Benny Ya'akobi, the unassuming bicyclist among us who, it turns out, planned the five days of on- and off-road bike routes from the Golan to Jerusalem that we were experiencing, made his first announcement on Monday night, before our third day of riding.
He said that as far as he was concerned, the ride had two goals: to raise money for Alyn Hospital and, more controversially, to give the riders a taste of the physical challenges that injured and disabled children struggle with, not just for five days, but sometimes all their lives.
After two of what, for the uninitiated among us, were somewhat grueling 90+ kilometer days of riding, Benny then told us that all this was just a prologue to the first of our two toughest days of riding ahead. The next morning, indeed, we would ride as far as we had ridden each previous day, but along the way tackle a vertical climb of about 600 meters from Beit She'an up to the top of Mt. Gilboa before continuing another 50 km. to finish the day in Zichron Ya'acov.
As promised, the climb was steep and almost relentless and the views were spectacular. And once again, at least in my case, the relief of having accomplished what had been so intimidating was invigorating.
At the top, the language of the tired but happy crowd devouring the water, fruit and nuts provided in mass quantities at the rest stop was as it had been throughout: English. This is not surprising given that over half the riders came from abroad, mainly from the US, Canada and England. What is more striking is that almost all of the Israeli riders are immigrants from the same countries.
There are exceptions. Moshe Torem, an early organizer and current participant in the ride, who moved to kibbutz Sde Eliahu in 1987, had inspired a few sabras from the kibbutzim in the area to join. Riders Danny Levy and Shimon Ohana are the son-in-law and son of Mahluf Ohana, who was a cyclist in Morocco in the 1950s. The Ohana family's company, Meron Springs, donated and trucked 10,000 liters of its bottled water to our rest stops.
But why are there not more native Israeli participants in a fund-raising event in Israel for an Israeli hospital treating Israeli children?
The first reason is historical. The Alyn ride was born in 2000, when 10 local participants decided to break away from a charity ride in Israel for a British-Jewish charity called Ravenswood. The break came when the British contingent cancelled its ride due to security concerns. The ride began in English-speaking communities, both here and abroad, and grew by word of mouth within that circle.
But there are also cultural barriers. Some riders who attempted to raise money from their native Israeli friends have encountered disbelief bordering on hostility. The concepts of sponsoring someone for a charity ride and of raising money from friends are novel. Charity is seen as something that government, or large organizations, take care of.
The ride organizers have tried to increase participation among non-immigrant Israelis. On Wednesday we had a highly-visible ride into Tel Aviv and were greeted by Mayor Ron Huldai. But the challenge facing the Alyn Ride is more than one of increasing awareness. It is a challenge of changing the local culture of giving.
Saul Singer is chronicling the five-day "Wheels of Love" charity ride for Alyn Hospital. Wednesday was Day 4.