2015-12-09 / Local News

Avid bicycle rider experiences Israel while helping country


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As a means of exercise, stress release and an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors, it just doesn’t get better than bike riding for Alan Finkelstein.

So when Finkelstein learned of the existence of destination bike rides organized in support of charities, it was a complete revelation. Since finishing his first 150-mile City to Shore trip for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society back in 1999, the Cherry Hill resident has logged tens of thousands of miles and raised more than $55,000 for dozens of worthy causes, from Camp Ramah to Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

And while all have unique charms, nothing comes close to the thrill of the Arava Institute/Hazon Israel Ride. Every year, bikers from North America and beyond gather in Jerusalem for the 350-mile weeklong journey to Eilat through the Negev while raising money for Jewish environmental groups. More than just a ride, it is a spiritual homecoming, said Finkelstein, who first participated in 2010 and, most recently, in November.

“When you sit on a bus, part of the time you’re texting or checking emails. On a bike, you’re always cognizant about what’s going on around you. You tend to soak up more of the geography,” said the 60-year-old accident and health insurance actuary.

The 175 cyclists traversed some breathtaking locations in Israel. After orientation in Jerusalem, they left for the highlands of the Negev desert, reaching Makhtesh Ramon, and spending Shabbat in Mizpe Ramon (overlooking the Makhtesh). They continued through the Arava Rift Valley, and finally into the Eilat mountains on the way to the Red Sea to Eilat.

Highlights included cycling past Biblical landmarks, ancient synagogues, Christian holy sites, Crusader castles, and sites of modern battles. The ending was the most climatic part. In keeping with the tradition, riders disembarked and hoisted their bikes over their heads in the waves of the Red Sea at Eilat.

“It symbolically shows how we triumphantly made it out of the desert,” Finkelstein said.

This time around, the ride was an opportunity to support Israel during a time when tourism is slowing down due to the rash of stabbings, he said. While more cautious about being alone or walking in Jerusalem, the specter of violence did not otherwise affect the group, said Finkelstein.

The Israel Ride was founded as a partnership between the Arava Institute and Hazon to show solidarity with Israel and to provide new avenues for supporting its environmental programs. In May 2003, the first Israel Ride attracted 34 riders and collected over $50,000.

Finkelstein, who has raised about $10,000 for the cause as a result of his two rides, hopes to return in a few years. In the meantime, he stays active in two biking clubs—Team Evesham and Cynergy Cyclists—and participating in closer-tohome rides.

“It’s not only good exercise, but I get to meet new people and feel good about myself helping all these special causes,” he said. .

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