I can trace the vision for the Dan to Beer-Sheva prayer ride, which I’ll call D2B from now on, to a trip I took to Israel in 2008, Israel’s 60th anniversary as a modern Jewish state, and also the year of my 60th birthday.
A few months before the trip, I’d fixed up an old touring bike that I bought from a friend about 30 years ago, a bike he’d originally fitted up to ride around the world. It’s a clunky bike, especially in the day of carbon fiber, but its around-the-world legacy must have retained its potency, because when I got to Israel I started thinking about riding the length of the country—from Dan to Beer-Sheva, as the Bible described it. One day my Israeli friend David took me to a street in Tel Aviv that had a bunch of bike shops. I talked with one of the Israeli bike mavens and he recommended a guide who arranged trips like I was imagining. David agreed that I should use a guide; this wasn’t the USA, where you could just buy a map, or an app, hop on your bike, and head out. A ride like this would take some local expertise, so I collected some contact info and started dreaming.
On the same trip I was invited to the b’rit milah (circumcision) of the new grandson of my close friends Eitan and Connie Shishkoff, which included a big simcha, a joyous party bringing together both sides of the family, friends and well-wishers. In Israel especially a b’rit milah party is a big deal and I was thrilled that I was in the country at the right time and could attend. I was in Jerusalem for a conference and the b’rit was in Haifa, so I left early, got on a train, managed to make the right connections despite my minimal Hebrew and unfamiliarity with the system, and walked up to the hotel just as everyone else was showing up. I even got a snapshot of the proud parents as they got out of their car—Eitan and Connie’s daughter Hannah, whom I’d known since birth, and her husband Avi (short for Avishalom), an Ethiopian Jew, whom I’d come to regard as family as well.
The hotel space was filled with a cross section of modern Israel: Avi’s Ethiopian clan, including a grand-uncle who filled the role of sandak with great dignity (the sandak is a family patriarch who holds the baby during part of the ceremony and recites a special blessing); Russian Jews who’d arrived in Israel from the opposite direction, fleeing the instability and growing anti-Semitism of the lands of the Russian empire; Jews from the Americas drawn to Israel out of kinder surroundings, but with a vision for the restored Jewish homeland; and s’barim, native Israelis as well, all eating and drinking and bouncing around to music together.
In short, I definitely knew I was in Israel, and there was another reminder: everyone was taking pictures of the party, with their phones, with little pocket cameras or camcorders, or in a couple of cases with serious-looking cameras, including one that Eitan was wielding in between the various blessings, toasts, and hugs of recognition. Among his other talents, Eitan is a skilled photographer, and his camera looked like it could handle whatever he might want to do with it. He told me he’d gotten it a few months earlier, for his sixtieth birthday. When friends asked him what he wanted for the big event, he asked them just to contribute whatever they’d like to a fund for a new camera. Enough friends had jumped in that he was able to buy the semi-professional unit that he was toting at the b’rit.
After I returned home I began thinking about my 60th birthday, which was just a couple of months away. Sixty is a big milestone, so Jane, my wife, was planning a big party and wanted to know what to tell people if they asked about a gift. I thought of Eitan’s camera and said that my friends could contribute to a bike fund, to either fix up my old bike, or even get a new one.
Along with the enjoyment of riding, I had another motive in asking for a bike for my 60th birthday. A few years earlier, my elderly next-door neighbor, Mr. Page, who sometimes lent me his chain saw, asked me if I’d like to buy it. I said I would, and he said, “You know why I’m selling it?” I figured he was getting too old to use such a heavy and high-powered tool, but I didn’t want to say that. “I just turned 90,” he went on, “and my wife bought me a new saw for my birthday!” That stuck with me as a great statement about getting older, and I thought about Mr Page as my big 6-0 approached. Getting a new road bike would make a great statement for myself and also for my colleagues, who are about the same age: the 60s are not a time to start phasing out of work and engagement, but a time to take on new adventures and challenges.
So, when my birthday came around, a lot of my friends got the vision and I had enough money to buy a good used bike. I started doing my research and keeping an eye on Craigslist, and a month later I struck a deal for 1996 vintage Lemond Zurich, which had been a high-end road bike in its day, and was still a sweet ride, as they say. It had a steel frame, instead of carbon fiber, which bikes in its class have nowadays. Steel is heavier, of course, but some cyclists still favor it because of its feel on the road (the saying is “steel is real”), and the bike was still far lighter and quicker than anything I’d ridden before.
As I started seriously riding my Lemond, I was corresponding with an Israeli bike guide and getting the feel for what the ride from Dan to Beer-Sheva would really involve. I’ll tell you more about that later, but for now just note that this was 2008 and now it’s 2014 and we haven’t finished the ride yet, although it’s not far off. The missing element was to not just ride from Dan to Beer-Sheva, but to do a prayer ride through all Israel.
Check out this cool one minute video: http://youtu.be/lK7si6YPppY.