On October 29, I [Mel David] was at the starting line of what I expected would be another memorable five-day bike ride. The ride, benefitting the children of ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem, would be this octogenarian’s 11th. ALYN Hospital treats children with congenital and acquired conditions, and is a leader in the field of pediatric rehabilitation. The ride was first initiated by a group of 11 riders and has grown to include 350+ riders from as many as 19 different countries. The ride encompasses a variety of options for the riders, among them “Touring,” which was my chosen route this year.
I have been a cycling enthusiast for much of my adult life. This ride offers an opportunity to combine my love of Israel, passion for cycling and desire to contribute my small part to the rehabilitation of the children of ALYN. Fortunately, I found in my awesome granddaughter Rachel someone with whom I was able to share my sentiments and experiences. What follows are some personal reflections that emerged in answer to her queries.
Rachel David (RD): Hi Saba Mel. At 82 years of age you continue to do the ALYN ride. Why?
Mel David (MD): This week is a most positive week of my entire year. We are one with Israel, and helping miracles, at ALYN hospital, to take place.
RD: What is the one best experience you had during this year’s five-day bike ride?
MD: When my wife, Ricki David, a volunteer, and I arrived on the fifth day, we were greeted by our granddaughter Tamar, who recently made aliyah and was waiting at the ALYN entrance. I cried. I was moved. I was completely shaken when she surprised us. When we were first married (1960), my wife and I attempted aliyah, but it did not work out for us. Now finally we have a granddaughter who is a new Olah and in the IDF. Congrats Tamar! Grandma Ricki and I are very proud.
RD: Some of the readers may want to know how the ALYN tour works. I know that there are different routes (Touring, On Road, Off Road, Alyn’s Children’s team). How would I, for example, as a fledgling cyclist, know which cycling group to join?
MD: If you are just starting out in cycling it might be wise to consider joining the Touring route. Touring generally rides for 2-2 1/2 hours each day and the rest of the day the riders visit archeological or biblical sites. If you are interested, and are able to ride more than two hours, you may want to join the “On Road” group. The Touring and the On Road work in tandem. If you are in Touring you can change to the other and vice versa. Should anyone be interested, the dates of the 2018 ride are October 28 to November 1.
RD: I see the picture of the ALYN Children’s Cycling Team. What is its name, what type of cycling do they do and what is the philosophy for having a cycling team comprised of children from ALYN Hospital?
MD: I posed your query to Tal Naveh, who is the ALYN director of special projects. Tal explained that the group is called “The Swift and the Bold.” They are separated into two groups, six of them “Off Road” and eight of them “On Road.” Riding with them is Ofer, one of their guides, who sustained his injury when he was already a grown man. This team was created by Rut Witzum, a physiotherapist at the hospital. Ofer is a professional bike guide who works in an Etgarim (challenges), an NGO that uses extreme sports as a method of rehabilitation (http://etgharim.org.il). It appears that, while there is risk involved, there is value derived by those who are disabled in that the cycling helps to improve self confidence, and teaches the participants that they can overcome barriers and succeed.
RD: You visited Gamla. What is the significance of that site? Also, I hear that there are steep hills involved in this ride. What was your experience in riding these hills?
MD: We first went on a hike to see the ruins of Gamla. Gamla is sometimes called the Masada of the Golan. Gamla was the site where the Jews of the Galil and Golan made their last stand against the Romans in 67 C.E. About 9000 Jews fought a siege led by the future Roman Emperor Vespasian.They minted coins during the revolt which said “For Jerusalem.” When faced with the sure prospect of capture and slavery they flung themselves over the cliff rather than be captured. This is according to the account by Josephus in his book “The Jewish Wars”. The observation point offers a view of the ancient town of Gamla (see attached photo). It has the earliest synagogue in the world.
We started to cycle in Ramat Magshimim (the Rain Soaked Heights). We started what was supposed to be a long downhill run. It was really more flat than downhill. I experienced some fatigue because I was riding with a father-and-son twosome, Peter and Daryll, and they were setting a fast pace. Consequently I asked the son, Daryll, whether I might draft (ride behind him so that he blocks most of the wind, making it easier for me to cycle because I have less wind resistance). After about an hour of riding, Peter indicated that he was going to pull over to the side. Peter and I pulled over to the side and joined the bus. Daryll, young stud that he is, continued to cycle to the lunch stop. The lunches are delicious; avocado sandwiches and soup are my favorite. Mincha is offered for those who are interested. An information board informs the riders of the miles covered, the grade and the miles for the rest of the day. The Touring group, and those from “On Road” who wish to join us, usually start the Touring after lunch.
RD: Where was this photo taken?
MD: Jonathan Dauitch, our guide, said the following about this location: “Here we are, standing near the Yehudiah Nature Reserve. In this reserve, the Yehudiah, the Zavitan and the Meshushim rivers flow from the Golan to the Kinneret. We are facing the town of Katzrin, the capital of the Golan. Founded in 1977, this is the largest Israeli community established in the Golan Heights. The city sits on the site of the Talmudic village of Katzrin and it is the center and the remains of the town’s synagogue from 1500 years ago.”
RD: I understand this rider fought in the Six Day war in 1966. Ronald was very upset when he revisited the areas in the Golan in 2017, with ALYN. Why?
MD: During the Six Day War, several of his buddies died in the fighting. When we visited that exact site, he was visibly shaken. When I saw his reaction, I asked him if he was OK. His answer: “I would rather not talk about it.” Later, after he seemed more composed, I asked him and he shared the story of the loss of several of his closest army buddies. After ALYN ended he returned to Holland, and sent me two photos. One is Ronny with ammunition taken from the Syrians, the other photo is of Ronny and a buddy in front of a tank.
Chaim Wizman, ALYN director of special projects, reports that this year there were 32 riders from Holland. Cathy Lanyard, from ALYN USA, reports that they have an ALYN chapter in Holland, and are very committed to ALYN and Israel. This is the eighth year that the 32 Dutch riders participated in ALYN.
RD: Saba Mel, you have done the ALYN ride 11 times. Which ride was the most memorable?
MD: In 2007, I rode on the same route, “On Road,” with my grandson Josh David from New Jersey and my sons, Jon from New Rochelle and Steven from Englewood. It was 10 years ago, I was 73, and on the downhills Jon rode on the wind side which prevented the wind from knocking me off my bike. That year the winds and sand storms were quite difficult. Steven rode alongside of me and put his right hand on my back shoulder blade and literally pushed me up the hills. I cannot understand how he was able to control his bike with only his left hand on the handlebars.
It was the thrill of a lifetime to have three generations riding on the same route. To the best of my knowledge this is the only time when three generations of the same family all shared this experience: Four Davids rode in the same event.
The riders all expressed satisfaction with the mix of cycling and touring. They enjoyed the touring activities such as the chocolate factory and Shapira Beer factory. In addition, they suggested there should be evening activities planned, for socialization, for 2018. The riders reported that they plan to return in 2018 and will ask friends and their children to join the 2018 ride.
By Mel David
and Rachel David