By Andy Réti
The invitation stated; “The Ride of Reflection is a memorial motorcycle ride remembering the 11 souls taken from us on October 27, 2018”. The destination was the Tree of Life Synagogue. The ride was organized by the smallest of all the JMA clubs, the Mazel Tuffs consisting of six members. Eventually, 71 bikes and 125 people were participants in the event which will become an annual ride.
I am a member of YOWs (Yidden on Wheels) Motorcycle club of Toronto since 2002. My club is a member of the Jewish Motorcycle Alliance (JMA) with over 45 clubs worldwide including Israel and Australia. The signature event of the JMA is the annual Ride to Remember (R2R) which has the lessons of the Holocaust at its core along with the theme of Never Again. Over the last 17 years I also participated in special rides, like the Paper Clip Ride to Whitwell, Tennessee or the Pebble Ride to Trenton, Ontario and numerous “meet and greet” rallies. All these rides had a theme but this one in Pittsburgh on the week-end of August 23-25, 2019 was special in a number of ways.
This was the first time that we memorialized an event before its anniversary (October 27, 2018). It was the first time we included a “walk of reflection” rather than ride to the venue. Sadly, the synagogue is still boarded up and its future undecided. There are many reasons, including; insurance, being a crime scene and the fact that actually it is not one congregation but three different ones under one roof. They are Tree of Life *Or L’Simcha, New Light Congregation and Congregation Dor Hadash. One consideration is a future Holocaust Museum. Hopefully by next year we will be able to enter the building regardless of its function to honour the innocent lives that were taken from us and to pay our respects.
So why was this ride special or different? The theme of “Never Again” took on a new meaning with this ride. At each ride the organizers design a T-shirt with a logo and a message. This ride had two messages:
“Words Matter” and the Star of David together with red and blue Symbol of Pittsburgh sating that joined together we are “Stronger than Hate”. The shirt also had on it; NEVER FORGET October 27, 2018. In the words of JMA President Bob Cohen; “This ride is no longer about the Holocaust, this is contemporary, we can’t forget this.”
The murderer shouted hateful words during his attack but the community banded together to counter the hate. In his speech New Light President Steve Cohen stated that “the world rushed to support us and you are part of that support”. We raised over $1000 for the Synagogue.
For the last decade we are witnessing the creeping phenomena of anti-Semitism and the loss of meaning of “Never Again”. We are also seeing modern day genocides and the seeming indifference of the “world” towards it. Today, the new focus of Jew hatred is Israel. The word Anti-Semitism is being replaced with “anti-Zionism” but the meaning is the same – Jew hatred.
I have a poster in my office; “Its not the destination but the ride”. So, a few words about the ride, actually one: FANTASTIC!!!! Our group of nine riders and one chase car from Toronto to Pittsburgh took some pretty good back roads through the Allegheny Forest. Last year I traded my Gold Wing to a Spyder and for the first time since then, I considered myself a rider again. The Spyder and I were flying. On the way home we also went through some challenging roads and I loved every inch of it. For those readers who are not bikers, the Spyder has three wheels and it can’t lean like a regular motorcycle. This ride satisfied my need to “feel the wind and the road” meaning that I am still a biker.
I am not sure if crossing the eleven bridges of Pittsburgh with police escort (who volunteered their services) was deliberate but to me it was symbolic. We were bridging a divide TOGETHER. Having a police escort means that you can go through red lights and cars can’t cut into your group.
Our hosts the Mazel Tuff’s provided great hospitality for us which included a BBQ and a banquet at the Jewish Community Centre where a blood donor clinic was held. How symbolic was that? At the Banquet we heard about the LIFE of the victims; Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger.
To honour them, I quote the inscription on a monument at the entrance to the cemetery in Budapest, Hungary where my martyred father is memorialized:
“HATRED HAS KILLED THEM MAY LOVE CHERISH THEIR MEMORIES”