Wow! It seems there are both no words to sum up this past week, and yet so many. My mind is still boggled, three days later, that I biked over 150 miles, from Metulla to just north of Cesarea. I just completed Ride for Reform: a five-day bike trip, riding six to eight hours a day. This year the path took us through the upper Golan, the Hula valley nature reserve, around the eastern side of the Kineret, and then across then Jezreel valley. However, this is not just a ride for simple enjoyment- before boarding the bus to go north, each of the participants raised at least $2,000 for the IMPJ, the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism. Having the opportunity to learn more about pluralism in Israel while riding, as well as learning about the camps and progressive synagogues in Israel was amazing!
The ability of the body to adapt and work with what it has, with the circumstances we throw at it, is incredible and I am impressed and amazed that I made it. Sure, I had to walk some of the way, but I made it nonetheless. In fact, I was often at the front of the pack. One might think it’s because I always want to be first. In actuality, I discovered it’s my fear of falling behind. Each time I was not near the front, especially near the end of the day, I let my exhaustion overcome me and slowed down considerably. Remaining near the front did not allow me that luxury and therefore maintained my momentum and excitement.
In addition to learning about myself, I was fortunate to learn from many others who were part of my ride experience: My mom is incredibly awesome and a great role model. Although I’ve been told this my whole life, I was given the opportunity to see first hand how incredible she is. I watched her support every one of my classmates in a different way, demonstrating that even someone who did not train fully or was suffering from personal pain could conquer each of the obstacles we faced. She handed out protein, walked the hills, and did it all with a smile!
Nissim was the coolest guide around. The thought provoking questions he posed, inquiring as to what Reform Judaism has to say in terms of halacha, why we study Talmud and Mishna if we don’t think it is binding, and what Reform rabbis say with regard to individual questions if there isn’t a universal correct answer, all truly made me pause. We’re just like Orthodox Jews, each rabbi with his or her own interpretation, except we may not be interpreting the Torah and Tanach in order to find meaning.
The ride itself was beautiful. Being in nature for five days was a much needed reprieve from the tedium of living in the city. As much as I love Jerusalem, I need to get away from the city every so often and breathe fresh air. The flowers were in rare form, popping up everywhere due to the wetter than average rains this winter. The cows were everywhere, even following us until a friend threatened to make them his dinner! Speaking of which- I have not eaten this well in all my time in Israel! Truthfully, we were taken care of very well, from the snack breaks so nicely set up along the way, to the seemingly gourmet food prepared in the middle of the trail at lunch time. Oh my goodness, I could have gotten used to that, but instead, I will go back to Jerusalem and begin to experiment in my own kitchen!
Looking back on the ride, I realize that my experience had a profound impact on how I view Israel and progressive Judaism here. Spending the week with American Jewish professionals as well as rabbis here in Israel, I recognized the importance of gaining knowledge in order to share it with the community around me. Going into the ride, I was struggling in my journey but by the conclusion, I had reaffirmed and re-embraced my decision to attend rabbinical school. Each person I met on the ride touched me, either through their support while on the bike, or in conversation afterwards. They challenged me and wanted to hear my thoughts and ideas. But most importantly, they accepted me and treated me as an equal, as a colleague. One day, in a few years from now, I will be ordained and my job will be to help increase awareness of Progressive Judaism, and what it means to be a Reform Jew here in the land of Israel.
Elana Nemitoff is a first year rabbinical student from Kansas City, choosing to spend an additional year in Israel, further experiencing the land and improving her Hebrew. When not in school or speaking in Hebrew, Elana enjoys exploring the many paths Israel has to offer while aboard her bike. Elana has developed a love for learning Mishna, in order to question and discover other ways of experiencing Judaism.