Rabbi goes the extra (50) miles for shul


Who was that be-goggled cyclist who zipped past you in Forest Park?

If you were in the park during the last month, you may have seen Rabbi Ze’ev Smason. He has been training for the Rabbi-Ride-Around Rally, scheduled for Sunday. Sponsored by Nusach Hari B’nai Zion Congregation — the largest Orthodox shul in St. Louis — the event will benefit the entire Jewish community through outreach and educational programs for children, teens and adults.

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Rabbi Smason, 53, lives in University City with his wife, Chani. They have nine children and three grandchildren. Smason suspended his training regimen recently to answer questions about the Rabbi-Ride-Around Rally and picnic.

How far are you riding?

I’ll ride 50 miles, which is nine loops around the park. I call it the Tour de Hamster.

Are you riding alone?

No – I am inviting others to ride as well. I tell people they may ride with me or pledge money. Most of them have pledged money.

What is the tally so far?

At this point, we have collected between $3,500 and $4,000, so I’m worth about $75 per mile. This is a win-win situation for the congregation, because we’ll send a non-verbal message to the community that Judaism is a whole-person experience that involves the soul and the body, we’ll be able to expand our outreach and we’ll have a nice social event.

How did you come up with this idea?

I’m into exercise. I always tell people I am active – I jump to conclusions, exercise my options, make leaps of faith – but it’s true that I enjoy working out as part of living a healthy lifestyle. I thought this event would be a good way to send a message to the community about the importance of health and exercise.

Isn’t this an unusual way to raise money?

It’s a novelty, designed to draw the attention of members of my congregation and also of people in the community. We always say we are the unorthodox Orthodox shul. This event is our way of saying that observant Judaism is fun, relevant and meaningful. Plus, this event is something many people can relate to.

When did your interest in cycling develop?

When I was younger, riding a bike was something I did regularly, but then life happens and things get busy — especially with nine children. I put cycling on hold for a time, but the opportunity arose in the last few years, so I blew the dust off my old bike and headed out.

How did it go?

They say you never forget how to ride a bike, and that’s true. I also see a parallel with the theme of the High Holiday period, which is coming up. Real pleasure comes when we challenge ourselves, push beyond our comfort zone, set goals and seek to accomplish them. I always say that people should challenge their limits, rather than limit their challenges.

Have you previously ridden as far as 50 miles?

No, so this will be a significant accomplishment for me.

About the stylish rendering of the cyclist on the flyer — is that you?

It’s what I would like to look like!


WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 13

TIME: The ride starts at 8:30 a.m.; picnic begins at 12:30 p.m.

WHERE: Forest Park

HOW MUCH: Donations accepted

MORE INFO: 314-991-2100 ext. 2