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    To raise support and visibility for AVODAH, the Jewish Service Corps, while becoming an agent for social change over 3,100 miles of biking.


    AVODAH is an organization that provides an opportunity for young people to engage in social justice work while fostering Jewish values. We Corps member live in an intentional Jewish community while engaging in work for social change.

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Article in the Washington Jewish Weekly

Emma Epstein trains for her cross-country bike ride.

Road warrior
Washington to Washington, activist to bike cross-country for Avodah
by Richard Greenberg, Associate EditorEmma Epstein’s rules of the road (two-wheel division) explores topics ranging from patching flat tires to eating properly (hard-boiled eggs get a nod) to surviving the bug wars.

“Even if at the beginning, you think, oh well I will be biking sooo fast that the bugs won’t get to me … well you are dead wrong,” she wrote in a recent blog post, adding: “When the going gets dull, literally and you feel like taking your sunglasses off for lack of sun. DON’T! Those darn bugs that coated your chest will only start to pelt you in the eyeballs … .”

Epstein, 23, will soon have ample opportunity to encounter the insect world at high speed, feel the burn from screaming quads and experience whatever other challenges surface on a transcontinental bicycle tour.

The District resident will lead a 3,100-mile trek, slated to begin next week following a Thursday morning breakfast sendoff at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. The terminus is Seattle, Epstein’s hometown.

The bike tour is her way of raising awareness of and money for Avodah: The Jewish Service Corp, an organization that places young adults in full-time jobs at nonprofit agencies to fight poverty, build communities and otherwise live Jewish values. Avodah is endorsing the trip.

On Sunday, Epstein will complete her year of Avodah service, which she fulfilled by working at the CAIR (Capital Area Immigrants Rights) Coalition, a District-based organization committed to ensuring that “all immigrants are treated with fairness, dignity and respect for their human and civil rights.”

Epstein hopes to raise about $18,000 through pledges and other contributions, and has taken in about $2,000 so far. Proceeds from the tour will be used primarily to underwrite program costs at Avodah’s District operation, which has been forced to trim some initiatives due to dwindling donations. (The organization also operates in Chicago, New Orleans and New York.)

“It’s pretty courageous of her to do this,” said Elissa Oshinsky of Bethesda, a member of Avodah’s D.C. advisory council, who has contributed to Epstein’s rolling fund-raiser, known officially as AVODAHcycle. “It sounds like a good investment of her time, but it’s a pretty bold step. I bike 35 miles a day and that’s a lot.”

“Emma’s a very enthusiastic, committed and inspiring person,” said District resident and Avodah alumna Rivka Burstein-Stern, 26, who grew up with Epstein in Seattle. “She’s taking action, which is what we’re taught to do in Avodah.”

Epstein said the idea for a cross-country trip began germinating about a year ago when she learned that a group of Oregonians were planning to bike from their home state to the District. “I would have loved to do it,” she explained, but “wanted it to have a greater purpose.”

To help fulfill that purpose, Epstein plans to discuss Avodah’s work – and how it has helped shape her values in a profound way – when she meets with Jewish groups and others along the way. “Growing up in Seattle,” she said, “I went to protests and helped at a food bank, but until Avodah, I had never really based that in something greater, like religious values.”

Her itinerary includes stops in Chicago; Fairfield, Iowa; Omaha; Denver and San Francisco. In Pittsburgh, she plans to talk about Avodah during a dessert reception program dubbed “Sweets, Cycles and Social Justice” to be held at the home of a local rabbi. She hopes to blog about her exploits as frequently as possible (she’ll have a blog at http://www.washingtonjewishweek.com).

Although she will be put up for the night by her various hosts, Epstein also plans to camp out when such accommodations are not available.

A friend from Seattle, 24-year-old J.P. Sauerlender, will accompany her for the entire trip. A co-worker at the CAIR Coalition, Alli Van Beek, 23, will ride with them from the District to Chicago, Van Beek’s home.

Epstein said roughly 200 people turned down her e-mail invitation for them to accompany her on AVODAHcycle, usually citing the demands of a full-time job. “I remember one person said, “Good luck to you and your legs,’ ” she recalled with a chuckle. “When else could I do this?”

Epstein hopes to average 60 miles a day (riding only a half-day on Shabbat), which would put her in Seattle in roughly 10-11 weeks, including rest stops. She has been building her endurance through a training regimen. Her longest bike ride thus far was a recent trek to and from Harpers Ferry, 120 miles round-trip in two days.

Asked about her mindset as launch day nears, Epstein said: “I’m a little nervous.” But pretrip preparations “have definitely consumed my life. Any trepidations might be hidden under my activity.”

And after the trip? “I don’t know,” she said. “I’ll probably spend a month or so at my parents’ getting some rest and thinking about the next step.”


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