This article was written by Avi Kuperberg, Ph.D
We recently were privileged to participate in the annual Celebrate Israel parade. Among the hundreds of groups that marched, one group rode up Fifth Avenue on two wheels, with great fanfare. This was the Chai Riders Motorcycle club. About 70 Jewish motorcyclists rode their Harleys and Goldwings, giving rides to about two dozen Israeli soldiers sitting in the back seats.
Among the various hats I wear (doctor, rabbi, professor), I also wear a motorcycle helmet. As president of the Chai Riders, I was privileged to lead this group of eclectic riders. They came from the metropolitan area, as well as from far away cities such as Baltimore, Stamford, Boston and St. Louis. These Jewish motorcyclists come from diverse backgrounds. Some are less observant and some are more observant. Some do not even fit the stereotyped image we have of a typical motorcyclist, coming from hasidic backgrounds and traveling in from Monsey and Boro Park. It didn’t matter if they leaned right or they leaned left. They joined together to ride up the center of Fifth Avenue and express their celebration of Israel and their pride of being Jewish.
We are unfortunately experiencing a period in time where there is a rise in anti-Semitism both here in America and abroad. Being openly Jewish is not something that our brethren around the world can always engage in. In parts of Europe, for example, many Jewish synagogues and restaurants keep a low profile and are not openly marked. In parts of France, looking too Jewish or wearing a kippah will likely lead to a person being attacked. Contrast that with the freedom we have in America to wave Israeli flags, openly wear yarmulkes if we want to, ride through a major city and gather to proclaim, “Am Yisrael Chai!” Jews riding on motorcycles project an image of strength and determination. We make loud noise with our bikes and proclaim that, as Jews, we are openly proud.
The Chai Riders Motorcycle Club is one of about 40 Jewish motorcycle clubs across the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia and Israel. They are participants of the umbrella Jewish Motorcyclist Alliance (JMA). Once a year the JMA clubs gather at an annual convention for the higher purpose of promoting a Holocaust memorial educational project so that the world never forgets the Shoah. Each year, a different city is chosen, one with a significant Holocaust memorial museum or theme of interest. The Ride to Remember, a police-escorted two-hour ride involving many hundreds of Jewish motorcycle riders, is used as a means of raising significant funds for these projects. Typically, tens of thousands of dollars are raised. We ride proudly, fulfilling a mitzvah at the same time.
In Parshat Beha’alotcha we read of the unique commandment given to Moshe to make loud instruments and use them to commemorate days of gladness, festivals and sacrifices. In Moshe’s case the commandment was to make shiny, silver trumpets. “Make this for yourself,” Hashem commands Moshe (10:2). Rashi explains that he was to make the trumpets sound loud and proud, evoking the feeling of a triumphant welcome that a king would receive. The Gemara (Menachot 28b) tells us that Moshe was told to make these instruments only for himself. What was meant for his use in his time would not be suitable for use in future generations. Ongoing generations would have to improvise their own similar instruments.
I would like to think that in our present generation we also have a way of being loud and proud, albeit a little differently. We too can celebrate our Jewish traditions and pride by making noise. Instead of shiny silver trumpets, today we have instruments of shiny chrome. Instead of blowing trumpets with our lips, we can blow the loud horns on our motorcycles as we roar along the streets and byways.
The Jewish numerology technique of “gematria” translates the numerical value of a word and looks for its equivalent in the Torah to gather inspiration. When we use this method with the Hebrew word for motorcycle, “ofanoah,” we find that it is equivalent to the number 213. There is a corresponding verse in Shemot 29:46 that reads, “And they will know that I am God.” Hopefully, when we rode up Fifth Avenue a couple of Sundays ago, we gave ourselves and the tens of thousands of spectators the clear message that we are the people chosen by Hashem. We stand tall and are proud of proclaiming our Jewish heritage, with strength and determination.
May we continue to inspire ourselves and others, standing tall against anti-Semitism and showing Jewish pride, each in our own unique way. May we blow our horns with much fanfare as we proclaim, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at Psychologist@Juno.Com.