Wynne is one of the founding members of the JMA. He helped organize the first Ride to Remember in 2005, which brought 150 bikes to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. This year, the event raised money for the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.
In addition to their philanthropic and awareness-raising projects, the JMA riders are united by a deep love of motorcycles. For some, the freedom of the open road brings them closer to God. But most are not religious. They ride because the experience is empowering. It allows them to combat the Holocaust’s legacy of Jews as sheep to the slaughter. And it allows American Jews to assert the physical prowess usually associated with their Israeli counterparts. “The bike reflects a mechanical competence and physicality,” Alford says. “It combats the notion of Jews as purely intellectual.” It’s not surprising, then, that many clubs make supporting Israel their single membership requirement. The motorcycle is the American Jew’s Uzi: a widely recognized symbol of personal and cultural strength.
* * *
On a Sunday morning in April, a month before the Ride to Remember, the members of the D.C. area Tribe kibitzed over coffee and bagels spread thick with cream cheese. They’d taken over Goldberg’s New York Bagels in Rockville, including a four-top piled with motorcycle gear. They were loud, in volume and appearance. Betsy Ahrens wore flashing gold earrings (multiple in each lobe) and a blinding green T-shirt with the Tribe logo. Another rider, known as the Tribe’s motorcycle safety czar, had encased himself in a riding outfit that resembled a hazmat suit.
One table over, two elderly men in yarmulkes bent over Hebrew books, trying to study. Not that they minded the distraction. “I like to see our boys involved in more than intellectual stuff,” one of them said.
Courtney Talmoud agreed. Her husband rides with the Tribe, and she had no qualms about pulling her children out of religious school that Sunday morning. “My daughter needs to see Jews doing non-conventional things,” Talmoud said. Abbie, 10, a tiny thing among the bikers, grinned over her breakfast.
Ahrens, the Tribe’s president and its only female rider, knows how empowering the bike can be for a young woman. Twenty years ago, she was at a gas station with her then-husband and small daughter when the trio saw a woman ride up to the pump. “Look at that!” Ahrens’s now ex-husband scoffed. “A woman has no place owning her own bike.” The next week, Ahrens went to the DMV and got her motorcycle license.