First impressions may be deceiving. What if you were told that Jewish motorcyclists in the metropolitan area were “packing” and were being encouraged to do so by the New York City Police Department? It’s a pretty safe bet you might assume that something dreadful was taking place. However, if we clarified the situation to explain that Jewish motorcyclists were packing jars of gefilte fish and boxes of matzah for the poor and needy it would take on a whole other connotation.
Every year in preparation for Pesach, the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club assists the Shomrim Society of the NYPD by packaging hundreds of huge bags with all sorts of Passover foods. Much of the food is generously donated by manufacturers such as Streits, Empire and Kedem. Other raw ingredients such as potatoes, onions, etc. are bought by the Shomrim with money that was donated for this purpose. The food is laid out in an assembly line process and packaged on a Friday. It is then distributed on Sunday by the police to needy, elderly people living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
The Chai Riders Motorcycle Club has been assisting in this effort for nearly twenty years. Danny Herbst, a past Chai Rider president, collaborated with NYPD officer Lisa Pomerantz and president of the Shomrim Society of Jewish police officers when this began. They came up with this unique way to give back to the community.
Scott Wynn, another past president of the Chai Riders explained, “We’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. I have great respect for the NYPD. I also get to bond with my fellow Jewish motorcyclists and we do great things for the community.”
Lauren Secular, the treasurer of the Chai Riders, exclaimed, “What we do is better than just donating money. Anyone can do that. We get to actually participate in performing a mitzvah and feel good about it afterwards.”
The participation by the Chai Riders in this charitable effort is greatly valued. Detective Spencer Strauss, the current president of the NYPD Shomrim Society, stated that he appreciated and looked forward every year to the Chai Riders joining in the packaging and distribution of the Pesach food, allowing so many needy individuals to have a decent Pesach Seder meal.
The Chai Riders Motorcycle Club is one of about thirty six Jewish motorcycle clubs throughout the USA, Canada, Australia and Israel that are under the umbrella of the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance (JMA). The individuals who belong to these clubs all share the passion to ride motorcycles and the bond of their faith. They are composed of Jewish professionals, businessmen and individuals from all walks of life.
Another such Jewish club is the King David Bikers of South Florida (KDBSF.) I recently participated in an annual Purim preparation program where they helped the Aleph Institute and the Jewish War Veterans package mishloach manot for distribution to Jewish U.S. soldiers stationed all over the world. Ed Forman, the president of the KDBSF, gathered about a dozen Jewish bikers together in Aventura, Florida, to package these goodies for distribution to our Jewish servicemen. That day they put together 1,500 mishloach manot packages in an assembly line process.
These packages are well received and are very meaningful to our Jewish U.S. Servicemen and women. I met Susan Steinfeld, a former career military woman, while packaging the mishloach manot. She told me her fascinating story. Susan, who now calls herself Bracha, was a master sergeant and spent 36 years in the military as an active duty reservist. Bracha was stationed in Iraq, serving as a prison administrator in a combat zone when she began receiving these “Jewish goodie bags” from the Aleph Institute. The bags themselves and the inspirational messages inside written by Rabbi Mendy Katz, the director of the Aleph Institute, awoke something in her Jewish spirit. She became a distributor of these packages to larger groups of Jewish soldiers and helped facilitate the process. She went on to learn as much about her Judaism as she could and began to practice her faith. Today, she is a frum woman, who covers her hair and strictly observes the mitzvot. Her daughter and five grandchildren are all observant as well and are enrolled in local yeshivot
When we think of motorcycle riders the typical stereotyped image that enters our minds is that of a rough looking, Hell’s Angel type, tattooed gang member riding on a Harley Davidson. However, first appearances can be deceiving. A motorcycle in the hands of the right person can also be used to advance Torah ideals, mitzvot and Jewish pride. The Chai Riders are helping to put Pesach food on the table of many needy individuals on the Lower East Side. The King David Bikers are helping to reach out to our Jewish soldiers with Purim goodies and inspirational messages. These works of chesed are what makes Jewish motorcyclists stand out from the pack and may help change the way we perceive them. May Hashem bless them so that they can continue to not only have fun riding but also give back to the Jewish community.
By Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg
Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].