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Mahopac Congregation Invited to Join Middle East Peace Initiative That Actually Works

Lori Weinreich, first-time Israel Rider from Poughkeepsie, was featured in a local Westchester paper discussing the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and the Israel Ride. 

By Kenneth Freeman, The Mahopac News

While we read about the repeated formal political Middle East peace initiatives that have not worked, Mahopac’s Temple Beth Shalom heard last Friday about a small group of young people who make the quest for Middle East peace look easy, along with an invitation to join that small group in its quest.

Poughkeepsie Israel Ride

Lori Weinreich, second from right, with the
2013 Poughkeepsie Peace Pedalers

The invitation was delivered by Lori Weinreich, a long-time Hudson Valley resident who recently returned from a five-day bike tour in Israel to raise funds for the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies.  Weinreich is the mother of Mahopac News Editor Marc Weinreich and the aunt of the newspaper’s Publisher, Brett Freeman.  She journeyed with a group of seven dubbed “The Poughkeepsie Peace Pedalers,” part of a contingent of 130 bikers on the annual fundraising journey from Jerusalem in Israel’s north to the Eilat area in Israel’s south, a distance of approximately 195 miles.

The trek culminated with a stay at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in the Arava Valley.  The Institute serves all of the Middle East, a rare demonstration of trans-border cooperation, helping the region deal with the unique environmental challenges of its desert terrain.  It offers a life-changing academic program that brings students together using environmental study as a shared goal. Students learn the essential skills required for becoming future environmental leaders.  Explained Weinreich, “Here, the idea that nature knows no political borders is more than a belief. It is a fact, a curriculum, and a way of life.”

The Arava Institute consists of five research centers that offer its students academic advancement along with practical field experience.  The five centers are: (1) the Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation; (2) the Center for Trans-boundary Water Management; (3) the Center for Sustainable Agriculture; (4) the Center for Long-term Ecological Research; and (5) the Center for Sustainable Development.  The Institute is affiliated with Ben-Gurion University, the only university in south Israel.

In a region of constant ethnic and nationalistic hostilities, the student diversity is remarkable, including not only Jewish and Arab Israelis but also Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians and Tunisians, along with Europeans and Americans.  While many of the students arrive at the Institute with distrust bred from prejudices learned since birth, most overcome these prejudices and come to accept and care for their colleagues regardless of nationality as they learn about one another at the human level.  They become like family, even attending one another’s personal and family milestone events.

Weinreich invited the Temple Beth Shalom congregation to join her Poughkeepsie Peace Pedalers in the Arava Institute’s future annual fundraising bike tours, the next one of which will be in early November, ideal timing for biking through this desert region.  She reassured the crowd that one need not be a marathon biker, explaining that there are three levels of rides, from one that takes place each day only until lunch, with tourism activities in the afternoons, through one she referred to as the “meshuganas” (a Yiddish term meaning people who are crazy or bizarre), who biked 70-90 miles a day.  The rides are supported with rest stops, mechanics, and a van always available for those who have had enough biking.

“I can honestly say that pretty much anyone can do the biking.   You are never alone.  There is always someone to ride next to you no matter how slow you are . . . and I was slow.”

The cost of the Israel Ride is a registration fee, air fare, and a fund raising requirement of approximately $3,600.  That includes the biking support along with hotels and meals and still leaves substantial funds for the Arava Institute.  Many participants cover a portion of the cost through fund raising among friends and family under the auspices of Friends of the Arava Institute, a US-registered 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization qualifying for tax-deductible contributions.  Readers can find more information at http://hazon.org/israel-ride/arava-institute-hazon-israel-ride/.

In sharing her joy at participating in this initiative for peace, Weinreich summed up her observations through a quote from renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead – “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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