Elisa Deener-Agus, first-time Israel Rider from the Boston area, summed her experiences to her donors in the letter below.
To my amazing Israel Hazon Ride supporters:
It was an experience of a lifetime. Five days of riding from Jerusalem to Eilat, over some of the hardest — and most gorgeous – terrain I have ever ridden on before. 312 miles long and 21,000 feet of climbing. I won’t give my average speed — it was slow given how much time I spent in my granny gear and I generally did not make it up on the huge downs, which for me were the most harrowing part. I was pushed to my limit and beyond, and it was exhilarating.
But even more than the riding itself, the most “transformative” experience for me was getting to know better the two amazing organizations that the Ride has supported. For those following the new Pew study on Jewish Americans — Hazon is one of the most promising antidotes to some of the study’s most concerning findings about engagement of the next generation. It offers a mix of fresh and accessible avenues for “Jewish renewal” while remaining grounded in authentic tradition, knowledge, and text. Environment, food, and sustainable living are offered as opportunities for Jewish engagement, and as reflected by its meteoric growth, Hazon is resonating with many and making an important impact.
And the Arava Institute truly captured my heart. The ride was crewed by alumni and students of this amazing organization that brings together students from the US, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories to study together and find solutions to pressing environmental concerns that “know no borders”. Throughout the ride we had opportunity to learn about their work and their lives. While the specific projects they are working on are certainly impressive, what was deeply inspiring was to see was how these young people are undaunted by seemingly insurmountable problems. They are making an impact, one small step at a time. And that is a reminder for anyone who is faced with any big challenge — not to be frozen in despair but to find our little piece where you can make a difference. I hope I can hold on to that lesson for my own work, and pass on that important message to my own children.
Together we raised $5,700 for these organizations. I couldn’t be prouder.
Here are a few highlights that stand out from my experience:
- Spending the shabbat before the ride on aTel Aviv beach with my son, Eytan, who is currently studying in Israel at a high school program. The day and a half of uninterrupted conversation was truly a gift. I could have gone back home after that and the trip would still have been worthwhile!
- Day 1: Making it to the top of the first huge hill outside of Jerusalem, which gave me the confidence to choose the highest level ride route for 3 out of the 5 days. (Thank you, Howie!)
- Day 2: Heading out from our hotel in Ashkelon at 6:30am, passing the early morning crowds at the bus stops from all walks of Israeli life — many waving and yelling words of encouragement as we rode by.
- Day 3: Riding along the Egyptian border in the northern Negev with IDF escort on a road closed off to the public…passing Egyptian soldiers just yards away…who also waved to us and yelled words of encouragement!
- Shabbat at Mitzpeh Ramon…spa day at the beautiful Bereshit Hotel with my parents, who came to cheer me on. They are true models that the supportive role of parents never ends.
- Day 4: Going down the makhtech (we learned its not a crater), and looking back up past 3 or 4 switch-backs above me at a long line of surprisingly patient Israeli car, bus and truck drivers trailing me at turtle speed. No, that wasn’t a fun moment, but certainly one I will not forget.
Day 5: During long stretches the line of riders spread out far enough not to be able to see anyone in front or behind me, with no cars on the road and miles and miles of desert on ether side. All my to-do lists, and concerns, and thoughts both large and small just melted away. Just me and my bike.
- Throughout — the most amazing food, and plenty of it — all lunches on the road prepared by our crew with local organic ingredients. All in all, I think there were more calories in than out, even with all the riding.
- And the continuous companionship and laughs with my biking buddies — Noni and Guy made every ache fun and every 5am wake up call a pleasure. Thanks, friends!!
And finally, I just need to thank my wonderful husband and boys who pushed me to go, and kept real life going during my very long absence. They are all amazing.
If anyone is interested in seeing more, the attached video was made about the ride (you can play Where’s Waldo and find me in it): http://www.youtube.com/watch?
I encourage anyone who might be interested to think seriously about going. It is a challenge to prepare for, arrange your life around, and complete — but it truly was an experience of a lifetime. I’m happy to give you more details or answer any questions, and can put you in touch with the right people!
With much love and gratitude,