Songwriter sings, rides for wounded warriors
Devorah Gottesman poses for a photo with her guitar and bike in front of the Biloxi lighthouse in Biloxi, Miss., Dec. 14, 2011. Gottesman is a singer/song writer who is riding her bicycle across country in support of the Wounded Warrior program. She began her ride in Hollywood, Calif., and will continue her journey to Jacksonville, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)
Posted 1/4/2012 Updated 1/5/2012
by Steve Hoffmann
81st Training Wing Public Affairs
1/4/2012 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Somewhere east of Biloxi, Miss., Devorah Gottesman is mounted upon her trusty touring bicycle as she continues her cross-country journey. She's determined to go the distance and then some as she carries her precious gear -- the song of the wounded warrior.
Known simply as Devorah by her family, friends and fans, she pauses from her ride in the parking lot of the Biloxi Lighthouse Dec. 14.
"Yeah, I'm completely not willing to throw in the towel," she declares. A resident of Friday Harbor, Wash., the locally-popular singer/songwriter started her "Pennies 4 Patriots"
fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior project Oct. 10 at the American Legion Post 43 in Hollywood, Calif. Her ride is scheduled to end at the Wounded Warrior Project headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla. Jan. 20, but her mission will have just begun.
In addition to money, Devorah rides to raise awareness for the wounded warrior and to bridge a disconnect she feels the average American citizen has toward military service members.
"I keep running into this attitude that, you know, the military just does what it does and we pay taxes and I guess it's helping so I'll keep paying my taxes and let them keep doing what they're doing and I guess it's helping with our freedom," said Devorah. "I want to bring back that intimate connection with the soldier. People have to be inspired before they give. When you give a gift, know why, feel why -- then the amount becomes insignificant."
When she stopped in Biloxi, Devorah has raised less than $5,000, but her goal is to raise $1 million.
"And I'm going to keep riding until I get the million," she added. Armed with a lifetime of musical experience, upbringing and talent and a passion for exercise, Devorah plans to make good on her promise. Having adopted the wounded warrior cause as her own, she feels she has finally found a way to give back. And to her, it feels very right and very good.
"That's the selfish part," she admits. "I'm just living life in all of its awe-inspiring glory."
Devorah didn't so much find the Wounded Warrior Project as the Wounded Warrior Project found her. In 2005, with her music career going well and having just built a home, she was feeling content with her life but had a nagging sense that she needed to give back to a life that had been good to her. But she didn't want to do something for the sake of doing it to make herself feel good. It had to feel right.
"I always try to stay in the moment and do what feels right at the time and not have too many plans and constraints," said Devorah.
So in 2009, she met a Soldier on San Juan Island near Friday Harbor who taught her what serving is all about.
"He brought out a lot of my questions about what freedom would mean to me and what my life as a citizen in this country meant," she explained.
"After hearing me sing, he said, 'You have USO and Wounded Warrior Project written all over your soul.' All of the sudden it just clicked.
"I felt like I had found a perfect match for me -- to honor men and women who are willing to give their entire lives for others. That's a level of service deeper than anything I have ever found. This felt correct to me."
"Wounded warrior sings -- a song about life nobody else sings," begins the song that came to Devorah shortly after meeting the Soldier. Over the next several months as she began to play the song in public, the words and heart of the song as well as the call to take it across the country began to solidify. Then, after playing on the steps of Post 43 to a crowd of more than 100 military, Hollywood dignitaries, veterans and other spectators, she received a motorcycle escort out of town and was off.
Unfortunately, the first half of the ride didn't go as smoothly as she had planned. She lost her bike support in Phoenix due to illness, leaving Devorah stranded at a truckstop in the middle of the desert with 200 pounds of gear and no way to get it from here to there. But these are just the sort of situations that bring clarity to a mission.
"God bless Fort Bliss. God bless Fort Sam Houston," Devorah exclaimed. "And God bless every Soldier who has met me along the way and picked up my stuff, carried it in their rig and either rode with me or drove me to where I needed to go.
"One of the most emotional moments of this ride was sitting around with a team of Soldiers and watching them plan how they were going to complete the mission of getting me to Fort Sam Houston," she recalled. "And they're doing this for me. One Soldier said, 'If you don't feel safe in this town, we'll take watch and stand outside your door all night.' I just started crying."
Throughout her journey, Devorah has been visiting and performing at Veterans Affairs hospitals, schools, American Legion posts, appearing on local news shows and radio stations. She is also hoping to appear on major network shows and print publications.
"It's not just about riding a bike and singing a song," said Devorah. "It's about awareness first -- everything else follows."
And now she's back on track and being followed around by Dave Lancaster, a veteran who's made a career out of bike support. Devorah met up with him in Mandeville, La.
"It's very humbling," remarked Devorah. "I don't understand how when I make this one commitment, everything starts to fall into place, starts to make sense. And it's not really a different turn in my life -- it's reminding me of who I was when I was a child when I remember earliest childhood dreams. That's what's blowing me away. And when you see tears in me, I'm anything but sad. I'm pretty much overwhelmed by the beauty of being alive."
For more information on the "Pennies 4 Patriots" campaign, visit http://www.devorahmusic.com and click on the Wounded Warrior Project link.