Some saddle-sore rabbis from across the religious spectrum have raised money for food and environmental charities from a relay bike ride from Lands Ends to John O’Groats which will end before Shabbat.
More than 20 ministers have taken part in the Rabbi Relay Ride organised by Gefiltefest director Michael Leventhal. Mr Leventhal, his wife Rachel Marcus and their friend Tarryn Klotnick have completed the entire course, escorting the rabbis and other guests. Hospitality has been provided by Jewish communities along the route.
“It’s tough to find activities that include all denominations of Judaism so this was a fantastic opportunity,” said Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, who rode the stretch from Leeds to Durham. Although the Reform minister cycled 25 miles a week in preparation, he “felt like someone had been whacking my legs with a hammer” after completing his stage. He was put up by the Sevitt family in Leeds, who opened their home to the cyclists at short notice, “a fantastic show of Jewish hospitality”.
Sephardi participant Rabbi Eiran Davies said that “after cycling from Birmingham to Leeds over two days and 150 miles, I couldn’t walk at all. Our hosts in Nottingham and Birmingham were fantastic. I gave a shiur in Birmingham Central Synagogue on the Shabbat before we set off.”
His one regret was not beating Rabbi Harvey Belovski’s record for blowing the shofar during the ride. “We passed the shofar like a baton to each other. He managed almost a minute on the shofar. I got just over 40 seconds.”
Rabbi Anna Gerrard from the Gloucestershire Liberal Jewish Community said she had done no preparation for her stage. “It rained the whole way, which made my already bad cold much worse and I had to keep stopping to blow my nose.” However, things ended sweetly in Cheltenham’s Swallow Bakery, “which stayed open to serve hot drinks and a surprise ‘well done’ cake”.
A member of Rabbi Gerrard’s synagogue, Maggie Conu, hosted the group and was happy to have the cyclists stay. “We gave them dinner and chatted all evening,” she said. “They had a wonderful spirit, all lovely people.”
Food was donated by families and kosher restaurants, enabling the cyclists to enjoy picnics of bagels, peanut butter and veggie burgers.
Ilford’s Rabbi Geoffrey Hyman spent two days in the saddle as the group made its way from Durham to Edinburgh. “We were hosted with a lovely supper by the Edinburgh Jewish community and Rabbi David Rose from the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation,” he said.
Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman and Masorti rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg took up the challenge of covering the hilly Scottish countryside as they rode from Oban to Letterfinlay.
Mr Leventhal added that “the most significant aspect has been the overwhelming response from the Jewish and non-Jewish communities wherever we have been”. Shabbat in Birmingham was a highlight. “We arrived there looking like drowned rats after riding in a downpour and they had warm towels waiting for us”. Asked about cycling injuries, Mr Leventhal replied laughing: “The toochus is definitely the most affected part of the body.”
Some rabbis are supporting charities with a close personal interest and the hope is that the three week event will generate £30,000.