By Stacey Dresner
ISRAEL – Meredith Dragon has been to Israel many times and has lived there as well. But when she goes to Israel at the end of this month, she will see it from a new vantage point – as a participant of the 2015 Arava Institute-Hazon Bike Ride.
The ride will take place from Oct. 27 – Nov. 3 and will take its participants on a 300-mile, seven-day trip from Jerusalem to Eilat.
Also among the more than 150 riders from the U.S., Canada, and Israel will be local residents Sharon Cohen of Longmeadow, and Robin and Ted Diamond of Amherst.
Not only will these riders see Israel’s beauty in a unique way, but they will also learn about the programs of the Arava Institute and Hazon, both strongly committed to environmental advocacy.
The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies is the premier environmental studies and research program in the Middle East. Accredited through Ben-Gurion University, the Arava Institute houses academic programs, research centers, and international cooperation initiatives focusing on a range of environmental concerns and challenges. Its student body is comprised of Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians, and students from around the world, and the Arava Institute offers them the opportunity to learn from leading professionals while forming friendships and developing skills that enable them to lead the region and the world in solving today’s most pressing environmental challenges.
New York-based Hazon promotes environmental education, action, and advocacy. Its programs educate people of all ages about the Jewish relationship to food, the outdoors, and the environment through the lens of Jewish, Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE), including the Hazon Food Conference and the New York Ride.
Founded in 2003, the Arava-Hazon Bike Ride began as a way for both organizations to show solidarity with Israel and to support their own environmental programs.
While Dragon has cycled in various bike rides in the past, this is the first time she is riding in the Arava-Hazon Ride.
“I have talked to several friends who have participated and who always had such great things to say about the ride,” she said. “I really believe in the work of the Arava Institute and Hazon. My background is actually in environmental studies and environmental planning, so it’s been something near and dear to my heart for a long time, but I haven’t really acted on it as a volunteer or professional. So I thought it was a nice way to combine an interest in cycling with another interest of mine.”
There are three tracks for the riders in Israel – a beginner track where riders go around 30-35 miles a day; an intermediate track where they go an average of 50 miles a day; and an advanced track where they ride 70 miles a day. Dragon chose the intermediate track.
She began training seriously around last Passover. “Training takes up a considerable amount of time… I’ve been spending a lot of hours on my bicycle and spinning,” she said.
Most of her training rides are 25 to 30 miles through local towns in Western Mass. and Connecticut. “I’ve ridden to Enfield, Somers, Suffield through Hamden to Munson in Massachusetts. I went for a lovely ride in East Hampton.”
Sharon Cohen of Longmeadow participated in the Arava ride in 2014.
“When I made the decision to ride last year I knew I was committing to a physical challenge of a lifetime,” Cohen says in her rider bio. “What I received in return was greater knowledge and appreciation for both the Arava Institute for Environmental Learning and Hazon. The work that the Arava is engaged in is cutting edge, world-recognized, while working on peace in the Middle East and as a central theme of their work. Hazon is busy working on the ground as well as educating about the environment here at home. These organizations function on a shoestring budget and my ride will help them to continue their important work.”
Ted and Robin Diamond participated in the Arava Bike Ride three years ago.
“Nigel Savage [the founder of Hazon] came to the JCA and he basically was inspiring to us,” Ted said. “I had never been to Israel before and our youngest son had just gone off to college, so we figured it was a good time to get away.”
The Diamonds have been avid cyclists for the past 10 years and have participated in many rides, including the Pam Mass Challenge and the UMass Hillel Ride to Provide. They have also taken several biking vacations.
But the Israel ride in 2012 was special, they said.
“It was wonderful,” Ted said. “To see Israel for the first time at 55 was one thing, but to do it on a bicycle was a very powerful way to see the land and get a feel for what it is like.”
Robin Diamond had been to Israel once as a teenager before doing the Arava ride in 2012.
“It just felt so different,” she recalled. “Seeing it from the perspective of the land and not just the tourist sites we had gone to my first trip there.”
The Diamonds are doing it again this year, accompanied by Robin’s cousin Andrea from Detroit, who will be doing it to celebrate her 60th birthday.
Robin will also be spending her Nov. 1 birthday on the ride… “waking up in spectacular Mitzpe Ramon and beginning the day with the extraordinary five-mile descent into the Maktesh. It doesn’t get any better than that!”
Recalling the 2012 ride, she says that one of the many remarkable aspects of the Ride was interacting with the diverse support crew on a daily basis.
“I had never had an opportunity to spend time with Israeli Arabs or Palestinians before. Sharing meals and conversations and feeling their support for the Riders – changing flats, providing delicious snacks along the way and “drumming” us up a steep climb – was really incredible,” she says. “Since then I have been friends with a Jordanian crew member on social media and feel like I have gained a better sense of “the other” perspective. It added a very human connection to the news stories we read daily.”
For more information about the Arava Institute-Hazon Bike Ride, visit israelride.org.
CAP: Ted and Robin Diamond on the 2012 Arava-Hazon Bike Ride in Israel.