By Eva Trieger
SAN DIEGO — On September 2, 1939, much of the world was unaware that the Nazis had opened their first concentration camp to wipe out the Jews and Poles of Danzig, just after the outbreak of World War II. The camp, Stutthof, was in a swampy area where inmates were subjected to starvation, brutal beatings, inadequate medical care and extreme working conditions. Some 28,000 Jews and 35,000 Polish detainees were part of the ethnic cleansing project. Eventually, in 1944, this camp became home to Jews who were transferred from Auschwitz when it began liquidation efforts earlier that year. The allies liberated the Stuffhofcamp on May 9, 1945. I had never heard of the Stutthof. Now I can’t hear it.
A group is committed to keeping the Holocaust and its survivors at the forefront of our minds. The Butterfly Project’s mission statement is “to teach social justice through the lessons of the Holocaust, educating everyone about the dangers of hate and bigotry to cultivate empathy and cultural responsibility.” They do this by partnering with schools and painting ceramic butterflies to represent resilience, commemorate the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust, and honor survivors, whom we will never forget.
Each year, other groups partner with The Butterfly Project to raise funds so that these important programs continue to reach as many children as possible. One committed group is the Jewish Bikers Alliance. They not only cover the United States but have international clubs. Members of multiple chapters come together to raise funds and ride their bikes for the Ride2Remember. Although they ride for a serious cause, it’s obvious that they enjoy their camaraderie and don’t take themselves too seriously. Take for example the little names they give to their chapters. From Michigan we have the Chai Riders, New Jersey brings us the Hillel’s Angels, New Mexico has the Kosher Hogs, Mountain Menchen from North Carolina, Shalom and Chrome from California and Sons of Abraham from Illinois. There are clubs from Israel, Ontario and Australia. The Alliance’s mission statement states that they are united by their love of motorcycles, they also share “a common faith and heritage…any religion or brand of bikes (are) welcome”.
This year, Ride2Remember will take place in the most beautiful city in America! The event runs from September 8-11, and attendees will meet for the ride, Kabbalat Shabbat services and dinner, Shabbat services and lunch, and some world-class chit-chat. To find out more about the event, I spoke with a dynamic little biker from New York, Lauren Secular. Secular is the treasurer of the Jewish Bikers Alliance and one of the organization’s co-founders. She is also president of Ride2Remember. During a telephone interview, I asked her how she got interested in horse riding. “I was hitchhiking to the beach and was picked up by a motorcyclist.” When she got her first motorcycle at 18, her mother asked, “What’s next? A tattoo? Nah, I already have one!” countered Laurent.
Secular grew up in a Reform Jewish family and became a bat mitzvah. Although she did not have a strong affiliation with religious observance, she identified as Jewish and was one of the founders of the Chai Riders. During a dinner meeting at a Glatt kosher restaurant, like-minded Jewish bikers created the club which includes rabbis, psychologists and dentists! In a short video interview by two Israelis, I was pleased to learn that the men at the Secular club sported temporary tattoos, as halakha forbids disfiguring the body. I also got a chuckle from those grown men who admitted they didn’t have the nerve to buy a bike before their mother died.
Secular has participated in two previous Ride2Remember fundraisers; Washington, DC and Whitwell, TN. If the latter means something to you, it’s because it’s the small all-white fundamentalist Christian town where the documentary paperclips was designed to help students understand the enormity of the Holocaust and teach compassion and diversity. Pleased to report that interest has grown, Secular shared that this year bikers will be coming from Finger Lakes in New York, St. Louis, Florida, Toronto and even a “couple from Israel”. At least six Chai Riders will be present!
Another club president will represent the Sons of Abraham, hailing from, you guessed it, Abe’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois. Dr. Michael Trieger will be on the ride and told me that his love affair with motorized bicycles began when he was twelve years old and had a craving for a minibike. Unfortunately, her father, an oral surgeon, brought home photos of faces he had to reconstruct following a motorcycle accident. No bike for Mike until his mother died. Committed to safety, Trieger passed all three levels of safety on a motorcycle and did so well that he was asked to be an instructor! Has he ever had an accident, I asked? Yes, I was told. When his front wheel came off under him, he fractured a rib. He didn’t tell his wife until a week later! Trieger has a personal connection to the Holocaust, having lost the majority of his Polish relatives during World War II to the Nazis. He had the incredible and serendipitous opportunity to ride the Whitwell Ride and remember his late brother-in-law and Paperclips documentary filmmaker Elliot Berlin. Does Trieger have verboten tattoos? He is. On his right arm he has Max de where the wild things are, and on his left front paw a tattoo of his beloved dog, Petey, right where the dog licked his leg when he got out of the shower. “My parents wouldn’t approve, but I’m me.”
Ride2Remember from San Diego laid out a nice 2.5 hour ride up to Idyllwild and some other more adventurous trails along the coast to Mexico. This momentous event will ensure that we will never forget our victory over tragedy. Never again can the world be left in the dark. Whether you have a Honda, Harley or Yamaha, let your headlight light the way!
Eva Trieger is a freelance writer specializing in the arts. She can be contacted via [email protected]