Jewish motorcyclists from around the world come together in St. Louis

Max Heeres, the founder of the Lost Tribe of Arizona motorcycle club, spent six days on the road to attend the annual Ride 2 Remember in St. Louis. PHOTO: ERIC BERGER

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

Max Heeres rode among a group of what he calls “wild kosher hogs” in southern Missouri last week. He especially enjoyed the “whoop te doos” — a perfectly straight road that “goes up and down like a rollercoaster.” 

“I think that’s unique for Missouri. I’ve never seen that anywhere else,” said Heeres, a 55-year-old construction manager.

After six days riding from Arizona — including three days alone in the desert— atop his Harley-Davidson Softail Custom motorcycle, he arrived at his destination: the Jewish Motorcyclist Alliance’s (JMA) annual Ride 2 Remember, which took place last week in St. Louis. 

More than 160 people from across the United States, Canada, Israel and Australia va’roomed into the city on May 16 with leather jackets and vests, helmets and of course, hogs. 

The riders have different habits, motorcycle clubs, patches and preferred brands of bikes but say they are brought together by a shared enjoyment of riding with fellow Jews. 

“When you ride with someone, it creates a bond, you become close to them, and knowing that they are Jewish just adds to that,” said Heeres, who grew up on a kibbutz in Israel. “I’m not religious. I don’t belong to a synagogue, so in my case, riding is my Jewish connection.”

You can trace the JMA origins in part to Lauren Secular, a New Yorker and founder of the Chai Riders in the late 1990s. She started riding with fellow Jews because she “was looking for a Jewish guy,” she said.

“I rode my own bike and the only women I ever met always started riding because their guy rode. I did things I liked to do and I met people,” said Secular, 52.

In 2004, about 100 people from the Chai Riders, Semites On Bikes and other clubs met at Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson in Delaware. That first gathering grew into the JMA and its signature event: the Ride 2 Remember, an annual parade — with surrounding events — that honors Holocaust victims and survivors and fundraises for Holocaust education.  

“We want to ensure that that situation never arises again,” said Steven Aroesty, organizer of the Ride 2 Remember in St. Louis and founder of the “Wandering Twos,” (a play on the Wandering Jews) the local Jewish motorcycle club. 

Since that first meeting, JMA has grown to include more than 40 clubs, including multiple ones in the same city.

Steven Levitt, a Toronto resident, “only found out there were other Jewish riders around ’07, ’08,” he said. A friend told him that a neighbor had been trying to recruit him into the “YOWs,” the Yidden on Wheels.

“We went to a meeting and saw that there were all these people who do all kinds of great rides and thought, ‘We’ll join.’” said Levitt, who had already been riding for 22 years.

“The riding was good — the politics sucked,” he said.

Levitt, the owner of a promotional products company, did not provide specifics as to what about the politics sucked but said, “When you start introducing politics, you’re going to start introducing arguments, and we didn’t want that.”

Less than a year later, Levitt and others formed the Golf Riders. (There is also a third Toronto group: The Riders of the Covenant.) Despite the splintering and different clubs, Levitt said there was no rivalry among members. 

In 2009, Levitt and eight riders traveled south to Savannah, Ga., for the annual Ride 2 Remember. This year, he met Heeres and other riders in Arkansas en route to St. Louis. 

“Like anything you do in life, the first one is always special, so Savannah was special for me because not only was it my first Ride 2 Remember, but it was my first long-distance ride,” said Levitt, 52.

Members of 20 clubs — and some who were unaffiliated — gathered on May 16 at Sheraton Westport Chalet for a service and dinner. The next morning, they headed to Congregation Temple Israel for the annual parade, which this year was about 50 miles.

Afterwards, Levitt parked “The Mistress,” an orange Victory Motorcycle bearing a parrot, for Jimmy Buffett, and a bear, for the Grateful Dead, outside the Holocaust Museum & Learning Center. 

Nearby was Heeres with his blue Harley with Israeli and American flags attached to the back. His father was a Holocaust survivor and he said he rides in his honor. The ride was beautiful, he added. 

“Beautiful roads in Missouri. I’m impressed with how nicely paved they are,” said Jay Mandelker, a member of the Yidden on Wheels (one of the other Toronto clubs). “Also, I have found that some of the motorists here seem to be more friendly than we are used to.”

On what makes his club unique in Toronto, “we won’t have organized rides on Shabbat. Every Sunday morning, we meet for breakfast at a bagel place and after breakfast we go for a ride to a different destination.”

Outside the museum, a biker parked a large motorcycle out front and two Holocaust survivors, Mendel Rosenberg and Gloria Feldman, climbed aboard. Another survivor, Rachel Miller, went for a short ride with a biker. They also did a Q&A with the bikers.

“It was a really fun event for everybody, and I think [the survivors] took a lot of pride in knowing that it was important to all of us, that these people had ridden thousands of miles to see them and listen to them,” said Aroesty, an attorney.

The funds raised over the weekend — through a raffle and other sources — will benefit the museum’s Law Enforcement and Society program that tries to educate law enforcement officials about the dangers of anti-Semitism, bigotry and other biases. Aroesty said earlier this week they had not totaled up the donations but that the event typically raises between $20,000 and $40,000.

Jean Cavender, director of the Holocaust museum, said she had heard a number of people ask, “Are they really all Jewish?”

“And I said, ‘Yes, they are. It’s the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance,’ ” she said. “They are people who are all bike aficionados and they love doing this and they come from all over the country and it’s just been fun.” 

As for Lauren Secular, she did meet a Jewish guy in Australia through the JMA but “that didn’t work out too well,” she said. 

“But I now have many friends in Australia and I have a bike in Australia and I go there regularly,” said Secular, who works in finance. 

She also still has six bikes in the United States and rides them regularly among the Chai Riders.