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Riding High

Gershon Burstyn

In an Israeli town that’s acquired a reputation for division and strife, one man is using mountain biking to teach kids how to push their limits — and get along with each other, no matter what kind of yarmulke is under the helmet.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

We’re out in the Judean Hills, a ten-minute walk from the nearest road, but we might as well have been transported back centuries.

Ten kids are sitting on a low stone wall built during the Second Temple period. Around them, the spring’s first red anemone and purple cyclamen are sprouting and wild sage crawls along the wall’s weathered bricks.

Before them stands a middle-aged man with a long, bushy, red beard. His calves are the size of most men’s thighs. His name isNachumWasoskyand the kids affectionately call him the Biking Rebbe.

They have stopped midway through an hour-plus bike ride for a lesson on life. Today’s subject is diligence, one of a score of subjects that Wasosky will teach the kids over a yearlong course. The kids sit patiently, their bike helmets strapped snugly to their heads as their peyos peek out from underneath the polystyrene foam.

Nachum notes the difference between perseverance and diligence. Perseverance, he explains to the ten-year-olds, is fighting to climb up the hill on your bike, giving it every ounce of your energy, and not stopping until you reach the crest of the hill. Diligence is doing it over and over again, making persistence a habit.

“Look at my legs,” Wasosky advises the kids. “They are all beat up from rides over the years. That is persevering through difficult rides. Diligence means that you’re going to put your mind to something and work at it until it’s finished.”

And so it goes for Wasosky, who has put his mind to creating something a little bit bigger than just a biking club. Geerz, the organization he founded in 2012, aims not only to bring kids out into nature and give them the chance to sweat out their energy and connect to G-d’s country. It also gives them a chance to learn important life lessons and bond with kids slightly different from themselves, a golden opportunity in sometimes-dividedBeitShemesh.

Nachum points to a boy, Yosef, sitting on the stone fence, perhaps where another Jewish boy might have sat centuries ago learning a similar lesson. He tells the group that Yosef worked hard last month trying to get up a steep hill we had just climbed. He failed once and then again, but eventually he made it.

“Is it an option to walk your bike instead?” Wasosky asks the group. “No, it’s not an option. You put your mind to it and focus until you get to the top. In school, with parents, and with friends, there are many things we have to be diligent about. When you’re studying Mishnah, you’re diligent and persevere and have patience. And that’s why you’re successful.”

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