Riding to remember

Jewish bikers from across the globe revving up for 2-week tour of Israel.

biker balls 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
biker balls 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel's highways got a good workout this Pessah, with families crossing the country for Seders, trips to far-away beaches and well-deserved holidays. But just as they've settled back down, those roads will feel the tremble of tires again next week. Motorcyclists from Australia, Canada and Israel will make their way around the country in a landmark ride intended to commemorate the Holocaust, celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary and express support for the Jewish homeland. They will start riding on April 29, beginning with a trip to Eilat. Within two weeks, they will traverse the country as far north as the Golan Heights, visiting Yad Vashem on Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 1 and participating in the official Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers ceremony a week later at Yad La'Shiryon, the Israeli Armored Corps Memorial site and Museum at Latrun. Over 100 motorcyclists are expected to attend the ride, including 30 Canadians and six Australians, some of whom have never been to Israel before. The participants are members of various international Jewish motorcycle clubs, including the Canadian and Australian branches of Yidden On Wheels (YOW), the Israeli Motorcycle Club, Israel Harley Davidson Club and the Israeli Gold Wing club. "This trip is a dream come true for all of us, as many of our members were born when Israel was just a dream," said the Canadian group's co-coordinator, Na'ama Zukier. "Some [participants] will even celebrate their 60th [birthdays] together with Israel," she added. The idea for this trip was dreamt up at a Ride to Remember (R2R) in 2005, when members of various worldwide motorcycle clubs rode to the grand opening of the Holocaust museum in Washington DC. Since that ride, the R2R has become an annual event that takes riders to various landmarks around the US to commemorate and educate about the Holocaust, and represent the Jewish people as free and strong, said Zukier. While the R2R is organized by the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance, this year's trip to Israel was an initiative of individual members of the alliance. "On the first R2R to Washington, it was Gidion [Lee, now co-coordinator of the Canadian group] that asked, 'Don't you wish we could do this ride in Israel?'" remembered Zukier. They began planning the trip in May last year, "and now, with lots of work and teamwork, we are able to make it happen," she said. But this trip will not replace the JMA's R2R for 2008. There will simply be two rides this year - one to the Holocaust center in Omaha, Nebraska, and one to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. "Of course, the visit to Yad Vashem is the main point of our trip," said Eli Liran, the event's official Israeli coordinator, who mapped out the rides and planned the itinerary. "But in addition to that, we're taking the riders to the Kotel and the City of David. Some of the participants have never been to these sites, so we're taking them back to the sources of Judaism in Israel," Liran said. "Then we'll show them the northern part of Israel - the Galilee and the Golan Heights - where we'll talk about the various problems in giving up parts of the area," Liran continued. "I will give a lecture about the geopolitical situation, mixed with the 'never again idea,'" he said. Liran explained that the 'never again idea' refers to the Jews refusing be subdued by persecutors, as they did in the Holocaust. "'Never again'" is not about land," Liran said, "It is [about] the ability to live here in this area and, if possible, to make peace." "This is something that we need to talk about with the [participants] to bring them [to understand the situation here]. Each and every one [of them] will come to their own conclusion, but at least they'll be able to see with their own eyes what's going on here," said Liran. "It's very hard for the guys in Canada, with [its] vast areas... to grasp... the small size of this country," said Liran. "Riding on a motorbike, breathing the country's air... [seeing] how small it [really] is," Liran said, gives participants the opportunity to gain a sense of the country. After the motorcyclists have seen and experienced Israel for themselves, he asserted, they will be more able to come to some kind of conclusion regarding the state's political situation, and at the same time show their support for Israel. "Touring in buses, cars or trains is one way to see a country, but in my opinion you don't really 'see' the country until you do it on a freedom machine like a motorcycle," said Sam Blumenstein, who organized the Australian cohort and is the co-owner of C.O.M.E. Racing engine manufacturers. Blumenstein and his colleagues made the support frames on which the bikes were shipped from Australia, each one being adapted to a different type of bike. To ensure safe shipment, the bikes were stripped of batteries and fuel before being put into the container. One of the bikes was even stripped of its exhaust. This left an entire day's work at the other end of the shipment, to ensure check that the bikes had arrived damage-free and get them roadworthy before the ride commenced. Organizing the motorcycles' shipment was no easy task. Owners had to go almost three months without their prized possessions, and dealing with the bureaucracy of customs clearance proved more challenging than the organizers had hoped. At one point, the Australians were unsure whether they would actually get their bikes out of customs in time. "I could write a book about the rest of the dramas, but so long as the bikes have arrived safely, and we are able to collect them and ride, we'll be just fine," said Blumenstein a few weeks before the trip. When Blumenstein first invited Australian YOW members to attend the ride, many expressed interest. But "those who originally took up the offer really didn't realize what was involved in organizing something like this," he said. "As a result, the original 15-16 'probables' dropped quickly to the 'real' people who were prepared to spend the money, be left without bikes locally for so long [and who] understood the significance of supporting Israel regardless of the cost and logistics. Finally, those who took the plunge [realized] they [would] have an amazing journey in Israel... Something no amount of money can buy," Blumenstein said. "As Jewish bikers, we are out there helping Israel in its mission to promote the country as a great place to travel, with many beautiful places to visit and enjoy, for all religions," said Zukier. So if you happen to be startled by a bunch of bikers zooming their way down the highways next week, roll down your window and wave "shalom" - they've come all the way over here to express their support.