“Doesn’t anyone have any good news?” was the plaintive question a friend posted on Facebook yesterday.
“Yes, I have,” I replied.
And here’s my good news.
After braving torrential rain, fierce winds and rocket fire as they rode from Arad to Jerusalem via Beer Sheva, hundreds of cyclists have just completed the 5-day Alyn bike ride and raised – as of last week – almost $2 million for Alyn Hospital, the world-renowned pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation facility.
At the closing ceremony at Alyn in Jerusalem, the hospital’s director general, Dr. Maurit Beeri, told the riders that the unforeseen challenges they experienced on this year’s ride had given them an opportunity to gain a little insight into the uphill battle Alyn’s children face each day.
“Perhaps you felt like our children do, when suddenly they lose their abilities, and the routine and security they had always known,” she said. “But then you also had the chance to experience a sense of the love, support and mutual responsibility that help our children through their difficulties.”
Ironically, the Alyn ride only came into being when a ride in aid of an Anglo-Jewish charity was cancelled at the last minute because of the outbreak of the intifada in 2000.
The Israeli riders who had been planning to join the group coming from Britain decided they would carry on and organize their own bike ride from Jerusalem to Eilat in aid of Alyn Hospital. Those first few Alyn riders, who included my husband Laurence, managed to raise $65,000.
The ride has since become a huge international event comprising on-road and off-road rides, challenge on- and off-road rides, a touring ride and a one-day ride. Many hundreds of riders from all over the world have participated over the past 13 years – including during the intifada years when hardly anyone was visiting Israel – and $20 million has been raised for Alyn.
When the 5-day riders reached Beer Sheva last Wednesday afternoon, they could not have imagined that they would be up most of the night, running to take shelter each time the red alert siren sounded.
The riders from abroad weren’t the only ones to be taken out of their comfort zone. It was a reality check for Laurence and all the other Israelis who aren’t usually in the south of the country, bringing home to them how much the southern towns and communities are suffering on a day and night basis.
Most riders said this experience wouldn’t deter them from participating in future rides. “It added a whole new dimension to share, very briefly, in the trauma Israeli citizens are experiencing almost constantly,” a North American cyclist who was on his sixth Alyn ride told me at the closing ceremony. “Each ride provides a very special way to see the country. On a bike you feel every little nuance – the change in temperature; the rhythm of the day; the different environments. You don’t get that on a tour bus.”
It’s always incredibly emotional and uplifting to see hundreds of yellow-jerseyed cyclists arriving at the hospital at the end of the ride and being welcomed by Alyn’s young patients, who then give the riders their medals.
A young boy named Or, which means “light” in English, gave Laurence his medal this year. Or’s mother told me that they come to Alyn every day all the way from Kiryat Malachi in southern Israel. (The day after the ride, a rocket attack there claimed three lives.)
“The therapists have given Or mobility by teaching him to operate a special wheelchair,” she said. “It’s worth the long journey to Alyn; it’s a fantastic place.”
Alyn treats children with a wide range of congenital and acquired conditions, including neuromuscular diseases, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord and brain injuries.
And here’s another irony, given the current situation: Alyn’s patients include Jewish and Arab Israelis, and Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank.
Some are only at Alyn because they have been terribly injured in our never-ending war. But there is still mutual support among all the families, even now. They have so many daily challenges to overcome; there is no energy left for hatred. They all know the real cost in human terms of a lack of peace.
“We pray for innocent lives on both sides of the border,” Dr. Beeri said as she concluded her welcome to the riders. “We pray for a better, safer and more hopeful future for all our children.”
Amen to that.