Partnership2Gether is truly an opportunity for people in Louisville to design their own projects and bring them into reality with colleagues in Israel’s Western Galilee Region and friends from the Central Area Consortium in the U.S.
Jon Klein. Louisville’s Partnership2Gether co-chair, can tell you all about it. Three years ago, the avid bicyclist dreamed of creating a bike trip in Israel that would take a group of riders from Rosh Hanikra, on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon on the Mediterranean Sea through the country to Eilat, Israel’s southernmost point.
That trip became a reality in October when six riders from the States packed up their bikes and flew to Israel. Klein was joined by Louisvillians Colyn Joffe and Bill Altman as well as Steven Klapper from Indianapolis, Richard Katz from Crown Point, IN, and Klein’s cousin, Morris Rosenzweig from Salt Lake City, UT.
“It took Jon [Klein] over three years to put this trip together,” Joffe said, and he mentioned it often, so when everything came together, Joffe, who rides his bike a lot, decided it was something he wanted to do.
It was Joffe’s second trip to Israel. The first time, when he was 21, “was when I was backpacking through Europe. This was a very different opportunity,” he continued. It enabled him to “see Israel from a different point of view – not as a tourist.”
“I went because I love biking and I love Israel,” Altman said. “I’ve been to Israel four times previously and I thought this would be a unique opportunity to combine two things that are very central to my life,” and to experience Israel in a different way.
The group spent their first two nights in Tel Aviv to acclimate to the time change. On the third day, they traveled to Nahariya and reassembled their bikes.
Since Louisville partners with the Western Galilee, the group spent a day visiting Partnership projects and learning about the region. Joffe was glad of the opportunity to see how American dollars are used in the Partnership region.
The group also engaged in a trust-building exercise, riding tandem bikes while the back rider was blindfolded, learned more about the Western Galilee Partnership Region from Resource Development Coordinator Heidi Benish and JAFI Partnership Director for the Western Galilee/Central Consortium Judy Yuda, and enjoyed a night of home hospitality with the Israeli riders.
Altman observed that “the trip was organized under the auspices of the Partnership and was a really important extension of what we’ve done previously with the Partnership. My family and I have been active in Partnership2Gether through hosting kids who work in the summer at the JCC, through visiting Israel with a Federation mission with the whole family.”
The day before the cross-country trip, Klein explained, “we did a warm up ride from Nahariya to Rosh Hanikra to make sure the bikes were in working order.” That ride took them up the cliffs and gave them a small taste of the climbing they would undertake later in the trip.
When the day finally arrived, a large bus with about 50 other riders was waiting for them. These riders included a group of 15 diabetics who belong to a group that draws attention to the disease and participates in programs demonstrating what diabetics can do.
These riders were in their 20’s and 30’s, and some were serious competitive riders. Some of them made the entire trip and others just part of it.
“We started around 10 a.m.,” Klein recounted, “went east along the Lebanese border and up to Tzfat. It was a climb of about 5,000 feet with switchbacks and 180-degree turns.”After a brief stop for a ceremony for the diabetic riders at the hospital, “we rode completely downhill to the Kinneret [the Sea of Galilee] – a six- or seven-mile descent at 35 miles per hour with the lake in front of you.” They circled the lake and spent the night at Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov Ichud.
The original route for the second day was to have taken the riders through part of the West Bank. For security reasons, that was changed. To keep the mileage the same as the original plan, “we ascended Mt. Gilboa, where Saul died battling the Philistines. It was a steep mountain, then a very long, fast descent,” Klein said.
Then the group took a bus through the West Bank. “We were there for 40 minutes and never felt unsafe or insecure,” he added.
Once back in Israel proper, they continued riding. “To the left was the Dead Sea. We could smell the sulfur salts and potash – sights and smells you can’t appreciate in a tour bus,” he said
After a night in Kalya Kibbutz, they faced the third and hardest day of the trip, Klein recalled. “We cycled 38 miles to Masada with the Dead Sea on the left, and beyond that, the hills of Edom.”
The riders took the gondola to the top of the ancient fortress, went to the far side and carried their bikes on their shoulders down the Roman ramp. “At the bottom,” he said, “the organizers greeted us with popsicles” because it was very hot.
“The next 40 miles were the hardest of the trip. Klein explained. “The first six miles there were inclines of 10-14 percent, then it got a little easier – inclines of only six percent.”
The group climbed through the city of Arad and then traversed the Judean desert. “There is nothing there,” Klein stated, “just sandstone and desolation.” After a night at a bike hotel in Mitzpe Ramon, where they enjoyed great food, they set off on the final 100 miles from the Judean desert through the Negev to Eilat. “At dawn,” he recounted, we went to the Ramon Crater, a natural formation that was an ancient sea, and as it subsided, the land sank. It’s about 25 miles across and very deep. It looks like the Grand Canyon.”
The group of 50-60 riders watched the sun come up over the crater and families of ibex, wild mountain goats, fearlessly came up to the group. “It was a stunning experience,” Klein said.
The final day of the trip was Shabbat, so there were almost no cars on the road. It traveled straight through the desert hills. Everything was brown and desolate.
Israel comes to a point at Eilat, and Klein said as they approached the city, “we could see the Western security fence to keep illegal immigrants out. We could see the Jordanian border and we could see Egypt.”
There was one last climb in the Eilat Mountains and then they went down to the Red Sea.
“We got a feel for the land, the terrain and the smells of Israel,” Joffe added. “Every day was a new experience. There was a lot of climbing – hills and mountains. “When you get on your bike, you find out what made of,” he continued. “Five hours into the day, you want to give up. It’s 98 degrees and you still have to do a 12-13 mile climb. It helps you find what you’re all about.”
One of the things that truly set this trip apart was the camaraderie that developed among the riders. Living together for four days, a number of close friendships developed. “We were immersed with Israelis,” Klein said, “and we got to know them well. It was the most unique trip I ever had.
“Getting together with the Israelis and hearing their stories and where they came from” was an important part of the journey, Joffe said. “It was some of the hardest biking I’ve ever done.”
He came to appreciate how difficult it was to put the cycling trip together, and he “realized how fortunate I was to be part of it.”
“I would encourage anyone who has an interest in Israel to find ways to experience the country through the activities that they love and through sharing those activities with Israelis,” Altman said. “By doing this, people can gain a deeper insight into the unique aspects of Israeli society and the challenges that Israeli society faces. Ultimately it results in a deeper connection with Israel.”
Klein hopes to put together another trip next year.
A Partnership2Gether trip to Israel to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Western Galilee/Central Consortium Partnership is planned for March 28-April 4, 2016. For more information please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502-238-2707.