How many of you have slept in a church basement? The night before Yom Kippur? Sounds like we have some real sins to atone for, but it’s actually the opposite. We are here doing mitzvahs! How do we celebrate Yom Kippur, while biking 70 miles a day, moving 7 people around in van, entering new cities every night, on a speaking tour? First, let me tell you who we are. We are Bike For The Fight (BFF). Today we are a group of 7, but our number is always changing, through this trip that grows and develops with the places we go and people we meet along the way. 6 Israelis, and I, the 1 American, are biking for two months from Toronto to DC, to raise money for the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF). These two months happen to coincide with the Jewish holiday season, so we are celebrating from the road. While holidays are very specific with everything from the customs, down to the date and minute, our trip is the opposite. We are usually in a new city each day, jumping from place to place, which makes coordinating holidays into our busy schedule, far from simple. Many people wouldn’t consider me religious, but I’m by far the most religious on the team. Israelis have a different way of being religious. Living in Israel for two years, I’ve found that Israelis are often either extremely observant or completely secular, with few in between. But here in America, we have every kind of Jew. Jews fitting into each of the general religious divisions, and then those picking and choosing between whatever suits their beliefs and lifestyles. Before we began BFF, the organizers assured my mom and I that we would be celebrating all of the Jewish holidays. However, “celebrating” a holiday means something different to every person. For Rosh Hashana, my Israeli team thought that the holiday was over after the first dinner. According to my tradition and beliefs, I still had another two days to spend in shul. Leading up to Yom Kippur, we haven’t exactly abided by the typical traditions. Last year, I remember going with my family to our Chabad in Santa Monica. We each chose a live chicken to say a blessing over, before the ritualistic beheading of it- leading to vegetarian Miriam for the following six months. With moving all of the time through our busy speaking and biking tour, we have had a different pre-Yom Kippur schedule. Last night was our final night in New Jersey, so I split from the group to see my sister. I slept in her all girls religious dorm at Yeshiva University girl’s school, Stern. Tonight I am writing this from quite a different location. As we were hit with a rainstorm today, we had to change the bike route, and we ended up in Princeton, NJ, without a place to stay. After going through our list of local contacts without any luck, we pulled up in front of a church to stop and figure out our plan. One of the words written in large black letters on the front sign was “hospitality”. We decided to go inside to inquire about a place to stay. After speaking to them and being sent to another three churches, the fourth one welcomed us in with open arms! This is one of my jobs on the team- making things happen. When we don’t have a place to stay or we need a deal on something, I’m the one they send in. The shortest and the youngest, but it usually seems to work. I even got a nickname: “Special Operations Miriam.” So here we are in a Princeton, New Jersey thunderstorm, in the basement of a church. What’s next tomorrow? Yom Kippur in Philly! While our usual days may not seem so religious, Yom Kippur will be. The biking will be replaced with a day of rest and atonement. We will all be fasting together. Because even with our different levels of belief, from opposite sides of the world, we all share the same heritage and tradition. Even if we live by a jumbled schedule, similar to the Jews wandering from place to place in the desert, our mission is to bike and spread our positive message. But for Yom Kippur, together we stop and observe. Together we take the lessons of our past and look towards a brighter future. So wherever you are spending Yom Kippur, wherever you are coming from, and wherever you are going, we wish you an easy and meaningful fast. Keep an open positive mind. Remember it is the journey that is more important than the destination. Each person has the chance to become better. Everyone can face the difficult times in life and turn these into something positive. Remember: there are no problems in life, only challenges.
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