good night and sweet dreams from Jerusalem.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Erev Shabbat

I am quite overwhelmed.  Getting ready for tomorrow's Bar Mitzvah or leaving on a jet plane for Israel.  I think it is a combination of both.  Transitions are always  hard.  I just have to remember to breathe.

All my bags are pack including my bicycle.  I just hope I am not over weight.  I had no idea how much to bring because of the big temperature jumps in the Negev.  It can get pretty cold at night and during the day the temp. can reach 90 degrees F.    I don't know how long I'll be in my bike clothes and how long will I be in my street clothes.

Got to shower, daven mincha, and go.

Monday, October 11, 2010