Tom Peled has a goal: Livestrong for the Jewish world.
The Israeli is finding inspiration in biking champion Lance Armstrong’s cancer awareness organization as he prepares for a 3,000-mile bike trek across the United States to raise money for his own Bike for the Fight to support cancer research in Israel.
The trip, beginning Aug. 1 in Los Angeles, will take him to numerous communities. He anticipates arriving in New York three months later, having spent Shabbat in host communities.
Peled conceived the project after his father died last year of pseudomyxoma peritonei, a type of abdominal cavity cancer.
To channel his grief, the young man took his bike to Berlin and proceeded to cycle across Europe, spanning 3,000 miles and six countries.
“I had no big purpose or goal,” said Peled, 24, who had finished his mandatory Israeli army service shortly before his father’s death. “I just wanted to clear my mind, experience something new and challenge myself.”
The trip lasted three months.
“I had such an amazing journey, did all this work, had all this time to think,” said Peled, who lives in Kfar Achim, in southern Israel.
He realized that he could use his love for adventure and biking for a cause.
“In America it’s popular to bike or walk for a cause, and I want to promote that in Israel,” Peled said.
With no fundraising experience, he gathered a group of his and his father’s closest friends to build a plan. Peled wanted to help find a cure for the disease that took his father.
“I knew if I wanted to do this on a bigger scale, I had to reach out to the largest and strongest organizations in Israel” for support, he says.
Peled contacted the Israel Cancer Research Fund, an American-based nonprofit that raises money for cancer research in Israel. Since 1975, the fund has donated more than $40 million to support cancer research studies in Israel.
Whatever money Peled raises during his Bike for the Fight will go to the ICRF.
Peled believes that research is the key to finding a cure.
“My father’s doctors looked me in the eye and said, ‘There is no solution. We can’t do anything for him,’ " he recalls. "I want to support cancer research in Israel and make sure Israeli scientists don’t need to travel abroad to conduct their studies.
“Israel is the startup nation. The cure will come from here.”
Eric Heffler, ICRF's national executive director, calls Peled "one of the most extraordinary young men I've ever met."
"I wish everyone in the world, when faced with such a horrible tragedy, could find such a positive strategy of coping with their grief,” he said.
Peled also secured sponsorship from Microsoft Israel. The company has created a Bike for the Fight app for the ride's Facebook fan page so that people can track Peled’s progress.
Visitors to the page also may purchase a segment of the ride or donate to the ICRF; Microsoft will match the amount raised through the app.
"When we were introduced to the Bike for the Fight idea, we saw the potential support that Microsoft employees can offer this unique initiative," Dana Whol-Shoushan, Microsoft Israel's manager of community affairs and social responsiblity, told JTA.
Peled says he plans the app, Facebook and Twitter to spread the word, "so that people will feel a connection to the project.”
For connecting, Peled has multiple strategies. He has arranged partnerships with El Al, which is providing his round-trip tickets, as well as Hillel, Maccabi World Union, the JCC Association, the Reform movement and the Israeli Scouts.
He plans speaking engagements at JCCs, summer camps and college campuses, and will promote his project at the JCC Maccabi Games' opening ceremonies in Memphis and Houston.
The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, where Peled is a first-year student, is helping to launch the Bike for the Fight campaign by sponsoring a June 1 student bike trip through Tel Aviv to raise awareness.
Peled doesn't want Bike for the Fight to be a one-time event.
“I hope that this can happen every year, maybe even with different routes, maybe not even with biking," he said. "I hope that Bike for the Fight will be a name, like the Livestrong for the Jewish world.”
“I hope that it means awareness and research, taking the bad things that happen and turning them into positive things.”