The comments below were expressed in a letter by Nigel Savage, president and CEO of Hazon, an organization dedicated to building a more sustainable world within the Jewish community and beyond.
I rode into work, as I do many days of the year, on a beautiful bike path on a beautiful day. My organization, Hazon, worked quite hard for several years to increase the number of protected bike lanes in New York City. We’re proud of that work, and I sometimes say to people, “and the statistics show that protected bike lanes reduce fatalities and injuries, both for bike riders and pedestrians ….”But of course those statistics didn’t allow for a day like Tuesday. A few hours after I rode in, a crazy guy — but not randomly crazy, a guy with ideological method to his murderousness — mowed down a bunch of people who happened to be on the bike path at that moment. As we know, eight of them never got up. I rode home an hour later, past the police and the barricades and the camera crews. And past two little kids — wee high, 3 feet tall if that — in cute white Star Wars stormtrooper outfits. “May the force be with all of us,” I thought. Then just a few hours after that, 170 of our riders rode from Jerusalem to Ashkelon on the first day of the 2017 Arava Institute Hazon Israel Ride. People call it “the Israel Ride,” or sometimes “the Hazon Ride,” but the line that really matters comes after the colon: “Cycling for Peace, Partnership and Environmental Protection.” Which it absolutely is, inspiringly so. I thank everyone on the Israel Ride, and everyone who sponsored them. This year — a hundred years to the day after Lord Balfour wrote that letter to Lord Rothschild — they’re riding on to Urim and Mashabei Sadeh and Nitzana. Just past where the IDF, earlier this week, blew up a tunnel out of Gaza, killing a number of Palestinians who were thwarted in their desire to murder a number of Israelis.
What a strange world this is. Especially since I came back from my sabbatical, I have been loving the ride into work in the morning more than ever before. I daven Shacharit — the morning service, parts of it — while I’m riding in. It’s hard for me to explain how beautiful it is, how grounding. The river, the path, the landmarks along the way. The trees. The boat basin and then Midtown, the new Hudson Yards going up. The Shed. Smiling to people. Davening the way Buddhists teach us to meditate — saying the words, singing them, thinking them with kavannah (intention); and then, whether I want it or not, my mind wanders off in any direction; and when I notice that I have wandered, I come back. Elohai Neshama … Birchot Hashachar … the Shema … Signposts along the way, like the physical signposts I ride past.
And the traffic alongside me, the cars, people on Citi Bikes, skateboarders, electric bikes (illegal on the bike lanes, but ubiquitous anyway). The crazy people riding toward me with no hands on the handlebars, texting away.
It is just so beautiful. Really, so very beautiful.
And I think about my Zaydie, injured fighting for England in the trenches in 1917. I think about what my ancestors might have eaten in 1817, or what they did if they had a toothache in 1717, or where they put human waste in 1617. I ride just past Stuyvesant and turn left on the block before Goldman Sachs and head onto Maiden Lane.
It’s not one thing I want to say this morning. I celebrate New York. I celebrate Israel. I celebrate bike lanes. I celebrate civility, civilization, peace. Trees, gardens, gardeners. Rabbis. Pumpkins. The turn of the seasons. People who work for nonprofits. People who donate to nonprofits. The Empire State Building. Newspaper editors. Nurses. Policemen. Elected officials who are honorable. The people who clean the toilets and clear the streets and take the trash away. Central Park. Gan Shoshanim. The moshava. Pardes. The great blessing of being born in this time, with so many extraordinary blessings that we so easily — too easily — take for granted.
I find myself thinking that we don’t speak up enough for moderation as an actual virtue, for the vital center at the heart of communities and traditions.And in the last few weeks, I have found myself rereading Yeats’ The Second Coming. A few of its lines are so well known that they are almost clichés. But the poem is strong and strange and intense:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
… And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
“The best lack all conviction” is often quoted. But I find myself drawn to “The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” The ceremony of innocence is drowned. What a remarkable line. I don’t really know what it means; I don’t know what the whole poem means. But one sort of feels it. Its atmosphere and its feeling are so strong.
Yeats was a mystic, a Swedenborgian (like Blake) and an Irish nationalist. He wrote this two years after the Balfour Declaration, a year after the Great War ended. My Zaydie survived, but 50 million people in Europe were dead — accidentally, in a way, since no one really intended the war. The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
So … so here we are.
Let me end this slightly meandering-seeming email with this: Rachel Aronson, manager of Hazon’s greening and climate initiatives, and I were at Congregation Agudath Israel (CAI) in Caldwell, New Jersey. And in a way that I almost never do, I allowed myself to express a larger vision, quite strongly. I hate people telling me what to do, so I never wanted Hazon to be preachy. I’m drawn to moderation, or, at least, to the understanding that there is validity to different arguments. I’m a Zionist, for instance, essentially a liberal Zionist, but I empathize with the Israeli right, and with the Israeli left, and the moderate Palestinians. I don’t agree with the radical Palestinians, but I could explicate their position.
At CAI on Shabbat, I was talking about Hazon’s Seal of Sustainability. And I said, in essence, that we have to raise our game. We have to walk the walk. Shuls need to do this. Jewish institutions have to do this. The American Jewish community has a carbon footprint larger than 120 nations, including countries like Ireland and Hungary and Israel itself. And we have to get it down. We have to do the right thing; we have to focus and take it seriously, and if we do that, we’ll respect Jewish tradition, and we’ll make a difference in the world. And we’ll inspire our young people as well, which matters too.
And so this morning is the start of the rest of our lives. We have so so much to be grateful for. Let’s not slouch. Let’s not grouch. Let’s celebrate the miracles of this time, this moment — and not mess it up. Let’s be responsible and moderate, and not support crazy people, and not devalue truth. And let’s ride safely to work, all of us, every day, everywhere, today, right now.
Registration for the 2018 Israel Ride is now open. Savage welcomes people to join him for what he describes as “a truly wonderful experience.”