A group of cyclists from around the country recently visited Oklahoma City to raise awareness of an international organization that connects people through friendship.
Along the way, they were treated to a healthy dose of Oklahoma heat and a large amount of Oklahoma hospitality from the Chabad Jewish Center of Greater Oklahoma City.
Chabad-Oklahoma City hosted the 11 youths and men who are riding across America as part of the national Bike 4 Friendship Cross-Country Tour. The group spent a weekend at the Chabad Community Center for Jewish Life and Learning, 3000 W Hefner Road. The group shared Shabbat services with members of the metro Jewish faith community, among other things.
Ovadia Goldman, rabbi of Chabad-Oklahoma City, said the center opened its doors to the cyclists because their goodwill trip is in keeping with the Chabad's mission to aid and assist the community. Goldman said it was fitting that the cyclists visited Oklahoma City over the Fourth of July weekend because the Friendship Circle “brings a measure of independence to thousands of special-needs children” across the country.
Nissan Kornfeld, one of the group's non-cyclist leaders, said the seven-week trip offered a special way for cyclists to share the mission of Friendship Circle, an international Jewish organization, based in Brooklyn, NY, which pairs teenage volunteers with children, teens and youth adults with special needs. The program's goal is to develop a sense of companionship and community among the participants.
Kornfeld, 22, of Seattle, said the cyclists would ride 3,400 miles through 13 states on their route, making official stops in 40 cities, to complete their tour. He said the cyclists ranged in age from 16 to 67, and participants came from a variety of cities, states and countries, including New York, Atlanta, Australia and Israel. Kornfeld said the Jewish cyclists ride on weekdays and generally break from Friday to Sunday to observe the Jewish Sabbath that begins at sundown Friday and lasts until sundown Saturday.
Zion Giahn, 18, of Queens, N.Y., said they began the trip in San Diego and traveled through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas before making their way to Oklahoma. He said the tour was set to end in New York.
Yoam Katz, 16, of Long Island, N.Y., and Ian Hawk, 18, of Woodmere, N.Y., both said they were part of Friendship Circle programs in their hometowns.
“People don't do this because it's easy. You do it because you know that you've helped people with special needs and that makes it worthwhile,” Katz said.
Hawk said his community was damaged in Hurricane Sandy and he felt empathy for Oklahomans who lost homes and loved ones in the May tornadoes.
At 67, Martin Gordon, a Boston native who now lives in Israel, is the group's oldest cyclist. He said he has participated in several Bike 4 Friendship cycling tours because he has embraced the mission and programs sponsored by Friendship International.
“It really is a worthwhile cause. Little by little, they are trying to make a difference,” he said.
Giahn said he decided to participate in the bike tour because he “has a heart” for children with special needs. He said the most challenging part of the tour was the heat, and the group spent the first two weeks on “night rides” to escape the daytime high temperatures.
Meanwhile, Kornfeld said part of the cyclists' mission on the tour is to raise funds for Friendship Circle programs. However, he said the awareness raised through the goodwill tour was most important.
“The reception in every city has just been unbelievably gracious,” he said. “In each city, leaders come out and meet us and families with special-needs children come out. We get to share that every individual — regardless of how they look and what they are or aren't able to do — is valuable.”