By Michael Schudrich
As a rabbi I wear many hats throughout the day: in the morning I use the rabbi hat for spiritual activities and communal responsibilities. At some point I will symbolically take that hat off and put on my fundraiser hat knowing all too well that over the last 25 years I would not have accomplished nearly as much in Poland without the faith, encouragement and support of my donors. I vacillate between these roles and then, when it is neither day nor night I wear my other hats such as Dad, friend, and person responsible of taking care of my health and fitness. (In fact I have my very own stationary bike in my home which I use to hang my clothing on every night!)
Rarely am I able to unite all hats, unify all roles which comprise this wonderful life vocation of ‘rabbanut.’ But sometimes with a little mazel a perfect endeavor comes along which combines physical and spiritual, communal and philanthropic. For me it has all come together in the JCC Krakow Ride for the Living.
The third annual bike ride from gates of Auschwitz Birkenau, the holy Jewish graveyard of the past, to the gates of the Jewish Community Center of Krakow which represents survival, perseverance, rebirth and great light fulfills all of my Rabbinic personas at once.
As Chief Rabbi of Poland I have always walked a tightrope between memorializing the past and looking forward to a Jewish future. Often those who believe in one find it hard to focus on the other. The Ride for the Living links these two worlds stating emphatically that our Ashkenazic history and culture was founded in Poland and yet shockingly struck down over 70 years ago the ripples we feel until this very day. At the same time ‘netzach yisrael lo yeshaker’ the eternity of Israel will never falter – we ride towards life, towards a vibrant Jewish community in Krakow comprised of survivors and youngsters, those who never lost their Jewishness and those who only recently discovered it.
It also fuses other aspects of communal life in that the Ride is a fundraiser for Jewish life. Exercise, camaraderie and cohesion all come together on one day to remember, revitalize, and return to Jewish life in Krakow, perhaps the greatest revenge we can exact on our enemies of our past.
The first year the funds raised were used to sponsor a trip for 30 hidden children, child survivors of the Holocaust to Israel, some of them going for the very first time! I am very privileged to be the patron of this years Ride and it will be a great honor to participate and ride together with over 150 riders, local members of the Jewish community as well as supporters from all over the world. I will also ride together with Marcel Zielenski, who himself, after being liberated from Auschwitz, walked back to Krakow to find if any family survived. He rides this time with his son, and the future of the Jewish people.
Ride For The Living has struck a chord in the Jewish world and this year 14 North American JCCs from Miami to Palo Alto will hold satellite rides with their members symbolically cycling alongide us, together, one people, toward a bright Jewish future.