It’s not every day you see a few dozen American bikers reciting kiddush in the
Western Wall plaza, or anywhere for that matter.
Nonetheless, there they
were late Sunday afternoon, a group of more than 70 Christian Harley Davidson
enthusiasts from across the United States, taking part in their own rather
unique pilgrimage to Israel.
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Organized Christian tours are as common to
Israel as chicken dinners and nosy inlaws, but this week’s “Run for the Wall
Israel” had a style we don’t see too often around these parts.
of 71 pilgrims were brought to Israel by the Amarillo, Texas-based Christian
ministry “M25: Mission of Hope,” in conjunction with “Coral Tours” and the
On Sunday afternoon they stood at the Kotel and prayed
for safety of Israel and the Jewish people, and held a moment of silence for
those who have fallen in Israel’s and America’s wars. They also passed around
crackers and grape juice before reciting the traditional blessings of kiddush
wine and hamotzi
on bread. They drew no shortage of curious glares, but
for the most part they were greeted by smiling locals and tourists, who posed
for pictures with the grizzled pilgrims.
The group was heavily Texan,
with around 20 bikers from Amarillo and smaller panhandle towns like nearby
Skellytown and Borger. The patches on their jackets bore a wide-range of
nicknames from the mundane like “Ed” to more intriguing like “Bootlegger Red,”
“Sheepdog,” “The Menace,” “Terminator,” and “Bugslide.”
plains of the Texas Panhandle and the friendly driving culture of the Lone Star state
are worlds away from the crowded roads and cutthroat drivers of the Holy Land, a
fact that wasn’t lost on Pastor Gary Burd of M25.
“The traffic has been
challenging, it’s not the United States, they’re more aggressive drivers than we
are in the States,” the pastor offered, in a diplomatic critique of the Israeli
He added, “when they honk, we start moving.”
Lucky for the
bikers, they’ve had a police escort guide them on the trip so far. By the time
the 10-day trip leaves on Thursday, they will have ridden across the country to
Caesarea, Nazareth, Mount Carmel, the Kinneret, the Golan Heights and down to
Masada, Ein Gedi and elsewhere in the Negev.
Before heading to Jerusalem,
the group met outside the Armored Corps Museum at Latrun, a site of pivotal
battles during the 1948 and 1967 wars, which Burd said had special meaning to
“We chose Latrun because of the military importance. We came
over here to make a statement that we appreciate the IDF and all the armed
forces. We’re just some patriots from America and some military people. We
wanted to come over as Christians to say thanks to the IDF because they have
been so good about keeping this land free so we can come and visit
Burd said the visit to Israel was in a sense a continuation of the
group’s yearly coast-to-coast ride from California to the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial Wall in Washington, where he said they pay homage to American
servicemen who fell in the Vietnam War and those POWs (prisoners of war) and
MIAs (missing in action) who never made it home.
He said the group also
came to give humanitarian aid to Israel, bringing over $600,000 in medical aid
that they passed on to an Israeli NGO, potentially making the visit Israel’s
first “HOGtilla” (“Biketilla”?) if you wanted to call it that.
appeared to have an appreciation for all things military, wearing jackets
emblazoned with US service patches and the iconic “POW-MIA you are not forgotten
patch,” and posing for pictures with IDF soldiers repeatedly. The soldiers at
times appeared a bit amused by the sudden outpouring of admiration from
heavily-tattooed perfect strangers wearing sleeveless leather motorcycle vests,
but seemed happy to have their pictures taken regardless.
and motorcycle enthusiast Sa’ar Shapir has been showing the group around Israel
on their trip so far, and said they are “amazing people, they get so excited to
be here in the Holy Land and they just get excited from every thing. They see
soldiers and they honk and wave and smile and they just get a kick out of
Shapir, who the pilgrims nicknamed “U-turn” for his habit of
getting lost and taking the bikers on last second Uturns to right their path,
appeared to express a real appreciation for the outpouring of support from the
bikers, which genuinely seemed to lack any sense of cynicism or ulterior sales
Haim Gutin, The Tourism Ministry’s commissioner for North and South
America said the ministry helped the bikers work out the logistics of
their trip, and assisted them in the months-long process of shipping
their bikes to Israel. Gutin said they also helped them jump the
bureaucratic hurdles at the Ashdod port, and helped the bikers make
their way through customs with their Harleys.
According to Gutin, the trip is part of the Tourism Ministry’s efforts
to bring every North American Christian to Israel once in their lives.
Such a trip, in Gutin’s words “changes their lives, they see the Bible come to life before their very eyes.”
He also expressed his feeling that such visits foster greater solidarity
and appreciation between Israelis and their Christian supporters in the
The crowd at Latrun and the motorcade that traveled to the
Western Wall was joined by a very large contingent from Israel’s small community
of Harley Davidson owners.
One of those hometown Harley riders at Latrun
on Sunday was Yuky Cohen, 46, of Hod Hasharon, who was wearing a leather vest
covered in a patch that read “Sons of Anarchy – Israel,” an homage to the FX
series detailing the life and times of an outlaw motorcycle gang from northern
Cohen, who said the SOAIsrael chapter is completely
law-abiding, said he is one of only around 800 Harley Davidson owners in Israel,
a close-knit group that feels a sense of kinship with one
According to Cohen, this sense of kinship is what brought him to
Latrun on Sunday.
“Usually whenever people who ride Harleys meet, they’re
brothers. If I see someone riding a Harley in Israel, there’s no way I won’t
pull over. If someone rides a Harley, you know they’re OK.”