Susan Matuson, a 78-year-old woman, just had a very difficult year. Aside from having to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and general health problems, her cardiologist convinced her that it was time to undergo a serious heart procedure that she had been putting off. When she pulled through and completed her recovery period she appreciated all that life had to offer. She told her daughter, Wendy Zuckerberg, however, that there was something on her bucket list that she had always wanted to do before it was too late. That was to ride on a motorcycle.
Wendy went to work on her mother’s wish to ride a motorcycle. She contacted the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club, the premier Jewish motorcycle club in the NY/NJ area, and explained the situation. Her mother deserved to have her “make-a-wish” dream come true. Dr. Charlie Knapp and I answered the call, giving the two of them a long, scenic ride on our Honda Goldwing motorcycles through the Wanaque reservoir area and visiting the majestic Monksville Dam.
Susan and Wendy had the time of their lives. They rode in the passenger seats of the Goldwings and felt the wind blow through their helmets while they experienced nature as never before. Susan repeatedly kept asking me, “why would you do this for a stranger?” I simply answered that I saw this as a mitzvah, a good deed. I also suggested to her that she was now obligated to “pay it forward.” She could do a random act of kindness for a stranger down the road.
This was not the first instance of Jewish motorcyclists performing mitzvot on motorcycles. In a typical summer, the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club visits camps for the disabled and enables the children to have a thrilling experience. We visit camps such as Camp Simcha, Camp HASC and Camp Ohel. If appropriate, we give the campers exciting rides around the campus on motorcycles. 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.
We also partner earlier in the year with the NYPD Jewish Shomrim Society to help package Passover food for the needy. It felt good to package huge grocery bags over the years with staples such as matzah, kugels, wine, potatoes and Streit’s desserts, knowing that this helps needy, elderly individuals celebrate a traditional Seder in a manner that might otherwise be difficult.
We show our Jewish pride by proudly participating in the annual Celebrate Israel Parade up Fifth Avenue. We also partnered with “Belev Echad” to give wounded Israeli soldiers motorcycle rides to areas such as Harriman State Park. This typically takes place once a year in the spring and shows our appreciation for the sacrifices these soldiers have made.
The Chai Riders participate with the other three dozen U.S. and international Jewish motorcycle clubs in the annual “Ride to Remember.” These Jewish bikers from all backgrounds and locations gather together for the higher purpose of promoting a Holocaust memorial educational project so that the world never forgets the Shoah. Each year, a different city is chosen, one with a significant Holocaust memorial museum or theme of interest. The Ride to Remember, a police-escorted two-hour ride, is used as a means of raising significant funds for these projects, typically tens of thousands of dollars.
Susan, who had her bucket list wish fulfilled, was originally part of the Jewish community in Memphis, Tennessee. She married and came to the New Jersey area to help her husband operate the Mort Jacobs Pharmacy in Paterson for over 30 years. She was a member of the Paramus Jewish Center and is now an active member of Temple Emanuel in Mahwah, where she lives in an assisted living complex.
When Jewish motorcycle clubs turn an otherwise secular activity into a means for promoting Jewish values and pride, we can only assume that this is an activity that God smiles upon and confers His blessings over. May Hashem continue to bless Susan and Wendy with long, healthy lives and may He bless all those who perform mitzvot on motorcycles.
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, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected]Com.