WEST ORANGE, NJ — Golda Och Academy (GOA) tenth grader Alana Wernick set off for Israel last month to participate in Israel Ride, a week-long cycling trip from Jerusalem to Eilat, raising funds for the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies and Hazon, a New York-based organization that seeks to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community around the world.

Alana’s father, Rabbi Steven Wernick, has participated in Israel Ride twice, which sparked Alana’s interest. After discussing the commitment with her father, including the training, costs and equipment, Alana convinced her father she was serious, and the two began training last fall for this year’s ride in November.  

“We would ride every chance we could get, starting out slowly at 10 miles or so and building our endurance and skill to 45-mile training rides,” said Rabbi Wernick.

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To participate, riders are required to pay a registration fee and meet a fundraising minimum. Alana said family and friends donated and that she received support from her synagogue (Congregation Agudath Israel) and some of her teachers at Golda Och Academy.

Alhough Alana didn’t know what to expect from the ride, she said she was physically prepared, and on the first day rode 54 miles from Jerusalem to Ashkelon.

“At each stop, every 10 or so miles, there were crew and staff to support us, many of whom were alumni of the Aravah Institute,” she said. “It was at these little stops that for 10-to-20 minutes I would talk to a Polish woman, a Muslim woman, an Italian Jew and so many others that I would never have otherwise gotten to meet and hear their stories.”

Day 2, according to Alana, was when she learned what to appreciate in the Negev—water and shade. After riding 68 miles to a kibbutz in the Negev, two alumni from the Arava Institute discussed technology they are developing for water conservation. As a leading environmental and academic institute in the Middle East, the Arava Institute brings students together from around the world to focus on a range of environmental challenges facing the region.

Alana also had the opportunity to meet with Nigel Savage, founder and head of Hazon.

“I learned about Jewish American communities who support local farms with such strength that all of their food for kiddush and meals comes from locally-grown produce, milk and eggs,” she said. “One synagogue in Colorado, in partnership with Hazon, has their own farm supported by members of the community so they can be assured that their eggs and dairy are coming from properly-treated animals.”

After riding 63 miles through the Ramon Crater to Kibbutz Ketura (home of the Arava Institute), the group had the opportunity to tour the institute. Alana learned about solar power in Israel and cooperative efforts with the government to have the Arava region powered by solar fields in the Negev by 2020.

Overall, Alana said Israel Ride was a tremendous success for her from a physical, educational and social standpoint.

“This trip left a large impact on my view of Israel and the political and environmental situation,” she said. “I also have a new level of what I believe I can achieve and the power of practice and training.”

GOA’s Upper School Principal Christine Stodolski said, “Alana has shown her mettle in taking on such a challenging experience. She combined so many of the values that the school works to foster in its students when she chose to travel to Israel to test herself physically in honor of very worthy causes.”

“Alana’s ride was essentially an extension of the work these organizations are doing — creating living bridges with people in their own community and communities around the world,” said Rabbi Meirav Kallush, GOA’s Director of Israel Programming. “We are all inspired here at GOA by Alana. She met this challenge with modesty and grace, and we are so proud of her accomplishments.”