By Chandrea Serebro
It is an utterly moving experience to watch a group of grade eleven learners from Torah Academy, along with Moletsane High and Pace College in Soweto, and from two schools in Beit Shemesh, Israel, ride into Durban on their bikes after traveling 500 km. The celebration marking the end of the journey is particularly rousing – a goose-bump moment – not because they push themselves physically, making the trip in five days, but because these boys are all heroes. They have all gone beyond themselves, on a journey of self-discovery, and they have found a better version of who they are, who they can be, especially in relation to others. “Cycalive was born to break the boundaries of racism. All of us, teachers and learners, were prepared to make friends across the colour line, and to learn about the cultures and traditions of the other racial group,” explains Principal of Pace Commercial Secondary School, Dan Zimba, who was introduced to Dean of Torah Academy, Rabbi Dovid Hazdan, and a few other rabbis and grade 11 learners of the Torah Academy in 1998. At the time, Mr Zimba was the principal of Moletsane Secondary School in Soweto, and Rabbi Hazdan invited him and five grade 11 boys, along with representatives from Tladi Technical High School in Soweto, to cycle to Durban in what would become known as Cycalive. “No one, not even the parents, opposed the idea.” It was to be the start of an exercise in Ubuntu, the discovery of a shared humanity in the spirit of kindness and compassion to others. Or, as one of last year’s participants from Torah Academy, Gidon Mannie, who describes himself as something of a “history buff”, explains, a project with a primary objective “to unite the born-free generation”, and “create an understanding of one another through Ubuntu”.
Nowhere is this more tangible than in the rolling hills and winding passes of the road from Joburg to Durban, where these boys go from being strangers to friends. Cycalive unites different ethnic groups and cultures, an experience that is supported and celebrated by one and all because of the excitement, the adventure, and the sheer uniqueness of the endeavour. Just imagine it: for five days, explains Gidon, over 30 teenage boys from different cultures, races, and religions, sharing the same space, eating kosher food, and bonding without any animosity towards each other, get to know each other, and learn about their differences and their commonalities. The Cycalive team cycles to Durban in relay to spread the concepts of Ubuntu and goodwill, to raise funds for much-needed educational projects, to highlight the importance of road safety and the Arrive Alive campaign particularly relating to cyclists, and to encourage leadership and a spirit of adventure, personal challenge, and self-confidence.
Throughout the journey they deliver care packages, including textbooks, stationery, and refreshments, to patients at the Newcastle Hospital and students with disabilities at Ethembeni School in Hillcrest, as well as various rural schools along the way. It was an idea brought to Rabbi Hazdan by some Grade 11 learners which “nearly made me fall off my chair”, he remembers, but which has since grown by leaps and bounds and which has the learners excited way in advance of them actually reaching the time for the trip in their Grade 11 year. “Having watched so many students coming back from Cycalive beaming and raving about how amazing the experience was, I was euphoric when I finally reached the point when it was my turn to be going on this inspiring and eye-opening trip,” says Aharon Gralnik, who participated in Cycalive 2015. “This is such an amazing event because although we are living in difficult times, Cycalive takes boys from completely different backgrounds, religious beliefs, and cultures, and – through the ups and downs of the extremely demanding cycle down to Durban – shows us that, although we have our differences, we are all inherently the same human beings, with the same dreams and goals. And that, as the youth of our beautiful country, it is up to us to ensure that the future of our nation be one of unity and love,” says Aharon. “As always, there is an excitement about Cycalive 2016 -the boys jostle for a place in Cycalive, every year,” says Mr Zimba.
“Most Torah Academy students view Cycalive as the highlight of their high school career. They look forward to it for years, and once they matriculate they think back nostalgically to that magical week of their life,” says Rabbi Yossi Chaikin, Principal of Torah Academy Boys High. Mendel Zlotnick, who will participate this year, agrees. “I intend to gain a better understanding of the different cultures and backgrounds of the South African participants and to arouse a sense of belonging from the Israeli group.” As a cyclist, the whole aspect of riding down to Durban is “like music to my ears”, he says, because on a bike, “all races and religions are forgotten. A hill is a challenge for everyone, no matter his skin colour or his beliefs. The world is driving towards total equality and what better way to show that we are all on the same level than to be put in a situation where teamwork is vital to success. The cyclists are only as fast as the slowest man, teaching us about friendship, teamwork, and a sense of responsibility for others.”
And as much as it is about each boy in relation to others, it is a journey of self-growth and personal discovery. “Prior to Cycalive, I was afraid that I was going to be excluded and maybe even slightly bullied, what with being with the same boys for the whole time. But as it progressed, I realised that this is one of the very purposes of Cycalive – strengthening friendships and making new ones, as well as overcoming one’s own personal battles, which was for me one of the biggest successes of the trip,” says Gidon. “It is much more than just riding a bike. They learn about raising money for charity, organising and developing their leadership skills, cooking, and fixing bicycles,” says Rabbi Chaikin. “The boys learn about the value of teamwork and the role of individuals in team performance. They learn about the sacrifices that people make in their successes. They learn about and come to appreciate that our world is inhabited by different people with different cultures, religions, and value systems, but that these people can live side-by-side in harmony and in the advancement of humanity,” says Mr Zimba. “Cycalive was my first experience traveling outside of Israel since I made aliyah when I was five,” says Ephraim Avraham from Beit Shemesh. “Although terrorism in Israel often makes headlines, I enjoy a very high quality of life and feel safe. The cultural experience of getting to know the Jewish and African community in SA helped me to open my eyes to realities other than my own. I realised that we actually had many things in common. Although at first it was difficult to connect, within days we began to speak together and share about our different cultures, even teaching each other songs in our native languages. I learned that they too believe that G-d runs the world. We all work to infuse our life with meaning and aspire to get a higher education and build successful careers. Living in Israel, I feel that I am at the centre of the Jewish narrative. It was a powerful experience for me to encounter Jews who prioritise Judaism in their life in a remote corner of the world.”
“The Cycalive initiative allows me to embark on what will be the hardest task of my life so far. I know that I need to be fit, not just physically but also spiritually and emotionally, and the journey will hopefully present an opportunity to grow in these areas. Johannesburg to Durban is a long way and to cycle it is going to be a challenge. The distance scares me and the fact that it takes a week is even scarier. Whether or not I succeed, the biggest success for me is if I walk away being able to say that I made a friend – then I can say I completed Cycalive,” says Mendel. “My boys have always come back mentally stronger and more responsible. Cycalive has made me a better principal,” says Mr Zimba. And as they ride into Moses Mabhida, their faces shine with this, their eyes alight, and as you witness it, you just know that they will walk away changed, grown, and inspired. “Every year I experience the same phenomenon: a bunch of boys get on to their saddles in Houghton and five days later get off their bicycles on the Durban Beachfront as grown men,” says Rabbi Chaikin. This year Cycalive takes place from 21-25 August. For more information on how to get involved, visit: www.facebook.com/cycalivesa