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Fun with Talmud and Cycling

Posted by rabbiart on March 10, 2016

This post was originally written as a response on facebook. One of our Israel Ride friends asked the opening question you see below.

 

Mishnah: R. Spencer asks: If a bicycle falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?

Gemara: Why does R. Spencer ask this question? Surely the bicycle has a rider, and the rider hears the bicycle fall? R. Nigel pushes this answer away. “It is too simple; of course there is a rider. R. Spencer is asking, “When the bicycle falls, the rider is dismounted. If the rider is hurt and cries out, and there is no one there to hear it, has the rider still made a sound?” R. Howie ben Rodenstein asks “are we not taught to always ride with a buddy?” Does the buddy not hear the sound of the bicycle and the cry of the rider? But R. David of Freeman says “R. Spencer obviously refers to the case where the rider has wrongly gone off for a ride on his own”. However R. David ben Rendsburg says, “perhaps this is a case where the other rider has gone to ‘take care of business’ and does not hear the cry of the fallen rider.” R. Jonathan of Miller says “In a forest one does not need to go far away in order to take care of business as there is always a bush nearby”. But R. Beth of Miller responds “only a man would say that! Perhaps the riders are women and it was necessary to wander far in the forest in order to find privacy, so the call of the fallen rider could not be heard.” R. Jillene of Moore supports her position. R. Arthur proclaims “this whole conversation is nothing but silliness, for who but a simpleton would ride his bike in a forest!”

R. Carol of Robinson joins in: “Fool! This not about a bicycle falling in the forest. R. Spencer has asked a deeply important question by way of metaphor. When he says “no one is there to hear” he in fact is asking what misfortune can cause a rider to be alone in the forest of life!” The discussion went on all night, until the other students came and said “My masters! it is time to say the morning Shema.” They davened until the second paragraph of the Amidah, in which we are reminded that HaShem raises those who are fallen, including bicycle riders!

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Reflections on the past – Israel Ride 2012

Posted by rabbiart on November 13, 2012

One week later, plus a day, I’m still thinking about the experience of the 2012 Israel Ride. It was an up and down experience for me, no pun intended.  Arriving late because of Hurricane Sandy, joining the Lost Tribe on the first day, missing the last big downhill on the last day on the advice of the paramedic. Bed bug bites, I think, in the Eilat Hotel motzei ride so to speak.

All of it pales in comparison to meeting someone who is a bigger DeadHead than I am. And with one of the most beautiful self-made tallis I have ever seen or could imagine. Conversations with Abeer and seeing the importance and value of seeing the so-called “other” as not other but just another human being.

Of course I’m avidly and actively recruiting not just friends but some of my cycle riding co-workers to come join the fun next year. And I bagged my first $100 donation from a co-worker who has always said that he never supports causes.  Why?  Because the peace making work resonated with him like crazy. His donor attribution thing says “in support of peace”.

During the period of reading Breshit there is something in every parshah that leaps off the page in connection with the struggle over this at one and the same time promised and feels like cursed land. So much conflict, so much fighting.  When we read in the Torah of brothers struggling in the womb, and then see how rabbinic literature felt it necessary to lionize one and demonize the other, it’s hard to hold onto the belief that peace will come.

The Bike Ride is incredibly effective therapy for strengthening hope.  That’s why I’m taking the cure again next year.

Rabbi Art Gould

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Israel Ride 2012 – A Chanukah Perspective

Posted by rabbiart on November 9, 2012

(These thoughts are scheduled to appear in the Chanukah/December issue of our shul bulletin.)

According to rabbinic interpretation the essence of our holiday is not a military victory. It is a spiritual reawakening and a renewed dedication to the ideals of our tradition. The key celebration is to light the Chanukah lights near a window in order to publicize the miracle. This is so that all who see the candles will be strengthened in the belief that, yes, miracles can and do happen.

I thought about this a great deal while cycling with 60 friends, some new some old, as I cycled two days in northern Israel and three days in the Negev on our way to Eilat. On the first day twenty of us missed a turn and became the new Lost Tribe, as we were dubbed by the forty who apparently know how to follow directions!

All along the way we were supported – and inspired – by a mixed group of Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians and Palestinian Israelis; students and alumni of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. All of them live not in tolerance but in harmony, friendship and with affection. And without fear of the other. They would not describe themselves this way but to me they are living candles whose light does not go out after the required thirty minutes of burning.

Jewish life in our time is in need of miracles, spiritual awakening and the restoration of the highest ideals of the Torah and prophetic literature. In the southern Negev I have personally witnessed a living breathing Chanukiah and made friends with some of the candles. One of my new friends – Abeer Abora, a young Palestinian woman from the West Bank – has invited us to visit her village when Carol and I go for the Arava ride next year, not to score political points but simply, as she put it, to see with our own eyes, to see her and to see her family as human beings, nothing more and certainly nothing less. Look for her on Facebook and friend her. Mention that you are a friend of mine and light a new Chanukah candle of your own.

The next time you go to Israel let me know and I will hook you up with Abeer, or Baraa or Amer or Hadas, Hila or the staff of this amazing institution where the environment is being healed, the power of the sun being harnessed, biblical agriculture reawakened and (hamavin yavin) healthier facts on the ground are being planted.

Be a Maccabi. Make a new Chanukah and fulfill the blessing wherein we praise and thank the one God of all the earth for not only performing miracles in those days of old but speedily and in our day.

And of course, register for the ride at Israel Bike Ride.

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Israel Ride 2012 – Day 1 Guest Post by Carol

Posted by rabbiart on October 31, 2012

Art and I both seem to be on Israel time thanks to the Jet Lag Diet (and some sleep aids for Art). We woke up at what we thought was 4 AM, but it turned out to be an hour later. Art had to hustle to get to breakfast and catch the bus. Why a bus? Because today’s ride required a 40 minute ride by bus just to get to the start. He’ll write about his day. My day started after breakfast and internet time. I loaded the car and used handwritten notes from Google maps to catch up with the riders. I reached the lunch stop and had only seen two crew members but not one rider along the way. I was nervous, but I was in the right place – just missed seeing their stop on top of a mountain. 

Because 20 riders (including Art) missed a turn, lunch was late, so the afternoon’s tour of Tel Dan was eliminated. Instead I rented a golf cart and joined the Shomrim (the riders who only ride in the morning) for a guided tour of Agamon HaHula. Agamon HaHula is a restored wetlands area in the Hula Valley. It is a bird watcher’s dream due to the number and variety of birds that migrate from the north to Africa for the winter (and it’s such a nice place for birds that many decide to stay for the winter instead of continuing to Africa). The guide told us about the history of the area, which included draining the wetlands (e.g. swamps), which seemed a good idea at the time would not be so regarded now. We also learned about how someone had the bright idea to introduce nutria (aka river rat) for its fur. Unfortunately some escaped, and they now have made themselves at home in the wetlands of Israel. We saw numerous nutria in and out of the water – they had absolutely no fear of us. The birds were spectacular – grey herons, white pelicans, kingfishers, cranes, and so many more. There was a moment when the sky was filled with what must have been thousands of birds at once – a gorgeous, memorable sight. The trip to Agamon HaHula reminded me why I love the ride – it is a chance to go to places Art and I would never think to go on our own. I was delighted to be asked if I would transport a few riders at the end of the day as they were short of spaces in the van. It was a chance to meet another new person and contribute in my small way. All in all, a very good first day.

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Shavei Tzion – we arrive, just barely in time

Posted by rabbiart on October 30, 2012

After a long night’s journey into night, we finally made it to the ride.  We flew from SFO to Munich, where the temperature was a cook no make that cold, 0 degrees Celsius.  Shuttle to the Novotel to sleep and back in the morning.  We had to wait outside for the shuttle bus, so we bundled up everything we could wear, because we weren’t planning to go somewhere where the cars were frosted with snow.  Uh… we were thinking  Negev desert, 85+ degrees, and well, you get the picture.  Or you will after it’s uploaded.  I had to miss a few minutes of the briefing, because it had already started before we arrived. Plus I had to step out to get a bike assembled with pedals and seat and odometer, because you really can’t ride without at least 2 out of the 3.  So  maybe they were trying to make me feel better, because the “last 15 minutes” stretched to 40 minutes long.

But we’re here, we’re excited and tomorrow we ride about 52 miles, with only about 2500 feet of climbing.  

60 riders in total, with two arriving in the middle of the night tonight, renting a car, and catching the ride just as well pull out, or maybe at the first rest stop. So even though we had to rebook, stay overnight in an airport, I didn’t even win the prize (ha! booby prize that is) for being the last to arrive.

Tomorrow promises to be a great day, with a stop at the biblical city of Dan, or what’s left of it today, a bird sanctuary tour, and I forget what else.

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This time next week we’re on our way!

Posted by rabbiart on October 21, 2012

Many of my fellow riders are posting on Facebook that they are on the way to Israel. Or their bike is packed and can’t wait until Thursday (talking about you, Lester Blumberg). I’m about to get out my suitcase and start experimenting with taking biking gear and regular clothes all in one roll aboard and a backpack. Between it being only a 7 day trip and having my own support team (Hi Carol!) to do laundry in Mitzpe Ramon, plus rolling clothes instead of folding them, it should be do-able! This is the third time we are making this trip, and we’ve already decided to go again in 2013! Next year I’ll be considered a “frequent rider”. Like everyone else, I can’t wait to (as SmallBall says it) to gooooooooooooooooo! Have to mention SmallBall in this post, because of course I’m looking forward to my last ride in 2023, which I’m hoping will be Small Ball’s first.  Now its time to go make a copy of the Torah reading for Shabbes in Mitzpe Ramon, and start working on it.

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Israel Bike Ride 2010 – Reflections

Posted by rabbiart on October 27, 2010

I’m picturing a fenced in open field which has been graded in preparation for the installation of enough solar collectors to fill (If I remember correctly) 45 acres.  The field is just on the south edge of Kibbutz Keturah.  When up and running, it will supply all the electricity to power Keturah and a number of adjacent kibbutzim that have signed on to the project.  Eventually it will be followed by a much larger installation that will generate enough electricity to power the entire city of Eilat.  No oil required. No coal required.  No air polluted.

As Carol has remarked several times in conversation, Kibbutz Keturah is an unusual and fascinating combination of the collective operation and the entrepreneurial spirit.  All of the revenue generated by members goes into a common account and is parceled out kibbutz old style (to the best of my knowledge).  But the individual members, and combinations thereof, are involved in a number of ground-breaking (sometimes metaphorical and sometimes literal) projects.  3 new types of solar panels are being tested out, and if any one of them makes a successful breakthrough, there will be technology to license.

I’m also picturing the ancient city of Petra, where the Nabateans had their own commercially successful technological advantage – water management.  They, like the Romans, mastered the techniques required to build aquaducts to carry water over long distances with amazing precision for so-called primitive people.  Today we went to Qesarya, yet another city occupied over 2,000 years by a variety of peoples and rulers, and saw the remains of the Roman-built acquaduct.

And I’m also picturing our friend Mousa Diabat, Palestinian Israeli and Arava Institute alumni who is doing a Ph.D. in water management nine hours up the road from us at Oregon State.  Water, even more than food, is one of the few things human beings cannot do with0ut. An increasing share of water in Israel is coming from desalination, and it may be that abundant water removes one of the bones of contention between Israelis and Palestinians.  We talked with Mousa via Skype earlier this evening and are making plans to see him – and hopefully Jehan and Aseel – in December when Mousa comes to attend a professional conference in San Francisco.

Sometimes you run into the same people over and over on the ride, and after the ride as well.  So I’m also picturing Kristi Wivaqq, who walks with a cane but rides with an unquenchable spirit in spite of her disability.  She made the trip to Petra, and rode a camel, and the smile on her face when she got off the camel would have lit up the entire site at night.

We’ve also decided, or our spirits decided for us, to set the goal of returning in 2012 for yet another bike ride.  Hopefully, Carol will find out that she can ride a recumbent bike, and we can do the ride together on a tandem recumbent.  Maybe one with three or four wheels, so we can zoom the downhills without excessive risk, yertza ha shem and insh’allah.

 

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Israel Bike Ride – We arrive in Eilat

Posted by rabbiart on October 25, 2010

I’ll have to go back and fill in my recollections for days 3 and 4 of the ride.  Right now I’m sitting on the porch of the Aroma coffee shop in front of the Yam Suf hotel across from the beach in Eilat.  The ride has finished, I survived, I’m happy and relieved, and tomorrow we go to Petra.

For me this day of the ride started out very shaky.  Yesterday – on day 4 – we got to Kibbutz Keturah where the Arava Institute is located.  Unlike a few cute signs in bars that I’ve seen that say “free beer yesterday, free booze tomorrow” there was free beer at the Kibbutz for the riders and staff.  I quickly downed a couple of Goldstars, and as we were walking around on the tour of the experimental solar plant that is under construction, I felt woozy and shaky.  I think i could have been busted for “walking under the influence”.  so maybe that’s why I didn’t feel that great this morning.

I thought maybe I have been eating too much food, so I skipped breakfast.  We were bused up out of the Arava valley to Ne’ot Shmadar to begin the ride.  I was feeling quite wobbly, so I started in the back went slowly, and as a result had a great conversation with Rabbi Steve Wernick, new executive director of USCJ, about his vision for United Synagogue. Once I felt warmed up, I picked up the pace, hoping to work up a sweat and burn off whatever was causing me to feel crappy (intentional choice of words).  But… I just had no legs at all, and didn’t start feeling stronger.  So at the last rest stop before lunch, I bagged it and got on the bus.  Once the bus started moving, I fell asleep and had a nice little nap.  When we got to the lunch stop I was ravenous, wolfed down a big sandwich, ate some other food, and started feeling better.

The ride down into Eilat from the top of Har Hizkiyahu is very, very steep and dangerous. There is about a four mile stretch from har Hizkiyahu where we had lunch, to where the steep descent began.  I decided I would ride that four miles and see how I felt.  I was feeling normal.  So I ended up making the descent, of which I am quite afraid, in my usual downhill method of relying heavily on the brakes.  And I made sure I was at the front of the group (they send us down in pairs at intervals) so I didn’t have to wait around for my turn.  About two thirds of the way down, a rider 3 or 4 groups in front of me had a serious wipe-out and was lying in the rode motionless.  A couple of cars and a couple of riders had already stopped to make sure everyone went slowly around him while waiting for the ambulance that follows us on the ride.  Once we get to the bottom of the big downhill we wait for everyone to arrive and ride from the roundabout where we wait to the hotel at the west end of Eilat.  Apparently he hit a little compression in the road and was launched up in the air, separated from his bike, went head over heels and landed right on his forehead (with his helmet of course).  he was conscious but not moving, has been taken to the hospital and we don’t yet know what his situation is.  That of course dampened everyone’s feelings of exhilaration and celebration that we usually feel at that point in the ride.

This has been – in the history of these rides – the one with the most serious accidents, people getting sick, and of course the 113 degree heat of the first day.

A note about Har Hizkiyahu.  From the top of this mountain you can see Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  You can not only see Egypt, you’re standing right next to the fence that marks the border with Egypt, and you can walk 100 yards to a spot along the fence right under an Egyptian guard tower and yell up and talk to the two soldiers on duty.  One of our security guards (there are two traveling with each group, they carry semi-automatic weapons) told us that mostly the Egyptian guards on these towers are bored and have trouble staying awake.  So when the officers come they have a system of firing off a shot or two into the air to alert the next towers down the line to look sharp because “management” is coming.  It’s a great thing that mostly the border guards are bored and have trouble staying awake.  If only soldiers everywhere had that as their biggest problem!

I am thankful to have made it through the ride with no serious incident of my own; not even a flat tire.

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Israel Bike Ride 2010 – Kibbutz Ketura (Guest Post by Carol)

Posted by rabbiart on October 24, 2010

You might wonder how I spend my day while Art is riding. I spend the day mostly on my own driving the route, sometimes sharing lunch with the riders, and ultimately ending up in the same destination. The morning I left for Mitzpeh Ramon, I was honored to be asked if I was transport some crew and an ill rider, which I gladly did, though it meant I wouldn’t be able to see any sites along the way. Unfortunately I had a flat tire, which the crew member very kindly changed for me.

That’s relevant to my journey to Kibbutz Ketura, because I was driving on the spare with no additional spare tire available. I was told to drive directly to the Kibbutz where the garage staff would fix my tire. Before I left Mitzpeh Ramon I hiked around the machtesh, with its spectacular views. As I was hiking back to the beginning of the town, I almost stumbled upon a group of ibexes, just hanging out by the apartment buildings. They are completely comfortable with people and hardly gave me a glance. I on the other hand was a bit nervous – the males have huge horns, and I wouldn’t want to get them angry at me!

I then drove the route for the day, which started by descending into the machtesh. It was scary driving the switchbacks – it’s hard for me to imagine descending on a bicycle. The road was flat at the bottom of the machtesh, and then ascended again. Then the route entered the desert, which was beautiful but almost completely empty. Most of the time I had the road to myself, except when I caught up to and then passed the riders. I stopped to met Art and the others at lunch and then left ahead of them for the kibbutz. Imagine driving long distances in barren desert and then seeing beautiful trees and greenery ahead. That’s what I saw as I approached Kibbutz Ketura.

Kibbutz Ketura is an impressive place. A true communal kibbutz (except as is universally true now the children live with their parents), the members recognized years ago that agriculture alone could not sustain them, especially as the members aged. As a result, there is an entrepreneurial spirit here, not driven by money alone as in capitalism, but by the overall good of the members. The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES) is the result of that entrepreneurial spirit, and it is doing tikkun olam, student by student, project by project.

Art and I decided to join the tour of the new solar energy business, which is another example of the entrepreneurial spirit combined with a sense of the collective good. Much of Israel’s energy comes from dirty coal. Kibbutz Ketura is located in an area of peak sunlight, so it seems a no brainer to install solar panels and sell clean renewable power to Israel’s electric company. Four years and many regulatory challenges later, the panels (from China) have arrived, the field has been prepared, the regulatory hurdles have been overcome, and they are ready to begin installation. Though the head of this effort, an American from Boston named Yossi, was coy, he did say that they recognized that this effort shouldn’t be restricted just to Israel. One of the alums, though he couldn’t say much about the project, is working on a parallel effort in Jordan.

The rest of the evening was spent at a rider barbeque and then bed. There is not a room for me on this leg of the ride. We had the incredible good fortunate to meet Mike Soloway during the sojourn in Modesto. Since he is from Kibbutz Ketura, it feels beshert – this is the second time we have been able to stay with him and his wife, Dr. Elaine Soloway. Elaine is on the faculty of AIES, though mostly we shared stories of our children and their first grandchild.

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Israel Bike Ride 2010 – Day Two

Posted by rabbiart on October 22, 2010

What a difference a day made!  The sharav went away, the heat wave broke, and the weather for the day two ride was bee-you-ti-ful.  72 miles from Ashkelon to kibbutz mashabei sadeh was – in comparison to day one – just a beautiful walk in the park.   The guest program was expanded to include this location, so Carol and I were able to be in a room together.  The dinner was better than two years earlier.  You would not believe how much water we all drink and how much food we all eat!  Lot’s of calories being expended riding.  I’m riding with a camelback and two water bottles, one of which has energy drink.  New since last time is this really clever invention called frozen water.  I believe it’s called “ice”.  so at each pit or rest stop not only do you get cold water, you get ice to put in with your water.  I’m not sure who added this feature to the ride, but I really would like to thank him or her.

Riding through Ashkelon required navigating traffic and unfortunately for a few people, an oil slick which took down 3 or 4 riders.  good news of going down in an oil slick – no road rash, you simply slide til you stop.  Bad news is you’re riding in an oil stained jersey the remainder of the day.  I was not one of the people who went down.

Notable highlights of day two – some new riding friends.  Inevitably, you find that you keep running into the same handful of people that are riding at relatively the same pace.  In addition to Edna and Fred, now there is Donna and Gary and Rebecca that seem like my new old friends.  Gary rides with white arm and leg covers which he said are the equivalent of SPF 50 protection from the sun.  Donna sounds quite youthful and cheerful, and only when I saw here off her bike with helmet off did I discover that she is also in our age bracket.  I would have guessed her to be twenty years younger.

There are still a few people having medical adventures.  My new old friend Jeff Daitz from Atlanta had a brutal first night intestinally (details omitted here in the interest of not having TMI), tried to ride the second day and couldn’t, but on day three not only rode all day but did the optional off-road segment as well. Glad he is feeling better. Mark (don’t know his last name) was so dehydrated he had to be taken to the hospital for IV fluids, and when they came back to the kibbutz at 4 AM discovered that the gate was locked, and they couldn’t get back in so he could go to his room and sleep. However, the driver figured out how to beat the system and cause the gate to open.  I’m not sure this is generally a good thing, but it was for Mark.

Day 2 is also more-or-less the last day we are in Biblical Israel (the Negev is not really part of Biblical Israel).  The gathering rest stop – right before we ride into the kibbutz – is Golda park.  It is like an oasis with a natural reservoir that has been enhanced to make it more effective in holding water.  This is – according to custom but who can say for sure – where Hagar and Ishmael discovered water after having been banished by Sarah and sent out in the desert, apparently to their death, until HaShem heard their cry and provided water.

Also on day two (I’m out of sequence here) is the breakfast stop at the Nir Am reservoir (part of a system of JNF funded reservoirs) literally on the border of the Gaza strip.  You can look into Gaza from where we had breakfast.  Of course, you would need a good telescope to see much – and you’d have to hint, hint join the ride in two years – but you get a sense of how close towns like Shderot and others are to rockets coming from Gaza.

In the evening, before the mandatory briefing about the next day’s ride (for which the only actionable information is what time to get up and be ready to ride) we had a brief presentation for a resident of Shderot.  He has lived in Shderot for 22 years, and he talked about how, until things got bad after the withdrawal from Gaza, there were friendships between Gaza-ites and Israelis, lots of going back and forth, celebrating together, and having a reasonably normal life. he is part of an organization called “other voices” which is attempting to continue to talk to and work with the ordinary residents of Gaza who like people everywhere, just want to have a life, a home, schools, jobs and raise their children.  The last few years they have only been able to do dialogue by telephone, as it is not possible to get in and out of Gaza.  Over 3,000 residents of the area, who have only 15 seconds to get into a shelter when Kassam rockets are launched at them, have signed a petition calling for ending the blockade of Gaza, allowing unfettered flow of materials in and exports out, in order to help the people of Gaza build a normal society with normal commerce, and reduce rather than increase the fear and loathing on both sides.  Israeli drivers are the craziest I’ve ever seen, but maybe it requires a little bit of good craziness to advocate and work for peace when your house has been hardened, or has a rocket-safe room for you to flee in to.

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