Bringing the Israel Ride Home

Jon Harris-Shapiro will be riding on the Israel Ride for the third time this November

I signed up for my first Israel Ride to cycle through the desert and came home with more than I bargained for.

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Jon in the Negev Desert on the 2011 Israel Ride.

Back in 2009, I was looking to challenge myself physically and to have an adventure.  (A common theme among those of us who have reached “a certain age” with sedentary jobs).   Several Philadelphia alumni of the Israel Ride couldn’t stop raving about the Ride.  So, I signed up for the Ride, bought a bike, and started training.  I hadn’t been on a bike in decades and fell in love with cycling again.  The bike computer tells me that I’ve ridden more than 10,000 miles since.  Riding in the desert with old and new friends is a spectacular experience.  I guess you could say the Israel Ride is responsible for making me a biking fanatic.

However, I never expected come home from a bike ride with a mission.  Seeing Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians living, studying, and working in partnership at the Arava Institute inspired me to get involved in Israel and in my own community.  I believe that real, positive change is only sustainable when it grows out of personal relationships between people who would otherwise be divided by national borders, faith, or race.

Jon Harris-ShapiroShortly after my first Israel Ride, I had the opportunity to experience the work of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia.  The Interfaith Center’s Walking the Walk program brings teenagers from churches, mosques, and temples together to build relationships across religious, cultural, and economic boundaries while doing service projects throughout the school year.  When I heard the Walking the Walk students describe their experiences, I was amazed at how their narratives paralleled the experiences of the Arava Institute’s students.  If this is your first Ride, you’ll hear Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian students talk about how they arrived at the Arava Institute with only preconceived and mostly negative images of one another and leave with deep, persistent friendships that carry them into their personal and professional lives.  Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Walking the Walk alumni in Philadelphia talk about their experiences the same way.

It has been five years and I find myself volunteering for both organizations.  As the treasurer and member of the executive committee of the Interfaith Center, I am deeply immersed in projects that build bridges between faith communities and breakdown economic, cultural, and racial barriers in Philadelphia.   My relationship with the Arava Institute continues to deepen as well.  This spring, I joined the Friends of the Arava Institute (FAI) board.  I don’t know where that journey is going to lead me but I’m sure it will be a great ride.

See you in November,


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