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Sep 8, 2013

Geerz gears up Beit Shemesh youth

There are a lot of great organizations doing great work in Bet Shemesh (as there are great organizations all over Israel and in other countries as well). I am in the mood to highlight some of them, perhaps it is an attempt to do a good deed for the High Holidays season, perhaps it will expand further out, or perhaps it will just stop here. I asked Geerz - one of those great organizations, to send me information for a post to highlight them.

A Guest Post by Geerz

In a culture dominated by technology, in which apathy and complacency prevail, in a society where, regardless of socio -economic status, parents are compelled to work long hours: what forum is there for adolescents to grow into healthy individuals and the future leaders of our community?  How are they able to expand their spirituality beyond Batei Knesset and Batei Midrash; exceed their perceived physical capabilities; explore their mental abilities beyond the classroom; and expand their emotional capacity? Rabbi
Nachum Wasosky, founder of Geerz, seems to have fou nd the answer in extreme sports: more specifically in mountain biking – one of the most accessible outdoor activities available to the greater Beit Shemesh community.

Rabbi Wasosky has worked closely with the youth, both locally and in the United States, for more than 12 years. In his work he has identified the need for a more proactive approach to develop life skills among adolescents. In his hobby he recognized a means to do this. So he founded Geerz, a non-profit youth leadership development program,  in 2012.

“The life lessons, skills and traits (middot) we need to learn in order to be successful as adults are inherent to mountain biking,”  says Wasosky. “When faced with a challenging single track, a rider can be confronted by something as physically grueling as a steep uphill climb; as mentally rigorous as navigating a rocky downhill descent, all while developing his middot.”

What’s more, mountain biking with Geerz offers young riders an opportunity to unplug from calling, emailing or  texting their friends and for ge close, meaningful relationships with their mentors and peers in the riding group. “The fact that this all happens outdoors in the surrounding Judean Hills, which is infused with so much of our history as Jews, has so many advantages,” Rabbi Wasosky points out. “Apart from the spiritual aspect of encountering the Tanach at every turn, there is the element of being out in nature whi ch
should not be underestimated.”

Research undertaken worldwide, including that by cognitive and neural scientists at the University of Utah, physiological anthropologists at Chiba University in Japan, and physiology professors at the University of Michi gan all points to nature as a perfect setting to enhance cognition, improve mood and lower anxiety, and solidify experiences into permanent long -term memories.

The format of the Geerz leadership programs, designed for boys ranging in age from eight to eighteen, is a structured curriculum that means to derive life skills and character building lessons from each specifically selected biking trail. There are 24 rides during the school year for groups of up to 10 riders. In its first year alone, 100 kids from Ramat Beit Shemesh signed up to the Geerz  experience. In the summer of 2013, 300 kids were enrolled in the six-week mini program at a summer camp in Upstate New York...

Camp Mesorah incorporated a unique and internationally successful leadership mountain biking program called GEERZ. The new program has never been seen before in the Jewish camping world. GEERZ mountain biking program, imported from Israel, has both boys and girls signing up for an all inclusive mountain biking workshop. Founded in Israel by Rabbi Nachum Wasosky, originally of Pittsburgh, PA, GEERZ is a program dedicated to developing youth around the world to become next generation leaders. GEERZ works to make youth confident and strong in many areas including mentally, physically emotionally, and spiritually, through the lessons of mountain biking. GEERZ utilizes the natural qualities that mountain biking elicits and has developed a curriculum to teach and strengthen leadership skills in its participants. The curriculum is customized for all ages and skill levels.

Donny Fein, a GEERZ board member and avid mountain biker who lives in Bet Shemesh, Israel, has brought the GEERZ program and curriculum to Camp Mesorah. Donny was excited to bring the program to Mesorah but never expected the masses he has attracted including husbands of staff that come up just for weekends! The camp’s large property is perfect for biking and with the permission of the camp owners, Ari Katz and Joseph Stansky, Donny guided by GEERZ, mapped out and built mountain biking trails on the camp’s grounds. More trails are being built and will continue to be built as the program grows. Camp Mesorah also invested in high end mountain bikes in different sizes each with water cages and helmets to ensure the safety of the campers. Over 300 youth will have benefitted from Geerz at Camp Mesorah by the end of this summer.

One camper said, “Mountain biking makes me feel empowered.” How does the GEERZ curriculum do this? After unplugging from all of today’s technological distractions, campers suit up with the proper safety equipment and go on an intense ride through beautiful mountains. Then the campers are instructed to stop while they focus on only the guide. They are given a small snack and are presented with a ten minute leadership lesson. The lesson demonstrates to the campers how mountain biking skills and frame of mind while biking can be applied to one’s life. These lessons enhance their relationships, build their sense of self worth and increase their success. An example of this is learning to climb uphill on a bike. A rider needs to be in an easy-low gear, keep a loose grip on the handlebars and scoot forward on the seat, bend the elbows and attack. While climbing, one’s mind might be filled with negative messages such as “I can’t,” “It’s too hot,” or “It’s too hard.” That is precisely when the curriculum kicks in and teaches the riders how to persevere. The campers learn that while riding, and also in life, there are many hurdles that might seem impossible to overcome. On the trail, the riders will be helped, encouraged, and given the tools in order to succeed. Once they succeed, the guide will point out that for the rest of their lives, they will be able to look back at this moment and remember their success. Donny finds that he is often approached by campers and staff after the rides not just about the biking, but to discuss that day’s lesson as well.

Camp Mesorah is thrilled with the success of the GEERZ mountain biking program and is looking forward to expanding the program next year with more trails and more riders.

For information about bringing GEERZ to your city or how to become a partner, you can contact Geerz directly by emailing admin @ geerz.org. Be sure to visit us at www.geerz.org.

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