Riding for Holocaust education


On June 9, Jewish motorcyclists from as far away as California and Toronto roared into Rhode Island for the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance’s Ride2Remember 2017. This year’s fundraising ride was to benefit the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center, in Providence.  

“I expected it to be large, but it was so much greater than I thought it was going to be. R2R was everything we hoped for and more,” said Bornstein Holocaust Center Executive Director May-Ronny Zeidman. “The big thing was how Jewish the motorcyclists were; coming from all points of Judaism, they are united by three things: They are Jewish, they ride motorcycles and they care about Holocaust education.”

The ride was just part of the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance events in Rhode Island. Befitting of a Jewish organization, one of the JMA’s mottos is: Live to Ride, Ride to Eat. And eat they did. The R2R got started on June 8 with a kick-off dinner at the Crowne Plaza Providence-Warwick.

Excitement infused the dinner as old and new friends came together in anticipation of the next day’s ride. One of the riders, Mark Nachman, whose local JMA club is the Lost Tribe of Virginia Beach, said, “I think it’s so important that we keep the remembrance of the Holocaust alive so it never happens again. What we do is important, and it’s also great to reunite with old friends and make new friends.”

A talk by Alice Eichenbaum, a Rhode Island Holocaust survivor, was a high point of the evening. 

“We’ve never had a survivor speak to us before the ride,” said Ed Forman, president of the King David Riders of South Florida, adding that she inspired the riders.  

After dinner, the riders lined up to talk to and take pictures with Eichenbaum, even lending her their leather jackets to wear in the photos – a very high honor among motorcyclists. 

The next morning, under clear skies, the riders gathered at the starting point,  Precision Harley-Davidson, in Pawtucket, for a pre-ride breakfast hosted by owner Richard Pilavan. 

It was quite a sight to see the 127 bikes all lined up and the riders, in leathers with club names such as Sons of David, Hillel’s Angels and Riders of the Covenant, drinking coffee and enjoying a bagel with a shmeer.

Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien was on hand to welcome and encourage the riders. After the mayor spoke, Jeffrey Komrower, president of the Boston Lonsmen, and Providence police officer Scott Keenan gave the riders logistical instructions. And then, they were off!

After a few hours of touring the scenic back roads of northwestern Rhode Island, the riders arrived at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, in Providence.  They were enthusiastically greeted by Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline and state Sen. Gayle Goldin, who thanked them for coming to Rhode Island to support Holocaust education.

The group then toured the Holocaust education center and ate lunch, catered by the Phyllis Siperstein Tamarisk Assisted Living Residence staff, at the JCC 

Nico Berlin, a rider from the Shalom on Chrome club, of Charleston, South Carolina, was born in Holland and is the son of Holocaust survivors. He said this was his eighth Ride2Remember – and one of the best.

“Today was an amazing ride, and I’ve seen your [Holocaust] center, and believe that you are doing a good job, and am pleased to support it. This was the longest ride we had in the eight years that I have participated. It was flawless and the police escort was amazing!” he said.

The day was capped off with a celebratory dinner at the Crowne Plaza. A highlight of the evening was a demonstration of the USC Shoah Foundation’s New Dimensions in Testimony. NDT creates cutting-edge interactive holographic projections of Holocaust survivors, which the Bornstein Center hopes to bring to Rhode Island with the funds raised by the R2R. The riders were spellbound as they engaged in “conversation” with Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter.

NDT aims to help keep the lessons of the Holocaust relevant for future generations.

“At the heart of NDT is, how do you promote curiosity?” said Kori Street, senior director for Programs & Operations at the USC Shoah Foundation. “We want people to be impacted by the testimony, to become more courageous, more critical, more curious, and to participate in civic engagement.

“So what happens when survivors are no longer available? NDT will help drive the desire to ask questions and to take the answers to help us make sense of the past. And, by having a conversation, students develop that relationship with the story they are hearing, so it is not technology for technology’s sake.”

After dinner, Betsy Ahrens, JMA’s R2R coordinator, said she was “heading home filled with exhilaration, satisfaction and contentment for what we did for the SBHEC.” Ahrens added that she is “reenergized for the JMA to continue R2R to support Holocaust education.”

Forman may have summed up Ride2Remember 2017 best when he said, “We hit it out of the ballpark. The hosting, the food, the riding, the police support – just the enthusiasm that we had at this one is going to be hard to top.

“We want the R2R to be a living legacy to remember the Holocaust because we cannot forget this. And we need to inspire tolerance, because, unfortunately, there’s been a lack of tolerance in this country.”

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