THERE are times when tragedy and loss can be the biggest motivators in life.
For 24-year-old Israeli Tom Peled, this was certainly the case. His father died of cancer in 2011 after an eight-year battle with the disease. “I didn’t have a goal or purpose. It was a hard time for all of us,” he said.
Peled realized that he needed a physical outlet to manage his grief. He embarked on a cycling journey through six European countries.
“It was a hard experience being by myself and managing myself,” Peled recalled.
“Last year, I didn’t know what was going to happen in the evening or who I was going to meet.” As it turned out, Peled discovered a connection and purpose he didn’t expect to find; the journey became his purpose and goal beyond a way to sooth his grief.
“As I was biking, it gave me good energy and hope. I realized there’s huge potential; wouldn’t this be great to do again for a bigger cause and connect people going through what I went through and raise money for something?”
That was the beginning of BFF, Bike for the Fight, a campaign to raise money for the North American-based Israel Cancer Research Fund, which gives grants to Israeli cancer researchers.
Of course, the idea didn’t come to him overnight. It was a process and a push from the father of his longtime friend Eran Rozen.
“My father was one of the first people to help Tom think of the idea [to ride and raise money for a cause].”
Eran was traveling abroad while plans were unfolding. But then, in a tragic twist of fate, Eran lost his father, too . . . in an airplane crash.
“A few days after the shiva, Tom and I spoke and he told me about his project. I wanted to help but never thought I would be part of the journey. But like the energy of the project, it carried me away.”
Now, Eran is his support on the rides: driving the gear, managing logistics, making contacts across the country, ensuring all the events happen as planned, and updating their followers via the Internet.
BFF is taking Tom across the US from Los Angeles to New York and points in between, including Boulder and Denver.
Along the way, Peled says in addition to raising money, he hopes to raise awareness of who Israelis are and what they stand for, thereby strengthening the bond between American and Israeli Jews.
“I think many people outside Israel see Israel as more focused on security issues. Suddenly we come and show them something else, like research and young people and start ups and social startups and volunteer work” — especially volunteer work, he says.
“I think that people outside of Israel don’t know this side of Israel well enough.”
There are four people involved in BFF to date. In addition to Peled and Rozen, Roey Peleg helps manage the project and is in charge of navigation and medical needs.
Luca Seres is an independent filmmaker putting together a documentary about the trip.
All four are college students, working in their free time. No one is paid for this work. That’s not part of Tom’s goal.
“Besides raising money for cancer research, we hope to inspire people who experience trauma in their lives to take it to a positive place and do some good in the world.”
It was never Peled’s goal to do a ride or two and call it a day.
He wants BFF to become the Livestrong of the Jewish world. So far, it seems, he’s on the right path.
They’ve raised nearly $40,000, enough to fund one Israeli scientist for a year; and Peled and crew still have a long way to go before reaching their final destination.
Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News