It is difficult to think that over five hundred people gather for one particular reason without one’s notice. It is even a more complex thing to think about how that group has grown over the past eleven years. This year, they did not go unnoticed. This critical mass of bicyclist will have their names sanctioned as they gather in the name of Tolerance each year in Sunland Park, New Mexico.
“Tolerance can actually be deciphered on several different levels,” Walter Chayes, founder of the Tour de Tolerance said during a rainy, morning interview at the El Paso Holocaust Museum. “Obviously our primary goal is tolerance in relation to the Holocaust… tolerance to our fellow man is really what we’re all about.
The annual event is sponsored by the El Paso Holocaust Museum as a fundraiser and outreach program to the community, overseen by Lori Shepherd, the museum’s Executive Director. It was during Chayes’s tenure as President of the Board that the race began.
“There weren’t as many bike rides for the community back then I thought it was a good way to have a fundraiser for the museum – to get people in a more active lifestyle and basically give the message of the museum beyond our scope of influence. People might not otherwise come to the museum,” said Shepherd.
Being geographically inconvenient in their beginnings, the El Paso Holocaust Museum was first located in El Paso’s West Side next to the Jewish Community Center.
“People came out because it was a bike ride and it was an opportunity to Segway and say this is a fundraiser for the El Paso Holocaust Museum.” Chayes said.
In an interview with Shepherd, she added, “It has definitely grown in the people’s interest. People who would never normally tour the museum, for pack and pick up say: ‘Oh, let me go and tour the museum,’ because they’ve never been here. We put up a big billboard and it’s got the website, and people look at it and say, ‘What is the Tour de Tolerance?’ and they check it out [sic]. So, in my opinion, I think Chayes opened up a whole new case to an audience for the Tour de Tolerance.”
The Tour is not simply a gather, bike, then leave rally, it is a volunteer driven event that encourages fellowship in the best way possible. Chayes said about the most important part of the Tour de Tolerance, “One of the things we found out earlier on is that people like to eat. The first year at Ft. Bliss… we grilled fresh chicken and the riders were coming in and thought, ‘I’m not going to go home that quickly.’ One of the greatest things is that at the end of the ride, people like to sit down, and eat and talk to friends.”
It is often said that tolerance begins with talking to one another, followed by investing in one another. Chayes and Shepherd are well on their way to bridging the gaps between tolerance and ignorant in the simplest way possible: sharing a bike ride.
“El Paso is so spread out. We are getting people from the far east, north east, west side and Las Cruces,” said Chayes. Shepherd further added, how it has spread onto Juarez, making it and international race.
Chayes hopes to build the Tour de Tolerance to the size of El Tour de Tucson, with a full staff to manage the event year round. For next year, Chayes said he would like a thousand participants, double from this year.
With national fervors stirred seemingly each month, pitting person against person, it seems incredible how one race, one meal, and one friendly greeting can make a difference. For the El Paso Holocaust Museum, the simplest things done in good nature are the greatest things a neighbor could do for their community. For the Tour de Tolerance, that is no small matter at all.