My dad left St. Louis on motorcycle for Providence yesterday, joining hundreds of other Jewish bikers for the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance’s annual Ride 2 Remember. It’s the only time of the year that a number of the 46 international JMA clubs convene in one location—with the specific aim of Holocaust awareness. My father has participated in Ride 2 Remember every year since 2008. In 2009, he created his own affiliate JMA chapter called the Wandering Twos, and they have ridden together every year since. As of this publishing they are somewhere in New York state. In all it’ll take them three days to make the journey.
The Wandering Twos are heading to Ride 2 Remember with a gang as diverse as the bikes they’re riding. Simcha, a 17-year-old orthodox Jew, is doing his first long-distance ride on a BMW R1150. There’s also Bongo, a seasoned biker, riding a Harley Davidson RK Classic. He’s not actually Jewish, but that doesn’t matter. After meeting Bongo at a gas station and inviting him along for a ride, the club had unknowingly recruited one of their most dedicated members. Frequenting the club’s rides as well as their Shabbat dinners, Hanukkah parties, and Passover seders, Bongo now calls himself “the most Jewish Catholic you’ll ever meet.” It is with this spirit that the Wandering Twos, and many other JMA chapters—like the ChaiWay Riders, Shalom’n’Chrome, and Hillel’s Angels groups—ride.
The Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance started in 2005 as an informal group of Jewish bikers who were looking for a cause to support. Many of the founding members had Holocaust survivors in their families and found that raising money for Holocaust awareness was one cause they could collectively get behind. And so, a little over a decade ago, this fledgling group of Jewish bikers took their first trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Four years later, in 2009, they drafted a charter and the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance was born. Since its founding, affiliate clubs of the JMA have popped up around the country and the world. Chapters can be found from Seattle and Boca Raton, to Canada, South Africa, and Australia.
Individual members and chapters all do their part to raise money, often through various raffles. For her 50th birthday, a member of the Golf Riders in Toronto asked her friends and family for donations instead of presents. The Cleveland-based Shul Boys managed to buy 20 raffle tickets for this year’s brand new Harley Davidson raffle. According to Betsy Ahrens, a past president of the JMA and current event coordinator for the organization, the JMA has raised about $600,000 for Holocaust-education causes since the inaugural Ride 2 Remember 12 years ago. This year’s funds (an estimated $20,000-25,000) will go to the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center in Providence. The center wants to use the money to rent a “Survivor Hologram” for their museum, which will share an eyewitness account of the Holocaust with generations that are coming long after the last survivor.
Once the JMA groups arrive in Providence, it’s time to ride and feel the wind in their hair (and bugs in their teeth). Last year, in Birmingham, Alabama, bikers rode from Birmingham to Selma in honor of the Civil Rights marches there in 1965. This year, they’ll tour through New England, visiting the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, where the oldest synagogue building in North America still stands (and operates) along the way.
Whatever it is, something about motorcycles has a unique ability to unite Jews from around the world. One day I might get to join my dad at Ride 2 Remember—if my mom lets me. She’d be more okay with me on a motorcycle if the event was in St. Louis, and though my dad petitioned for St. Louis to host Ride 2 Remember 2018, it lost to Cleveland by one vote of the board. In the end, the impact that Ride 2 Remember can have on a community’s Holocaust education programs wins out. And like the old biker adage goes—it’s not about the destination, it’s about the ride.
Sophie Aroesty is an editorial intern at Tablet.