Author: Belling, Suzanne
Date published: April 1, 2010
Journal code: JWEX
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
The Jews call it b'yachad. The blacks call it ubuntu.
Whatever the term, it was the spirit of togetherness that marked the launching of the Bar Mitzvah year of "Cycalive," a 400-mile bike-ride fundraiser 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 both togetherness and road safety, as well as raise funds for the participating schools from Soweto.
This year's race on 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. It was also the first official Mandela Day event on the 2010 calendar leading up to anti-apartheid activist and exPresident 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 that it was also a celebration of "the power of nation building" through sport, the innocence of youth " and the simple joys of life in our technology -oriented society.
One student on the ride, Raphael Leepilo of Moletsane, said: "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 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 Torah Academy Boys High, said that it "is a great opportunity for the boys. It helps them learn about others and, more importantly, about themselves."
Torah Academy dean Dovid Hazdan accompanied the kids with his tzitzit flying in the wind.
Pace principal Dan Zimba noted that "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 event 13 years ago, participating schools have become among the best in Soweto. Funds raised have improved their library, set up intercom systems, and helped purchase computers and audio-visual aids.
The students didn't take the highway to Durban; they chose" a longer route. They arrived at their destination last week - met by civic and Jewish community leaders on the steps of City Hall - where they paraded through the city's streets.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency