Optimistic. Determined. Inexhaustible.
Pick a synonym for any of the above, and you can use it to describe the team of young Israelis pedaling each year across the United States to cure cancer.
Earlier this week, the participants of Bike For the Fight completed their second annual ride, which took them through the Baltimore, Rockville and D.C. areas, to encourage people to donate to the Israel Cancer Research Fund, a North American organization that gives grants to top Israeli cancer researchers. Ride founder Tom Peled, 25, a student at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzylia, said the group met their fundraising goal, raising more than $85,000.
For Peled, the mission is personal.
Peled lost his father, who was 58, to a 10-year battle against cancer in 2011. At the time of his father’s diagnosis, Peled was only 15. He channeled his grief into a 3,000-mile bike ride through Europe. By the end, he said he realized he wanted to find a way to both honor his father and devote himself to fighting the insidious disease that robbed him of so many precious years with his dad. The result was Bike For the Fight.
Peled told the JT that in its first year, BFF was an “adventure into the unknown,” as he had never planned anything but a backyard barbecue. But he said that when he got started and people saw his heart was in the right place, they helped. This year, he said, the team has grown (400 riders took part at different intervals along the way) – and grown up.
The ride is not based on speed, but on telling the story. They bike 60 to 70 miles per day.
“We want, as much as we can, to share the story with as many people as we can,” said Peled, who gave talks this year at Goucher College, Chabad of Towson University and Johns Hopkins University during his ride that went from Toronto to Boston, through upstate New York and Massachusetts and then down the East Coast through New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and D.C. It culminated at the Israeli Embassy, where dignitaries met BFF with flags, balloons and cheers.
The team relies on home hospitality; throughout its more than 60-day journey, BFF participants only slept in motels for four nights. In Rockville, they stayed with Alex and Miri Livnat; in Baltimore, with Bruce Sholk and Beth Kaplan.
Sholk said he was introduced to Peled though a business partner and his daughter ahead of BFF’s first ride. He went to a kickoff ceremony and saw that the organization was being supported by a wide representation of Israelis, from prominent business people to young activists. Sholk was enthralled.
“While they could have much more easily done this in Israel or Europe, they have chosen to bring this to the U.S. and now Canada to expose the Jewish and non-Jewish community not only to the importance of cancer research, but to the commitment of Israeli and Jewish young adults to do good,” said Sholk. “It is clear from the range of people they have interacted with along their journeys that they have succeeded in both goals.”
Peled’s partners, Director of Technology Inbal Brakha and trip manager Eran Rozen, also have tragic stories to propel them forward. Brakha lost her father to cancer one week before Peled. Rozen’s father was killed in a plane crash. Several of the other riders have stories, too.
“It’s the idea of taking something negative in your life, healing yourself and then turning it in to something positive to help heal others,” said Peled. “In my small way, I want to try to bring progress to finding a cure for cancer through raising money for research being done in Israel.”
Peled said everyone has difficulties, but they are faced with two choices: running away or overcoming them.
He also said BFF is about innovation and entrepreneurship.
“I started this at 23 with no experience at organizing anything,” he said. “But when you do something you believe in and it comes from a pure and honest place, people will help. People are looking to do good, you just need to show them how.”
Learn more about Bike For the Fight at bikeforthefight.com.
Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief — firstname.lastname@example.org