Motorcyclists to rev up Holocaust education in Rhode Island

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Imagine hearing the sound of a mass of motorcycles rumbling down the street towards you. You turn your head to look – and see more than 100 riders wearing leather covered with patches riding your way.

You might be thinking that this is a scene straight out of “The Wild Ones” or “Easy Rider.” But now, imagine that as they rode past, you saw the patches had club names like “Chai Riders,” “Hillel’s Angels” and “Star of David Riders.”

Well, no imagination is required, for these are members of the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance, an international umbrella organization of 46 motorcycle clubs, with about 6,000 members in the U.S.

“Every year we ride to remember to memorialize the Holocaust and raise money for Holocaust awareness and education so that it never happens again. In the past 12 years, we’ve raised over $600,000,” said Betsy Ahrens, president of the JMA.

JMA riders are united by a 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. And it allows American Jews to assert the physical prowess usually associated with their Israeli counterparts.

“The bike reflects a mechanical competence and physicality,” says Steven Alford, a professor of Motorcycle Studies at Nova Southeastern University, in Florida. “It combats the notion of Jews as purely intellectual.”

The first Ride to Remember, in 2005, brought 150 bikes to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. Every year since then, the group has ridden into a different community to support Holocaust awareness and education.

This year, the 13th Annual Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance Ride to Remember is coming to Providence on June 8-10 to support the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center. Over the three days, there will be a wide range of activities, all open to the public. The JMA will also assist in raising funds to teach the history of the Holocaust, with a goal of promoting human dignity and justice and serving as a memorial to its victims.

Some of the funds raised will allow the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center to partner with the USC Shoah Foundation in New Dimensions in Testimony. The hologram-based education program provides students with an interactive experience with survivors who are no longer with us. This amazing technology will help keep the memory of the Holocaust alive by bringing students into a real conversation with a survivor, even if that survivor is deceased, so that future generations of both Jews and non-Jews “never forget.” 

As part of the festivities, the JMA is raffling off a 2017 Harley Davidson Street Glide motorcycle. Tickets are $100 and only 500 will be sold. The drawing will be held on June 9 at the Crowne Plaza, in Warwick, which is the host hotel for the weekend.

Precision Harley Davidson, of Pawtucket, is sponsoring the raffle. You can learn more about the raffle on the Bornstein Holocaust Center’s Facebook page.

The full schedule for the weekend will be released soon. So break out your leathers, rev up your engines, and come support Holocaust education in Rhode Island.

LEV POPLOW is a communications and development consultant who writes for the Bornstein Holocaust Center. He can be reached at levpoplow@gmail.com.