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Compare and Contrast

Dear All,

This year, Hazon’s New York Jewish Environmental Bike Ride ends late Monday afternoon, and just two days later, Rosh Hashanah begins.

The Hazon 10th Anniversary NY Ride will end at Riverside Park at 79th Street on Monday, September 6th at 3 PM with a group ride up Riverside Drive to the The JCC in Manhattan at 76th and Amsterdam. In addition to dancing and singing at the JCC, the Adamah Fellows will have a farm stand inside of the JCC with fresh produce, pickles and dairy products. The closing ceremony will start at 4 PM on the roof of the JCC. The NY Ride is one of Hazon’s largest fundraisers for the year, allowing us to continue our important work. Please consider sponsoring a Rider this year in celebration of Hazon’s 10th anniversary.

The close conjunction in time prompted me to think about them in relation to each other…

This year they’re about the same length in time. They’re both marathons, of sorts. They both involve pushing ourselves: even if you ride a bike – or go to shul on Shabbat – you don’t normally ride 120+ miles in two days, or spend 10+ hours in shul. (And this parallel reflects reality: most people at our Ride, when you add in crew members and Shabbat attendees and people riding shorter routes, won’t ride 120+ miles in two days; and most people won’t, in the end, spend 10+ hours in shul.) They both involve a lot of eating. In both cases we find ourselves surrounded by people whom we know, and many whom we don’t. And, at heart, they’re both actually about the same complex question: how do we become a better person, and create a better world for all?

So what lessons can we derive from this interesting conjunction?

  • The more you train, the easier you find it, and (mostly) the more you enjoy it;
  • the opposite can also be true: those for whom a marathon – either of davenning, or bike-riding – is regular fare may take it for granted; those for whom it is a rare experience may treasure it more, and feel a greater sense of accomplishment;
  • You’ll enjoy it more if you don’t eat too much. (Most of us know that eating too many large yontef meals in succession just leaves us feeling exhausted. The Ride is a time when we need to nourish ourselves properly – we need protein and carbs and fat, and we need to maintain our body’s minerals and water, and/but I have found that one doesn’t need to eat really enormous amounts of food0;
  • People make a difference. The Jewish idea of a minyan – a prayer quorum – is rooted not in the notion that it makes any difference to G!d whether we pray with others but that it makes a difference to us. So too with the Ride. There are times for solitary prayer, and solo bike rides, but a communal experience is usually more powerful. At the Ride, one can spend time riding and simply thinking and noting the world go by, but the opportunities for interactions with others are easy, and rich. I think that synagogues, especially modern ones, are often too solitary in their experience; one can be alone in the crowd, and feel quite unconnected;
  • It’s striking that at the Ride, people daven in different ways, and ride different length routes, each at their own pace, yet there’s a very strong sense of shared community. We’re together for meals, together for havdalah, together for the Ride closing. At best I aspire to this same sense at Rosh Hashanah – Jewish people celebrating around the world, in our own shuls, our own communities, and our own ways (including, nowadays, the club scene in Tel Aviv, for instance, and meditation retreats, and other Rosh Hashanah recognitions not anticipated by our great-grandparents) and yet, at best, a shared sense of connection, a shared sense of peoplehood, a shared language and culture. And, yes, I recognize that from Mea She’arim to the clubs of Tel Aviv to synagogues and temples in the US and elsewhere, there may be little left that is truly shared. When I’m at the Ride, wherever I am, I choose to feel connected to everyone else who’s there, and at a stretch I choose to make that claim to myself at Rosh Hashanah, harder though it is;
  • Leadership is important – and so is followership. Much thought and work goes into planning the Ride, every part of it, just as much thought goes into the services that we attend. (In both cases there is way more work than most participants ever really understand, and many tireless workers, professional and volunteer, to whom thanks are greatly owed.) But followership – a less common phrase in Jewish life – is no less important. Being respectful and supportive of leaders, being appreciative, giving the benefit of the doubt (l’chaf zechut, as the mishnah has it – a hand-full of merit). Sometimes going down a path if one is nervous to do so, or pitching in because one is asked.

This list if of course not exhaustive; feel free to email me with your additions or emendations.

But I want to end just with this: that one of the key lessons from Rosh Hashanah to our Ride is that these experiences, as intense and challenging as they can be, are not an end but a beginning. Rosh Hashanah leads into Shabbat Shuvah, the 10 days of teshuva, and then Yom Kippur; and thence Succot, and Simchat Torah, and the cycle of the new year. So too, we hope that people come out of our Ride with a renewed sense of purpose, a renewed sense of hope, a renewed sense of one’s own strength, a renewed willingness to depend on others.

With great gratitude to many, near and far, I wish you Shana tova: may it be for you and me and all of us a year of peace, health, happiness and sustainability.

Nigel