By Bruce Stanger, cross-posted from The Mandell JCC Team Blog
I have done the Israel Ride eight times. It is truly a wonderful experience to know that you are making a difference for an organization such as the Arava Institute, the major recipient of this fundraiser. In addition, Hazon, such a wonderful organization here in the States, also gets a portion and provides us so much guidance.
Each year on the bike ride, I get to interact with people from around the world but especially with Arab and Jewish Israelis, as well as Palestinians and Jordanians from the region who are there for two reasons. The obvious reason that the students are there is to get an education on the environment. But the second very important benefit and reason for some, is that they get to meet the “other” in a setting that is conducive to discussions of the narrative of each.
Israeli Jews to a lesser extent but Palestinian and Jordanian Arabs to a great extent often face a good deal of opposition from their families before going to the Arava Institute. Many of them tell stories of not sharing with their families that they were applying or not sharing with friends and family where they were going when they went off to attend the one semester academic program for college-aged students on the regional environment in Israel.
The students of the Arava Institute study the environment, develop products, work on projects, and make a difference in the region. They have developed projects that allow for the generation of heat from waste. Other projects accumulate rainwater from individual homes for use in farming. They have a wonderful project that can take the gray water from a home and use it for irrigation. These projects are provided to the local communities who need them. These projects form the basis for an outreach to those that are far less fortunate.On Shabbat during the ride the students present to the riders on their experiences and reflections about being a part of the Arava Institute. These are very moving conversations where you see the tensions that develop among the students with different backgrounds, and the offsetting respect and love that they have for each other.
It is the hope of the Arava Institute that someday the director of the environment for each of the neighboring countries will be a graduate of the Arava Institute and that this will create a back channel for conversations about very important issues such as waste and the all-important issue of water in the region.
It is through these conversations, between the students and maybe someday between the heads of an agency, that the Arava Institute hopes that a real difference will be made in the community not just in the environment but in the cooperative dialogue that can occur when different people have a common goal. It has clearly happened on an individual student basis, and it has happened on a government to government basis; you can find out more about these successes by coming on the ride and meeting some of the students and staff. Over 30 people from the Hartford area have gone on the ride some of us multiple times.
If you want to learn more, you just need to reach out and ask someone at the Mandell JCC or elsewhere in the community, “Do you know someone who has gone on the Israel Ride?” The odds are you’ll quickly be able to meet one of us. Please do reach out. Please do consider joining us on the ride next year and please do contribute in support of a rider’s efforts to participate on this charity ride. You can contact me at email@example.com or at 860-561-0651. To make a donation in support of a rider, visit www.israelride.org.