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Cycling for togetherness in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (JTA) — The Jews call it “b’yachad.” The blacks call it “ubuntu.”

Whatever the term, it was the spirit of

togetherness that marked the launching Sunday of the bar mitzvah-year Cycalive, a 400-mile bike ride fund-raiser from Johannesburg to Durban that brings together Jewish students from the Torah Academy Boys’ High School of Johannesburg with students from the Moletsane High and Pace secondary schools in the black township of Soweto.

The idea is to promote togetherness and road safety, and raise funds for the participating schools from Soweto. Cycalive usually raised about $18,000 each year.

The date of this year’s launch, March 21, marked South Africa’s Human Rights Day and the 50th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre, when police opened fire in 1960 on protesters in Soweto, killing 69 people. The anniversary also was the first official Mandela Day event on the 2010 calendar leading up to anti-apartheid activist and ex-President Nelson Mandela’s 92nd birthday on July 18.

This year’s cycle kicked off amid a raucous celebration, complete with police escort, the roar of motorcycles — many with Jewish riders from Steelwings and Rolling Thunder — and the rousing music of the brass band of the Field Band Foundation from the nearby town of Springs. The band is comprised of once underprivileged black youths trained and sponsored by South African Jewish philanthropist Bertie Lubner.

Before the students set off pedaling, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein said, “This is more than a physical journey, it is a journey of hope. The central principle is we are all human beings created in the image of God.”

Goldstein said it also was a celebration of “the power of nation building” through sport, the innocence of youth and the simple joys of life in our technology-rushed society.

One student on the ride, Raphael Leepilo of Moletsane, told JTA, “I am very happy. I have never been to Durban, never seen the sea. I am a practicing Christian and am now going to learn about the Jewish religion.”

Sibusiso Nanga of Pace was looking forward to an “amazing experience.”

Yosef Jameson of the Torah Academy said, “I think it’s going to be a bonding session, getting to know people from different cultures.”

Rabbi Motti Hadar, principal of the Torah Academy Boys’ High who as a student there was at the head of his class and cycled to Durban, said this was his second ride from Johannesburg to Durban. The ride, he said, “is a great opportunity for the boys. It helps them learn about others and, more importantly, about themselves.”

Rabbi Dovid Hazdan, the Torah Academy’s dean, accompanied the students on their journey and said they’re traveling with their "tzitzit flying in the wind."

Pace Principal Dan Zimba said, “In terms of our kids learning Jewish culture and that there are other religions, this is their first contact. It promotes understanding, respect and recognition.”

Since the first Cycalive 13 years ago, the participating schools from Soweto have become among the best in the township. The funds raised by the event helped them improve their library, set up intercom systems, and purchase computers and audio-visual aids.

The communications manager for the Nelson Mandela Foundation sent a message to the participants praising their effort.

“We appreciate your commitment to Mandela Day,” said the spokesman, Sello Hatang. “Please spread the word as you stop in villages, towns and cities, in churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, schools and hospitals along the way on the road to Durban.”

Marlene Bethlehem, former deputy chairwoman of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, as well as a past president of the umbrella body of South African Jewry, the Board of Deputies, commended the Cycalive organizers for bringing people of different backgrounds together.

“Where there is no vision, the people will perish,” she said.

The students did not take the highway but a longer route to Durban. When they arrive there Thursday, they are expected to parade through the city’s streets accompanied by traffic police and the Durban Field Band.

Civic and Jewish community leaders from the coastal city will meet them on the steps of City Hall at the ride’s conclusion.

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