My plan is to ride in the Hazon New York bike ride over Labor Day weekend.
Hazon is the hebrew word for vision.
Hazon is the name of the non-profit organization which runs a variety of programs related to the physical world from a Jewish perspective.
This is a reasonably radical statement. Jewish perspectives (especially over the last 2,000 years) have often had very little to do with the physical world. Although much of earlier Jewish history (and much of Jewish teaching) does relate to the land, to agriculture, and to farming, this atrophied as an area of communal interest once exiled from the land of Israel. Any farming was related to subsistence or making a basic living, and was relegated to the realm of regular work. Jews looked beyond farming or other work and aspired to contributing to the wellbeing of the community, charity (or tzedakah, related to the word "justice"), study of Torah or other texts, prayer in Synagogue, and other communal and cerebral activities. Jews did not ignore the physical world, but nor did they seek to better themselves through it.
This does not mean Jews denied the physical world entirely. Jewish perspectives can and do recognize the physical world - but mostly around issues of the body. Much physical daily activity is regulated by Jewish law - the laws of Kosher food being a great example. The rules of eating Kosher food present a concrete, physical, reminder of a basic bodily funtion. Even Jews who do not keep the rules of eating Kosher face similar physical manifestations at festival meals (the Passover seder) or fast days (such as Yom Kippur).
A century ago many Zionists saw the rebuilding of a Jewish State in Israel as an opportunity to reconnect Jews to the land, the outdoors, the environment. (A Zionist is a Jewish patriot, despite other people's desire to define it otherwise.) This came from religious Zionists, who looked forward to reestablishing the sabbatical year (when agricultural land lies fallow every seventh year) and from anti-religious Zionists, who looked for the opportunity to give Jews access to the most basic means of production: the land.
Yossi Abramowitz quotes Ahad Ha'am, in aspiring to the formation of the modern State of Israel,
"If, as we hope, there is to be a third (Jewish commonwealth) its fundamental principle, on the national as on the individual plane, will be neither the ascendancy of the body over spirit, nor the suppression of the body for the spirit’s sake, but the uplifting of the body by the spirit."Ahad Ha'am saw the balance of the spiritual and the physical being the hope of the Jewish people.
Nowadays this seems almost trite. Yoga and exercise, organic food and clean air ... these are seen as spiritual as well as physical imperatives. The Jewish community too is finding its way forward in these areas, and Hazon is a leading example. There are many other examples out there including my old friend Rabbi Mike Comins and his TorahTrek initiative, Diane Bloomfield with her TorahYoga work, COEJL, the Teva Learning Center, Adama Fellowship program, and more at the Isabella Freedman Jewish retreat center. This is a short list, and I am sure I have offended at least one close friend by forgetting their favorite project. In Israel there are myriads of such organizations as well.
However, seen through the prism of the mainstream Jewish community, especially outside Israel, it is still a radical notion to look at the physical world from a Jewish perspective. I am a supporter of Hazon, and a board member, precisely because of this synthesis.
Hazon is a leader in thinking about such opportunities to touch people's spiritual lives through the physical world, and touch people's physical wellbeing through a Jewish prism. The bike rides are not the only Hazon activities, but they are the flagship programs right now. I think Ahad Ha'am's notion of the body being uplifted by the spirit is absolutely congruent with the Vision of Hazon, and this is one of the extra little self-encouragements I need while my legs uplift my body up the hills of Newton on my new bike.
Feel free to ask me questions about Hazon and the bike rides. Perhaps I will see you at one of them.