On a somber day of reflection and prayer, a group from Congregation Kol Am of Freehold enjoyed camaraderie, exercise, and Torah study.
The seven spent Sept. 11 bonding and meditating as they rode in the 40-mile Scenic Schuykill Bike Ride between Philadelphia and Fort Washington, Pa. At the precise time the first tower of the World Trade Center fell on 9/11 in 2001, they paused at mile marker 18 so Rabbi Brooks Susman could lead a discussion of the day’s Torah portion.
Michael Shernicoff of Freehold is chair of Kol Am’s Murray Sherman Memorial Fund Committee, begun by the congregation after a much-loved religious-school teacher’s death. He said for the last several years a group of congregants have been riding together every spring to raise money for the fund, which underwrites field trips for students and parents to sites that impart their Jewish heritage, particularly the Jewish immigrant experience.
However, the bike trips became more than fund-raisers: People from teens to seniors and from a variety of professions got to know one another as never before.
“This wide cross-section of the congregation came away with a sense of unity and caring for each other,” said Shernicoff. “We talked and everybody looked out for each other. No one ever rides faster than the slowest rider.”
The congregation added a fall ride “just for fun.” Sussman, who performed the funerals or memorial services for three people who were killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11, enthusiastically embraced the idea of “Torah study on wheels,” as a chance to link remembrance, self-empowerment, and healthful living.
“For our congregation this is a holistic approach to Judaism,” he said.
Shernicoff used to work in the World Trade Center, leaving just before the first bombing there in 1993. A former investigator with the state attorney general’s office, he asked for a transfer to the office of homeland security immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He has since retired.
“I knew people who were in the towers that day,” he said. “We wanted to do a remembrance on 9/11 and not forget the ramifications. The rabbi drew correlations between the Torah portion and how the children of Israel were not prepared for the future as they entered into a covenant with God. The fact is we weren’t prepared for 9/11 and the aftermath of wars and terrorism.”