Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Little Gavi was born 10 weeks prematurely. His was a planned adoption. The baby had to be fed and mother’s milk was the optimal choice of nutrition. Along came Alyssa Marko, a member of the adopted mother’s synagogue, to the rescue. Alyssa, a member of both the Sirens and the Chai Riders Motorcycle clubs, hopped on her Triumph Bonneville motorcycle and went to the New York Milk Bank in Valhalla, New York. She brought back 48 frozen bottles of mother’s milk in her saddle bags and saved the day.

For Alyssa and other members of her motorcycle club, this began a tradition of delivering mother’s milk to homes and hospitals within the metropolitan area. In fact, the women she rode with came to be known as the “Milk Riders.”

The New York Milk Bank was started in 2016 by nurse practitioner Julie Bouchet-Horwitz, who wanted to make life easier for mothers who wanted to breast-feed but were unable to. It was the first comprehensive nonprofit milk bank in New York State. They collect milk from carefully screened donors, pasteurize it and distribute it to infants in New York State and the surrounding area. They are committed to providing the safest mother’s milk to all babies in need. They now also have a fleet of trucks and vehicles to deliver the milk to babies in need. Still, the motorcycling “Milk Riders” provides them with the best form of publicity and good will.

This was not the first instance of Alyssa performing mitzvot on motorcycles. Alyssa has been riding with her fellow women motorcyclists for the past 17 summers to Camp Simcha in the Catskills. They give the girl campers exciting rides around the campus on their motorcycles. The camp prefers to have women motorcyclists arrange these rides for the girls for purposes of tzniut, modesty. Every summer, Camp Simcha offers hundreds of children with cancer and other blood disorders two weeks of fun and friendship. This gives them the courage to continue to fight pediatric illness. Camp Simcha is a project of Chai Lifeline.

Alyssa smiled when she described how she brings joy into the lives of these special children. “It puts things in perspective,” she explained. “It helps me realize that my problems are small in comparison. When I see the girls dancing in the dining hall it is so much fun. These girls are making the most of every day.”

Alyssa attended the Bialik Hebrew Day School in Brooklyn for several years as a child until her family later moved to Orange County. She is an active member of the Romemu Synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She made aliyah at age 22 and lived on a kibbutz in Israel for eight years before returning to the states. In fact, she learned to ride a motorcycle while in Israel. The nature of her rotating shifts at the kibbutz factory required that she commute this way.

When not riding motorcycles, Alyssa works as a school psychologist dealing with special needs children for the New York City Department of Education. Her brother is a rabbi in Greenville, South Carolina.

Alyssa described how riding her motorcycle outdoors on scenic routes is an especially spiritual experience for her. “I feel connected with the universe and nature. It is another form of prayer. I thank God for all that I see and feel as I ride.” She has been riding motorcycles for over 30 years.

As for the impression she might leave on others, Alyssa explained, “I think it is empowering to see women on motorcycles. It portrays women as being strong.” She is an active participant with both the Sirens Motorcycle Club, an all women’s group, and the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club, which promotes Jewish causes.

Alyssa tells me that her mother was hesitant at first when she learned that her daughter rides motorcycles. After all, she wanted her to be safe. Over time, her mother has grown accustomed to the idea that Alyssa rides and is proud of the good deeds Alyssa engages in.

As for little Gavi, he is now 3 years old and is thriving. Alyssa just recently visited him and found that, not only is he talking well, he has precocious opinions on all sorts of matters. She believes that he is doing so well, in part, because he was raised on the donated breast milk of so many caring women. “All of their love and all of their immune systems went into nurturing and feeding his body.”

Alyssa’s story is an inspirational one and defies the stereotypical image of a motorcyclist. May Hashem continue to bless her and all who perform mitzvot on motorcycles.

Rabbi 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, New Jersey, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected]