Locally and globally, cyclists join in solidarity for the hostages

The riders paused for a photo at Temple Emanu-El of Closter. (Viviana Epstein)
The riders paused for a photo at Temple Emanu-El of Closter. (Viviana Epstein)

When Chris Froome, a four-time winner of the Tour de France and member of the Israel-Premier Tech Cycling Team, posted a video announcement on social media, it was received as a call to action by cyclists all over the world.

“His request to ride on January 14, the 100th day our Israeli brothers and sisters would be held against their wills in captivity, was a way by which cycling groups could show solidarity and support for the hostages,” Kenny Horowitz of Englewood said. “Atrocities are occurring for them every day. We can’t become complacent.”

Mr. Horowitz saw Mr. Froome’s announcement as a logical and emotional way for him to show the hostages and their families that they’d not been forgotten.

“I started actively cycling in 2012,” he said. “What began as a social activity turned into a competitive pursuit.” His cycling club, the Dream Team, was one of thousands of cycling clubs around the world that responded enthusiastically to the #ridetobringthemhomenow.

“While there was no specific directive as to how long or short the ride should be, Chris recommended we all tie yellow ribbons to our bikes that day to show solidarity for the hostages in Israel,” Mr. Horowitz said.

He quickly created a 35-mile route that passed by 39 synagogues and schools in northeastern Bergen County. “It was important to ensure the riders rode past the local synagogues where most riders in the club were members, but also synagogues that had held peaceful rallies in support of Israel, such as Young Israel of Fort Lee,” he said. “Once the route was marked, I contacted the offices of the synagogues we’d be passing during the ride. Within days, flyers were produced to get the word out to riders.”

Social media efforts helped gain traction with onlookers who might want to cheer the riders as they paused at their synagogues or be available to take pictures.

“Chris Froome had encouraged riders to send in photos from different spots along our routes and post them on social media,” Mr. Horowitz said. “Riders gathered on January 14 from London, Adelaide, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Australia, Tel Aviv, and throughout the 50 United States.” He noted that the ride was not a fundraiser, but strictly an opportunity for cyclists all over the world to participate in an event that showed respect, support, and solidarity for the hostages.

“The route was created so that we would ride by local synagogues in an effort to unite the riders with the surrounding Jewish communities,” Mr. Horowitz said. “On a freezing cold morning in northern New Jersey, beginning at 9 a.m., 75 local riders and countless riders participated globally.” When he first heard about the ride, he had no idea how many people would participate, “but I shouldn’t have been surprised,” he said. “It was like the moment in ‘Field of Dreams,’ when Kevin Costner’s character heard a mysterious voice saying ‘If you build it, they will come.’”

The Sunday morning ride began in the parking lot at Cafe Angelique in Tenafly. Despite the cold, 75 riders, mainly from Bergen County but also from West Orange, Monsey, New York City, and Long Island showed up, tying their yellow ribbons onto the handlebars of their bikes. Rabbi Mordechai Shain of Lubavitch on the Palisades in Tenafly arrived early, bringing tefillin for the men who wanted to put them on for the pre-ride tefillot he led for them.

Doron Rice, front, takes a selfie with Ofir Tal, in front, and Jake Kazam between them.

The riders stopped at Congregation Ahavat Torah in Englewood, the shul to which many of the riders belong; its office staff had been extremely helpful in printing flyers and publicizing the event. Riders took photos before they moved on. At the 8.6-mile marker, the group stopped at Young Israel of Fort Lee, the site of a November 5 rally for Israel. The rally, which had attracted about 500 people, had been interrupted by counter-protesters carrying high-powered bullhorns, professionally printed signs, and several large Palestinian flags.

Mr. Horowitz felt it was important to stop the ride there to take a peaceful group photo, acknowledging that commemorative events can take place without “getting ugly.” He noted that the Dream Team rode quietly past one of the Palestinian mosques along the route. “There were no issues,” he said. “There was no nastiness.”

Throughout the ride, the cyclists stopped at many synagogues. At Temple Emanu-El in Closter — a synagogue to which many riders belong — they took a picture with its rabbi, David-Seth Kirshner. After a stop at Lubavitch on the Palisades, the cyclists ended their ride back at Cafe Angelique sometime after noon, more than three hours after it began.

Mr. Horowitz waited for everyone to complete the ride. Some of the cyclists were happy to go inside the café for a hot drink. “Everyone was pleased to have participated,” Mr. Horowitz said. “No one wants the war in Israel, or the hostages, to be forgotten. We need to keep them front and center in our minds.”

Yehuda Blinder of Englewood learned about the ride from Chris Froome’s social media post. “I took part in the ride as a way for those of us in the riding community to show solidarity for Israel,” Mr. Blinder said. “The hostage crisis remains an important issue.” Mr. Horowitz agreed, adding “a chilling three-hour ride in the cold pales in comparison to the discomfort and horror the hostages and IDF soldiers are experiencing.”

Ofir Tal of Cresskill has been cycling with the Dream Team for 15 years. “The ride meant so much, not just for us here in northern New Jersey, but for cyclists all over the world,” he said. “The hostage crisis is so grave. And for many of us, it’s extremely close to home.”

He explained that Edan Alexander, an IDF lone soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas and has remained in captivity for 100 days, is local. “His parents live in Tenafly, and we’ve known the family for years,” Mr. Tal said. “I thought about all of the hostages whose fates are unknown throughout the ride, but I particularly thought of Edan.”

Mr. Horowitz had many reasons to organize this ride. He has five children; his two youngest — 19-year-old twins Anna and Jessica — are spending their gap year at Midreshet Harova in the Old City of Jerusalem, steps from the Western Wall. “I had registered to ride in the 2023 Alyn Wheels of Love ride, a four-day charity bike ride to support Alyn Hospital, the only children’s rehabilitation hospital in Israel,” he said. “Riders come from all over the world to cycle for four days through the Negev Desert in southern Israel, Masada, the Dead Sea, and on the final day, reach the Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem for a closing ceremony. Since I had my plane tickets anyway, I decided to travel to Israel on October 18 — with all that was happening, it was an opportunity to see my daughters.”

Mr. Horowitz described his horror at learning that the ride was to begin at the gates of Kibbutz Be’eri, the Israeli kibbutz near the Gaza Strip where Hamas carried out a brutal massacre of more than 130 people with unspeakable acts of violence. “I had to pause to internalize the significance of this,” he said. “It could’ve been me.”

Mr. Horowitz describes his experience in Israel as raw. “There were no tourists,” he said. “I stayed in a hotel with displaced families from Kiryat Shmona, a northern town close to the Lebanese border. It was just us — they were happy I was staying with them. We shared meals and went to synagogue.”

When the planned ride did not happen, Mr. Horowitz rented a bike and rode with four groups on four days. One of the rides was a 60-mile route through the hills of Beit Shemesh. “Yarden Frankl, the Alyn Wheels of Love director, arranged a night of food packing for the soldiers at a food warehouse in the suburbs of Jerusalem. The night was called Meals of Love.

“It was extremely powerful to be there at that time, just 11 days after the attacks.”

That trip to Israel made the bike ride seem even more relevant, Mr. Horowitz said. “Cycling throughout northern New Jersey alongside 75 friends and neighbors for a mutual cause — passing the synagogues we pray at, learn from, and hold sacred in our hearts — was unifying.” Spread out across time zones and continents, taking place in at least 40 cities around the world, #ridetobringthemhomenow was an extraordinary display of solidarity, Mr. Horowitz said.

On Israel-Premier Tech’s social media platform, Chris Froome reported that “tens of thousands of cyclists around the world united today in a collective call to free the 136 hostages held in Gaza, 100 days after their capture in the 7 October attacks.”

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