Green activists hoping to harness pedal power

By Jessica Elgot, February 2, 2012
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Good spokespeople: Activists hope Alyth's cycle club will inspire others

Good spokespeople: Activists hope Alyth's cycle club will inspire others

An initiative to get Jews on their bikes has won the support of London's best-known cyclist, Boris Johnson.

On Tu Bishvat, the Jewish Social Action Forum's Big Green Jewish campaign will launch the Year of the Bicycle.

It follows the food-themed Year of the Bagel, where the focus included promoting community spaces to grow food and using eco-friendly produce and crockery at Jewish organisations.

This time, green transport-based events will include a "rabbi relay" bike race from Land's End to John O'Groats, a campaign for a "cycle superhighway" through the Jewish areas of north-west London and "walking bus routes" for primary schools. It is also running Get Behind the Bikeshed, encouraging charities and businesses to adopt cycle-to-work schemes.

UJIA already operates a popular cycle scheme among its employees and JSAF co-ordinator David Brown hopes others will follow the charity's example.

A bike is a shared tool for rabbis, like a sefer Torah

"The Year of the Bike seemed a natural theme," he said. "It's an Olympic year, so the focus is on getting fit and healthy and we wanted to add a green spin to that."

Michael Leventhal, organiser of the Gefiltefest food festival, has been recruiting rabbis for the relay ride in June. "We're hoping to raise £100,000 for food redistribution and poverty charities," he said. "And the rabbis will be able to direct half the money they raise to a charity of their choice."

Riders will cover 60 miles a day. Participants range from keen cyclists such as Alyth's Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, to beginners like the Gloucestershire Liberal community's Rabbi Anna Gerrard. Golders Green Synagogue's Rabbi Harvey Belovski - who will be riding from Birmingham to Leeds - said he was keen to involve congregants in his training. Cycling "helps to reduce unnecessary emissions, noise and congestion, all of which are quite popular causes in Golders Green".

Also joining the ride will be Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman. Movement for Reform Judaism chief executive Ben Rich and movement rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner will ride on a tandem.

Rabbi Gerrard said that "having enthusiastically signed up for the Weston-Super-Mare to Gloucester leg, it suddenly occurred to me that I have not actually cycled for years and do not own a road-worthy bike. So I have started spinning classes and, when the weather warms up, I plan to borrow a bike to start cycling to work.

"Rabbis have a public voice and do speak out on important issues - and you can only speak out on an issue meaningfully if you at least try to practise what you preach."

Rabbi Goldsmith noted the camaraderie between the ministers he saw cycling around north-west London, among them Shenley Synagogue's Natan Levy and New London's Jeremy Gordon, who are also taking part in the relay.

"Across the denominations, a rabbi's job is remarkably similar and a bike is a shared tool we use, like a sefer Torah." His synagogue runs a Sunday cycle club and collects old bikes for Habonim Dror, which restores them for refugees.

    Last updated: 11:59am, February 2 2012