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Riding Out of Missoula, MT, with Torah on My Mind

Riding Out of Missoula, MT, with Torah on My Mind

Cyclist Kimberly Burnham and a friend stand over a row of bicycles

There’s a moment from 2013 that is forever etched in my head.

I am standing in the parking lot of Har Shalom in Missoula, MT. Beside me in the early morning sunlight is Rabbi Laurie Franklin, who I met just two days earlier, when other Hazon bicyclists and I rode into Missoula on a Tuesday night. She looks at me with soft wise eyes – the kind of wisdom born of tough experiences, I think – as she welcomes me to her synagogue. As she warmly shakes my hand I feel truly seen.

It is my second week of riding in support of sustainable agriculture and the environment. Seattle, WA, is miles behind us, and our destination, Washington, D.C., is seven and half weeks into our future.

As I stand in the Har Shalom parking lot, holding the small Torah scroll we’ve carried with us, I choke with emotion when I read T’filat Haderech, the Traveler's Prayer. I would be carrying the Torah tucked in the back of my cycling jersey for the first time that day, a privilege unimaginable even a few months earlier. We, the Hazon Cross USA riders, prayed each day for a day of shalom, or peace, and, playing with the words, we joked that we were also hoping for shalem, to arrive at our destination in one piece.

Riding into Missoula was special to me because my brother, Paul, had joined us for two days of the ride. We spent a day with the Missoula Jewish community and volunteered at Free Cycles Missoula, learning how to fix discarded bicycles for local people in need of transportation and imagining the people who would receive these bicycles – the looks on their faces and where they would go with newfound freedom. We took pride in making Missoula a better place for some of the people who lived there, knowing we were leaving our mark for good on this town. It was a magical day.

Later, Rabbi Laurie gently puts her arm around me as I melt into tears in the parking lot, overcome with emotion: family, service, and the privilege of carrying the Torah. Her presence calming and strong beside me, I get on my bicycle and head out with 15 or so other riders towards our Shabbat destination of Bozeman, MT.

I imagined that I might never pass this way again, that it is just one of those moments in time vividly etch in my mind. I am headed home, toward the East Coast, with no way of knowing that in the following year, I will move nearby – to Spokane, WA.

I can’t imagine that I will sometimes drive the three and a half hours to Missoula for Friday and Saturday services or that I will enjoy deeply spiritual moments with the Jewish community at Har Shalom’s High Holiday observance. I cannot know, in this moment that I will share in potlucks at Rabbi Laurie’s home, tour her lush garden, or continue my meaningful connection with her.

I cannot possibly imagine that I will think often and fondly of this day in Missoula: the day that, borrowing on Rabbi Laurie's strength and wisdom, I carried the Torah and tried to make the world just a little bit better.

Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Integrative Medicine) served as a Mormon missionary in Tokyo, Japan, left the church of her childhood when she came out as a lesbian, and years later converted to Judaism. She is currently working on a collection of poems about her cross-USA bicycle ride, titled The Journey Home. Kim has a clinical practice in alternative medicine specializing in brain and nervous system disorders in Spokane, WA.  She and her wife, Rabbi Elizabeth W. Goldstein (HUC, NY, 2001) edited an anthology titled Music, Carrier of Intention in 49 Jewish Prayers. Her latest book of poetry is Awakenings: Peace Dictionary, Language and the Mind, a Daily Brain Health Program.

Kimberly Burnham
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