By Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg, published in JewishLink September 10, 2020
Was that over a dozen motorcycles we saw, parked in front of a house in Teaneck the other night? What could that be? Have no fear. The Chai Riders Motorcycle Club was here. We actually had an incredible backyard barbecue experience while sitting at tables that were spread out to maintain proper social distancing. Many of our members and their spouses were able to enjoy an outdoor meal while staying safe and following all the appropriate health guidelines.
Actually, motorcycling is an avocation that was well suited as a hobby for this year’s pandemic, which curtailed so many other pursuits. Riding as a group to scenic destinations, we were able to maintain our distance while still sharing the comradery and enjoyment of the great outdoors. We visited sites such as the Walkway over the Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie, the Roebling Delaware Aqueduct in Pennsylvania, Highpoint State Park in New Jersey, The Lower Hudson Valley and the beautiful byways of Eastern Long Island.
The Chai Riders Motorcycle Club is one of about 36 Jewish motorcycle clubs throughout the USA, Canada, Australia and Israel that are under the umbrella of the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance (JMA). The individuals who belong to these clubs all share the passion to ride motorcycles and the bond of their faith. They are composed of Jewish professionals, businessmen and individuals from all walks of life.
When we think of motorcycle riders, the typical stereotyped image that enters our minds is that of a rough-looking, tattooed gang member riding on a Harley Davidson. However, first appearances can be deceiving. A motorcycle in the hands of the right person can also be used to advance Torah ideals, mitzvot and Jewish pride. The Chai Riders Motorcycle Club in a typical year packages food for the needy at Passover time. We participate in the efforts of the “Belev Echad” program to entertain wounded Israeli veterans by giving them rides up the Hudson Valley. We ride with pride up Fifth Avenue in the annual Celebrate Israel Parade. We visit Camp Simcha and Camp HASC to give rides and bring smiles to children with chronic diseases and developmental disabilities. We participate in the annual JMA “Ride to Remember,” an annual program held in different cities across the country meant to raise funds and support Holocaust educational and memorial projects. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised over the years for these projects by Jewish motorcyclists.
Motorcycle riders often explain that what draws them to this hobby is the feeling of freedom it engenders. Riding on a motorcycle leads to a sense of relaxation, mastery of one’s skills and communing with nature, experiencing the environment like no other feeling. When I visited Europe I learned of the legends of the Baal Shem Tov who would visit the forest to commune with nature and elevate his level of spirituality. Similarly, when I visited Tzfat in Israel, we learned about R’ Isaac Luria, the mystical Ari, who would do this as well. If these two great rabbis were around today they would surely appreciate and understand the passion that motorcyclists have for their activity. To combine the love of motorcycling with their Jewish heritage, promoting Jewish values such as tzedakah and Jewish pride is something quite unique that is gratifying and worthy of appreciation.
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 (Bamidbar 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 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 in a different manner. 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.
May Hashem bless us so that we can take our unique talents and interests and turn them into positive ways to promote Jewish values and traditions. Let us be able to stand tall and be proud of proclaiming our Jewish heritage, each in our own unique way, even while riding on a motorcycle.
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.