Cycling Through the Negev to Save the Earth
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Cycling Through the Negev to Save the Earth

Annual fundraiser Israel Ride celebrates its 20th anniversary as it raises money for environmental studies.

Morris Maslia cycling with the Tzofim group at the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Nir Am Reservoir along the Israel-Gaza border, during the November 2016 Israel Ride.
Morris Maslia cycling with the Tzofim group at the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Nir Am Reservoir along the Israel-Gaza border, during the November 2016 Israel Ride.

On Nov. 1, nearly 200 cyclists from around the world will meet up in Jerusalem to begin a five-day bike ride from Jerusalem to Eilat, covering between 175-350 miles.

This year will mark Israel Ride’s 20th year since its inception in 2003 (2020 and 2021 were virtual bike rides due to the pandemic). The bike ride is a fundraising event benefiting the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and Hazon; this year’s goal is to raise $1 million for those organizations.

For the previous 18 years, the Jewish National Fund USA (JNF-USA) has sponsored the ride as a partnership between JNF-USA and the Arava Institute; in 2007, JNF started an official JNF-Atlanta team, led by the first Atlantan to do the ride a year earlier, Robert Port.

The week-long ride includes orientation, five cycling days and a day off for Shabbat. Many of the trip’s bike-riding alumni claim there is nothing more awe-inspiring than cycling through the Negev.

Robert Port cycling with the Chalutzim group on the Egyptian border, near Kadesh Barnea, during the May 2007 Israel Ride.

As part of the Israel Ride, stops are made during the day along points of historical and Biblical interest in the Negev (Sde Boker, the Wilderness of Paran, the Planes of Moab, Shitiim) where educational sessions are provided by Israel touring experts.

One of the beneficiaries of the ride is The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, formed as part of the Oslo Accords of 1996, whose purpose is to use environmental study as a framework for bringing Israeli Jews and Arabs, Palestinians, Jordanians and other students from around the world together to study and discuss issues of local and regional importance, including the environment, water resources, the Middle East and its conflicts, both politically and religiously.

A substantial portion of the funds raised go to scholarships for students from the Middle East who could not otherwise have this life-changing educational experience. It is the only environmental institute of its kind in the Middle East. Through its activities, the Arava Institute encourages, fosters and supports the advancement of environmental cooperation between Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East.

The youngest and newest member of the JNF-Atlanta Team, Aria Marilyn Maslia, eagerly anticipating the 2040 Israel Ride and supporting her “Poppi” (Morris Maslia) for the 2022 Israel Ride.

The other beneficiary of the ride, Hazon, is the largest faith-based environmental organization in the U.S., and is dedicated to building a movement that strengthens Jewish life and contributes to a more environmentally sustainable world for all. As the Jewish lab for sustainability, Hazon effects change through immersive experiences and inspires individuals and communities to make specific commitments to change, with a particular focus on food systems.

For this year’s Israel Ride, Team JNF-Atlanta includes Jonathan Arogeti (new to the ride), Andy Deutsch (who joins his father Bob Deutsch from North Carolina on the ride), Morris Maslia (Team Captain, participating in his third Israel Ride) and Robert Port (past Team Captain, participating in his seventh Israel Ride). Riders under the age of 35 commit to raising a minimum of $3,100 and riders over the age of 35 commit to raising a minimum of $4,200 each. To date, Team JNF-Atlanta has raised nearly $13,000.

Each day of the ride has three route options depending on the cyclists’ abilities and skill levels. Shomrim, the beginner group, cycles an average of 30 miles each day, stopping for lunch and touring in the afternoon. Tzofim, for intermediate riders and usually the largest group, cycle about 50–60 miles per day. Chalutzim, the most advanced group, average 75 miles per day, with additional mileage and hill climbing.

Shabbat is spent at the breathtaking Mitzpe Ramon, which overlooks the Paran Wilderness at an altitude of 2,800 feet above sea level. There are optional Shabbat prayer services for different religious observances, as well as discussions, hiking, yoga and simple relaxation.

If riding a bicycle from Jerusalem through the Negev and concluding with a spectacular seven-mile downhill from the Eilat Mountains (at 2,800 feet to sea level) into Eilat at 35-50 miles per hour on a hard leather seat is not your idea of an exciting activity, then you can participate in the 2022 Israel Ride without leaving your home.

You can support the JNF-Atlanta Team riders by going to and selecting one or more of the riders from the JNF-Atlanta Team.

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