“We had riders of different denominations who spoke in different shuls over that Shabbat,” he recalled. “And Karen [Shapira, then-chair of the United Jewish Federation] hosted an event that brought together a whole group of people to meet the riders and vice versa.
Is it any wonder Savage will bring another peloton back here next year?
“We are very excited to come through Pittsburgh this summer,” he said.
Savage is the founder of Hazon, considered the largest Jewish environmental organization in America, and the event is the second Cross USA Bike Ride to Raise Awareness for Healthy, Sustainable Communities in the Jewish World and Beyond — the first cross-country ride Hazon has led since 2000.
The 10-week cross-country trek will start June 7, 2012, in Seattle, and end 72 days and 3,600 miles later in Washington, D.C. Along the way, there will be nine Shabbat rest days and five community service days. All the meals will be kosher and mostly vegetarian.
But of particular interest to Pittsburghers is that the city will be one of the major destination points of the ride. A two-day stay is planned, during which the riders will take part in one of its five service days.
The riders will arrive in Pittsburgh Wednesday, Aug. 8, and depart Friday, Aug. 10, for Ohiopyle State Park, where they will follow the Great Allegheny Passage to Washington — their final destination.
“Pittsburgh is a city we’re insanely excited to go to,” said Wendy Levine, director of Cross USA, noting the evolution of the biking community here over the past 10 years, including the trail development and other sustainability projects.
“It will be an educational opportunity for us as well as the community,” she said.
But Savage sees the ride as a chance to foster Judaism, both inside the synagogue and outside.
“We hope to visit many different synagogues and speak, and maybe we’ll have a fun ride,” he said. “We want people to have an amazing experience and be transformed in many ways.”
Since the last time Hazon organized this trek, he noted some of the riders met and later married. Others reconnected with their Jewish community, including one gay rider who for the first time became active in Jewish life as a result of the experience.
Which is why Savage is reluctant to describe Hazon merely as an environmental group. He said such a narrow description misses the point.
“Sometimes, when you say you’re an environmental group, people’s eyes glaze over,” he said, “but the reason why we’ve grown in the past 11 years is because we are engaging [people] in new and exciting ways.”
Founded in 2000, Hazon strives to create “healthier and more sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond,” according to its mission statement. It does so through “transformative experiences” (bike rides in the United States and Israel), “thought-leadership” (writing, speaking, teaching and advocacy); and “capacity building” (supporting great people and projects in North America and Israel).
Hazon hopes to attract at least 20 riders for the complete trek, Levine said, but other riders are welcome to do specific legs of the trip. For instance, she said Pittsburgh cyclists might want to join the peloton in Chicago and ride to Pittsburgh, or start in Pittsburgh for the final push to Washington.
“I think people would enjoy the fanfare of what happens when you arrive and people are there cheering you on,” she said.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)