When we think of motorcycle riders, the typical stereotyped image that enters our minds is that of an rough-looking, Hell’s Angel-type, tattooed gang member riding on a Harley Davidson. While a motorcycle, as an instrument, can certainly be used in that manner, in the hands of the right person it can also be used to advance Torah ideals, mitzvot and Jewish pride. An analogy would be the hammer. In the hands of the right person it can be used to build a house. In the hands of a terrorist, as we witnessed last week in Paris, it can be used as a weapon to attack a policeman.
Among the various hats I wear (doctor, rabbi, professor), I also wear a motorcycle helmet. I was privileged to lead 56 motorcyclists belonging to the Chai Rider Motorcycle Club as we rode up Fifth Avenue in the “Celebrate Israel” annual parade. I am president of the “Chai Riders,” a New York/New Jersey-based Jewish motorcycle club. As expected, the club participates in scenic rides and social events. We meet for glatt kosher dinners once a month. What makes the club special is that we also package food for the needy on Pesach, raise money for charitable causes and visit camps for terminally ill or developmentally disabled children every summer. These children are thrilled to pieces to see Jews on bikes. Of course, the tens of thousands of onlookers at the Celebrate Israel parade were also inspired by the sight and strength of Jews on bikes, waving Jewish-themed flags and banners.
This past weekend, the 36 Jewish motorcycle clubs from around the USA and Canada met in Providence, Rhode Island, to celebrate the annual Ride to Remember motorcycle convention. We met up with old friends and made new connections. Kosher meals and Shabbat services by Chabad were made available. More importantly, the event raised about $40,000 for the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Center to further their educational programs. We were riding proudly, fulfilling a mitzvah at the same time.
I am reminded that being openly proud of being Jewish is not something that all of our brethren around the world can always engage in. In parts of Europe, many Jewish synagogues and restaurants keep a low profile and are not openly marked. In parts of France, for example, 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 yarmulkas if we want to, ride through a major city and gather to proclaim, “Am Yisrael Chai!”
In Parshas Beha’aloscha 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 (Menochos 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 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.
We are most fortunate to be able to take our singular talents and interests and turn them into positive ways to promote Jewish values and traditions. Let us continue to stand tall and be proud of proclaiming our Jewish heritage, each in our own unique way.
By Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg
Rabbi Dr. Kuperberg is a clinical psychologist who leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn.