On September 2, 1939, much of the world was clueless that the Nazis had opened their first concentration camp to obliterate the Jews and Poles of Danzig, just after the outbreak of World War II. The camp, Stutthof, was in a marshy area where inmates were subjected to starvation, brutal beatings, inadequate medical care, and extreme working conditions. Some 28,000 Jews and 35,000 Polish inmates were part of the ethnic cleansing project. Ultimately, in 1944, this camp became home to the Jews who were transferred from Auschwitz when it began liquidation efforts earlier that year. Allies liberated the Stuffhofcamp on May 9, 1945. I have never before heard of Stutthof. Now, I can’t unhear it.
One group has made a commitment to keeping the Holocaust and its survivors in the forefront of our minds. The mission statement of the Butterfly Project is to “teach social justice through the lessons of the Holocaust, educating all about the dangers of hatred and bigotry to cultivate empathy and cultural responsibility.” They do this by partnering with schools and painting ceramic butterflies to represent resilience, commemorate the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust and honor the Survivors, whom we will never forget.
Each year, other groups join forces with the Butterfly Project to raise money to keep these important programs reaching as many children as possible. One committed group is the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance. They span not only the United States but have international clubs. Members of multiple chapters come together to raise funds and straddle their bikes for the Ride2Remember. Though they ride for a serious cause, it is apparent that they enjoy their camaraderie and don’t take themselves too seriously. Take for example the punny names they give to their chapters. From Michigan we have the Chai Riders, New Jersey brings us Hillel’s Angels, New Mexico has the Kosher Hogs, Mountain Menchen from North Carolina, Shalom and Chrome from California, and Sons of Abraham from Illinois. There are clubs from Israel, Ontario, and Australia. The mission statement for the Alliance states that they are united by their love of motorcycles, they also share “common faith and heritage….any religion or brand of bikes (are) welcome.”
This year’s Ride2Remember will be held in America’s Finest City! The event runs from September 8-11, and participants will meet up for the ride, Kabbalat Shabbat services and dinner, Shabbat services and lunch, and some world-class schmoozing. To learn more about the event, I spoke with a diminutive dynamic New Yorker “biker chick,” Lauren Secular. Secular is the Treasurer of the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance, and one of the co-founders of the organization. She is also serving as chair of the Ride2Remember. In a phone interview, I asked how she became interested in riding. “I was hitchhiking to the beach, and was picked up by a motorcyclist.” When she got her first motorcycle at 18, her mom asked, “What’s next? A tattoo? Nah, I already got one!” countered Lauren.
Secular grew up in a reform Jewish family and became a bat mitzvah. Though she didn’t have a strong affiliation with religious observation, she did identify as a Jew and was a founder of the Chai Riders. Over a dinner meeting at a Glatt kosher restaurant, like-minded Jewish bikers created the club which includes rabbis, psychologists, and dentists! In a short video interview by two Israelis, I enjoyed learning that the men in Secular’s club sported temporary tattoos, as halachah forbids defacing the body. I also got a chuckle out of these grown men admitting that they didn’t have the chutzpah to buy a bike until after their mothers had passed.
Secular participated in two previous Ride2Remember fundraisers; Washington, DC, and Whitwell, Tennessee. If the latter rings a bell, it’s because it’s the small all-white Christian fundamentalist town where the documentary Paperclips was made to help students understand the enormity of the Holocaust and teach compassion and diversity. Delighted to report that interest has grown, Secular shared that this year bikers will come from New York’s Finger Lakes, St. Louis, Florida, Toronto, and even a “couple from Israel.” At least six Chai Riders will be in attendance!
Another club president will be representing Sons of Abraham, from, you guessed it, Abe’s hometown, Springfield, Illinois. Dr. Michael Trieger will be participating in the ride and told me that his love affair with motorized bikes began when he was a twelve-year-old pining for a minibike. Sadly, his father, an oral surgeon, would bring home pictures of faces he’d had to reconstruct following a motorcycle accident. No bike for Mike until after his mother died. Committed to safety, Trieger took all three levels of motorcycle safety and did so well, that he was asked to be an instructor! Has he ever had an accident, I queried? Yes, I was told. When his front wheel went out from under him, he suffered a fractured rib. He didn’t tell his wife until a week later! Trieger has a personal connection to the Holocaust having lost the majority of his Polish relatives in World War II to the Nazis. He had the amazing and coincidental opportunity to participate in the Whitwell ride and to recall his late brother-in-law and documentary director of Paperclips, Elliot Berlin. Is Trieger sporting any verboten tattoos? He is. On his right arm, he has Max from Where the Wild Things Are, and on his left foreleg a tattoo of his beloved dog, Petey, at the very site where the canine would lick his leg when he stepped out of the shower. “My parents wouldn’t approve, but I’m me.”
San Diego’s Ride2Remember has mapped out a beautiful 2.5-hour ride to Idyllwild and a few other more adventurous runs down the coast to Mexico. This important event will ensure that we never forget our triumph over tragedy. Never again can the world remain in the dark. Whether you have a Honda, Harley, or Yamaha, let your headlight illuminate the path!