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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Riding For The Dawn

From a geographic standpoint, Gush Etzion is a rather large, sprawling area in the Judean hills south of Jerusalem containing 22 Jewish towns and villages.  But from a social standpoint, it is an interconnected, close-knit community where everyone seems to know everyone else.

Unlike some of the more far-flung/remote areas of the country, it is not uncommon for boys and girls from various communities in Gush Etzion to marry one another.  And likewise, bad news and tragedies often bring together members of multiple communities in our area.

The very word 'Gush'  in Hebrew means block, and to tell the turth, I like that I live in a region that has such a sense of connectedness and cohesion. 

But the result of all this inter-connectedness is that news, whether good or bad, moves at lightning speed through the gush.  Email lists, telephone calls, facebook and chance meetings in shul or while shopping bring news about just about everything and everyone... to the extent that I have a sense of what's going on with many people who I have never actually met.

Such was the case with the Frankl family from the neighboring community of Neve Daniel.  The parents, Yarden and Stella made Aliyah shortly after we did.  I've had heard their names mentioned in casual conversations over the years because we have many mutual friends.  Also, early on Yarden was the baseball coach for the team for which Ariella and Gilad played. But I'm not sure I would have recognized them if I ran into them.

I probably wouldn't have heard much more than the ocassional mention of Yarden, Stella and their family if not for the fact that last year Stella got sick.  It began with stomach pains, but a trip to the emergency room and a few tests later it was revealed to be late stage stomach cancer.  The prognosis was terrible.

Suddenly their names were on everyone's lips.  Stella's name was added to countless shul and personal lists of sick people for whom Psalms and prayers were being recited.  And as often happens in close-knit places like the gush, overnight this young family became the concern and responsibility of an informal army of friends, neighbors, 'Hesed' (kindness) committees and general well-wishers.

Anyone who has ever had the good (or bad, depending on one's point of view) fortune to see a community mobilize in support of a family in crisis will have an idea what I'm talking about.  But as this was happening in the gush, the waves of concern, shared information, offers of assistance, prayers, etc. were crashing on shores far from the Frankl's doorstep.

In this way I became intimately familiar with Stella's illness.  And even though we never met, I followed her battle with cancer closely by reading email updates and blog entries from mutual friends.

 Against all odds, Stella responded extremely well to the chemotherapy treatments she was given, and after six months she underwent a radical surgical procedure.  Miraculously, where once the doctors held out little hope, after the surgery Stella was pronounced cancer free.

The good news ricocheted and caromed around the gush.  Those who knew Stella, Yarden and their young family embraced them even more closely (if that was possible).  And those, (like me) who only knew of them gave silent thanks to G-d and delightedly placed them in the 'win' column to offset the many prayers which weren't answered (or perhaps they were answered... but the answer, for whatever reason, was 'no').

As a thank you to Shaare Zedek hospital's Oncology Department for their tireless work on Stell'as behalf, Yarden (who is a gifted amateur athlete) began planning a 12+ hour, 260 km bike ride from Israel's highest point (Mount Hermon), to the lowest point on earth (the Dead Sea) and then up to Israel's second highest point (the Frankl's community of Neve Daniel in Gush Etzion).

But before the ride could take place, Stella got some bad news; The cancer was back.  It was time to fight again.

Instead of abandoning the idea of the ride, Yarden became even more determined.  And while Stella made plans to begin a new course of chemo, Yarden put his ride plans into high gear with a target date of Friday November 9th, from midnight until early afternoon. 

In his own words:

The concept of the non-stop, 12+ hour ride is to reflect the journey that cancer patients and their loved ones endure. “Last year, we felt that we were locked in one long dark night,” says Yarden. “All the time we were waiting for the sun to rise, for the dawn of the day when our hopes of defeating the cancer would be realized. For us, that day came after numerous aggressive chemo treatments, radical surgery, and the prayers of thousands around the world.”
“But looking back, we now know that the experience was not just one of darkness. We were on an emotional roller coaster. Where one day we would be filled with hope and the next we would find ourselves at the lowest of low points, hoping to rise up again. I wanted to do a ride that would reflect both the aspect of longing for the dawn but also rising up from the depths. I can think of nothing that would be more symbolic that riding from the highest point in Israel to the lowest and then back up to the second highest.

                                                       Yarden, Stella and their kids

                                                      Yarden and his bike


One of the problems that Yarden had to consider when planning his ride was safety.  This was going to be a long ride on some of Israel's most accident-prone roads.  A bicylist riding alone at night, and even during the day, on some of Israel's most challenging hills, presented a very real safety challenge.

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Yarden.  I immediately recognized the name, but was suprised to see it sitting in my inbox.

It turns out Yarden had followed along with some of my crazier road trips via my blog, and was wondering if I'd be interested in joining him on his.  Specifically, he wanted to know if I would pace/protect him throughout the ride on my Vespa.

Talk about an offer I couldn't refuse! 

So, this past Friday Yarden and I did our first training ride together; from the Jordan Valley near the top of the Dead Sea up the grueling hill to Jerusalem.  Well, it was a training ride for him.  For me it was more practice on how to ride alongside and protect a bicyclist without getting in his way.  I think it went well.

If you'd like to find out more, you can go to Yarden's blog or to the Shaare Zedek site (where you can also make a donation to the cause).


Posted by David Bogner on October 16, 2012 | Permalink


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Yarden couldn't have a better wing-man, Bogner. Thank you. May we share joyful news!

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Oct 17, 2012 6:03:41 AM

I am so sorry to hear that Stella is sick again. I was also praying and hoping for a good outcome of all her treatments and rejoiced LOUDLY when I heard of the good news. I hadn't caught up with the recent news, so will start praying again.

It is stretching it a bit to say that the Gush extends to NZ, but as I now am blog friends with a few of you Gorgeous Gushies, I honestly feel like a bit of your lovely familyness has washed up on our shores and made me a better person for it.

I will be following your ride with interest. I am sure Yarden will enjoy your company as well as your protection. Can you get him a blue tooth for his helmet too?

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Oct 17, 2012 10:07:04 AM

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