Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

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A Hamsa, a Bicycle and a Common Cause

August 23, 2017
Posted by: Hallie Baron, Associate Director

In 1998, a year after I moved to San Francisco, I took up cycling with a bunch of Jewish young adults I’d met on a Federation YAD-organized canoe trip. I wasn’t quite a YA – I’d actually just turned 40 – but they welcomed me nonetheless.

That trip changed my life completely, introducing me to a community of Jews with which to celebrate the holidays, bicycle, share life events, and much, much more. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be working at JCRC today if it wasn’t for that long-ago adventure.

And it ultimately led me to ride my bicycle across the state of Ohio for the American Cancer Society (how that came to pass is a story for another time), probably as the only Jew and certainly the only one with a hamsa tattoo. I’ve just completed my sixth year participating in that ride, called the Pan Ohio Hope Ride, which raises dollars for cancer research and treatment.

When our country is so divided politically, and in light of Charlottesville and the anticipated events here in San Francisco and Berkeley this weekend, that ride is a strong reminder of how a common cause can help people set aside their differing beliefs and work together to change lives.

The ride travels from Cincinnati to Cleveland over four days, traversing the heartland of Ohio as well as its urban centers, passing hundreds of miles of corn and soybeans, small towns, beautiful rural areas and some big cities. It’s populated by hundreds of people – bicyclists and volunteers, small-town residents and college students, event organizers and EMTs – all coming together to continue the fight against cancer. They come from disparate political, religious, even economic backgrounds, all for a common cause. There are those who race in on Saturday to get to evening church services before the big closing-night dinner and there are those who send us off from the rest stops with a “God bless” to keep us safe on the road. All of them are working together in the true spirit of tikkun olam, although they do not likely know the term.

And then there is my hamsa tattoo and me, both novelties since I am the only person who comes in from California (I’m an Ohio native) and often have to explain what “that design on my calf” is all about. I’m always a little wary about how to talk about the hamsa, since it’s a symbol used both by Muslims and Jews and clearly I’m pretty sure I’m mostly among people who don’t know much about either religion. But once I share that it’s a symbol of protection that I got when I turned 55 to help keep me safe on the road, people smile, tell me it’s pretty cool and we ride on together to our next point of refreshment, encouragement and welcoming cheers.

As I reflect back on this year’s ride, particularly in light of the hate-filled events we witnessed, heard about or for which we are bracing. Perhaps if the haters were out there on bicycles – needing help from a stranger to fix a flat, accepting water or snacks from people who might not look like them, or even just supporting friends or family receiving treatment for cancer from a broad spectrum of medical professionals – their view of the world might change just a little. Next time my hamsa and I are out pedaling, we’re going to put our faith in that possibility.