The Origin of the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance
Back in the early to mid 1990’s, as far as can be ascertained, there were only a few Jewish motorcycle clubs in existence. In New Jersey, Hillel’s Angels (HA) was an outgrowth of an informal group of motorcyclists that were members of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff. The NJ group was not a formal club in terms of regular meetings, elected officers and a club charter-- rather it was just a few people on a mailing list that Mel Morris kept to orchestrate the rides. At a later point in time, the NJ riders took the first steps to formalize themselves into a club by adapting a logo. As Jewish motorcyclists were (and still are) a fairly rare commodity, the nascent HA received a lot of press in the local NJ papers and Mel had his 15 minutes of fame when he was interviewed on a live radio talk show.
On Mel’s mailing list there were several Chai Riders from New York City. Through some mechanism that has disappeared in the cobwebs of time, Scott Wynn, Lauren Secular and several other Chai Riders joined HA on aride or two. That was the first interaction between the two clubs.
The other Jewish Motorcycle Club that can trace its beginnings to the mid-90s is Yidden on Wheels (YOW) in Toronto. In the spring of 1995 several riders from Toronto discussed going to Americade (an annual motorcycle rally in upstate New York). They decided to go to the event and called themselves YOW. Upon returning to Toronto the riders contacted other Jewish motorcycle acquaintances and friends and YOW officially came into being as a motorcycle club in September 1995.
Chai Riders of NYC was formed in 1997 from many members of a loosely based predecessor club. Some of these riders from the preceding club bumped into YOW members at Americade in the mid 90’s and subsequently met for dinner for several years at the rally. Once the Chai Riders was formed, this tradition continued for a few years.
Around ’98 or ’99, the Chai Riders started a public message board on their website for communications among each other. As well, the board was employed to find and help promote new Jewish motorcycle clubs. Scott and Lauren found some Jewish riders through the board and they were already cognizant of HA in NJ and YOW in Toronto. Half a world away, down under, YOW Australia came into being in 1997. A few riders in Melbourne got together with the idea of forming a club. They were aware of YOW Toronto and the Australians decided to get in touch with the Canadians. The downunders contacted YOW Toronto and asked if they could use their name and logo (modified for Australia). In a fit of benevolence and without a copyright fee, YOW Toronto agreed! Thus YOW Australia came into being.
Thus, as far as can be determined, there were 5 Jewish motorcycle clubs in existence in the mid to late 90s which were to some degree aware of the other’s existence.* Besides the dinner meetings at Americade between the YOWs and Chai Riders, the latter went on a few rides with HA in these early years and Scott recalls a ride to the Berkshires around this time. These 2 clubs continued to stay in touch after these few rides.
* There were other functional clubs, but the 5 referenced above were not aware of their existence at that time.
There appears to be little if any movement among these clubs in terms of joint communications and activities until about 2003 – 2004. Around this time, through message boards, websites and internet surfing, Scott and Mel came into contact with Jay Rubin in the Metro DC area who was trying to form a new Jewish motorcycle club. Jay had placed a notice in the Washington Jewish Week about holding a meeting to organize a club. Jay then formed a DC area club initially named Hillel’s Angels Mid-Atlantic with the permission of the New Jersey club. Jay was also discussing with HA about using the HA name for a broader based Jewish motorcycle association. The DC club subsequently changed their name to The Tribe.
Jay heard that the Chai Riders had a ride called “A Ride to Remember” to benefit a local Holocaust Museum. This ride had been going on for several years. Jay attended one of the rides and showed up with a couple of riders from the Tribe.
Ken Shapiro became apprised of the Tribe as a result of the latter’s recruiting trip to Baltimore. He later formed a Baltimore based club called Semites on Bikes (SOB). Scott became aware of Ken through Jay when Jay attended the Chai Rider’s ride. Scott became friendly with Ken and Jay and subsequently put out an email to introduce the club leaders: Jay, Ken, Mel and Steve Stein of YOW to each other. Scott also had learned of a South Florida club through the Chai Riders message board called King David Bikers (KDB). Scott then contacted the President, Jeff Mustard, and then included him in his emails. Several emails among these individuals were exchanged and a sentiment developed that all should get together. Scott and Ken argued for a “Meet and Greet” and Scott proposed a lose umbrella organization the purpose of which would be to promote awareness of the other groups and have occasional Meet and Greets. Jay, Mel, Steve and Jeff started to talk about a more formal organization with a detailed agenda which was in line with the thoughts discussed by Mel, Jay and others. The first name that was bandied about was the Jewish American Motorcycle Association (JAMA).
It was decided that the first Meet and Greet would take place at Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson in Delaware on Oct. 3, 2004. The attendees invited were the 6 known North American Jewish bike clubs: Chai Riders (greater NYC), HA (NJ), KDB (South Florida), SOB (MD), The Tribe (Metro DC), and YOW (greater Toronto). Five of the 6 clubs came to the meeting (YOW didn’t attend but remained involved in all discussions). Some 100 people and 69 motorcycles attended the Meet and Greet. The concept of a formal ride to remember to honor the victims of the Holocaust on the 60th anniversary of the liberation from the concentration/death camps was articulated at this event. Mel recalls sitting at a table outside of Mike’s and talking about forming a national organization of Jewish bikers and that the 1st event would be a Ride to Remember to DC. Shortly after the Meet and Greet, the JMA was formally (but loosely) formed with 5 of the 6 Jewish clubs being the founders and first members of the organization. SOB was not interested.
Jeff Mustard asked to organize the first Ride to Remember (R2R) to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the liberation. The ride was organized under the auspices of the JMA although it must be stated that the JMA had not formally come into existence. Although the other clubs asked to be included in the organization of the event, Mustard took charge with the assistance of some of his members. Thus Mustard and KDB were totally responsible for the event without any assistance or input from any other clubs. The ride was a success in that it established the viability of an umbrella organization for Jewish motorcyclists. There were some 151 bikes involved with close to 200 attendees.
Subsequent to the 2005 R2R, the original 5 founding clubs proceeded to form what is now the JMA. There were several email exchanges about the name JAMA (see above) but it was rejected as the acronym is well known as the Journal of the American Medical Association and more importantly, YOW was in Canada and at this time there was contact with YOW in Australia. Thus we settled on Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance. During the following months, Mel Morris authored the JMA Charter. As well, during this period conversations were taking place with other Jewish riders in Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta.
At the first R2R in May 2005 in Washington, Sid Rochwerg of YOW Toronto recalled a story told to him by a fellow club member several weeks earlier about the Paper Clip project executed by the students and staff at the Whitwell School in Whitwell, TN. Upon returning to Toronto, Sid told Steve Stein about the Paper Clip story and suggested that the 2nd R2R and the 1stJMA organized R2R should be held in Whitwell/Chattanooga, TN. Steve was enthusiastic about the idea and agreed to be the co-chair with Sid. Both proceeded to form an Organizing Committee to plan what is now known as the Paper Clip Ride. The basic story concerns a totally white Christian primary school located in the tiny and obscure hamlet of Whitwell in the Appalachians. The school had decided to undertake a diversity and tolerance project and settled upon the Jewish people and the Holocaust for their endeavor. The project subsequently became world famous. The Paper Clip project captured the imagination of anyone who was apprised of the story. YOW’s Organizing Committee, with the concurrence of the newly formed JMA, decided to honor the students, teachers and people of Whitwell with a ride and fund raising to help the school purchase otherwise unaffordable teaching equipment.
Prior to the 2006 Paper Clip R2R, the JMA grew from the 5 founding clubs to 10 with the addition of the Sabra Riders (Atlanta), Chai Riders (Detroit), Chaiway Riders (Chicago), Or Tikva (Chicago & now defunct) and YOW Australia. The 2006 Paper Clip Ride turned out to be a resounding success. The event attracted 227 motorcycles and 378 attendees including a chartered bus of 44 from Toronto with several Holocaust survivors on board. When the organizers contacted The Whitwell School, they promised to provide the school with 1 electronic whiteboard teaching aid at a cost of $4000.00. The JMA raised sufficient funds to provide the school with 10 boards; an additional board was donated by the manufacturer for a total of 11. The total funds raised were in excess of $60,000.00. Thus the JMA was left with $20,000.00--well above and beyond what was promised to the Whitwell School. The JMA decided to donate these funds to the Moriah Films unit of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in an effort to further Holocaust education.
An unintended but vitally important outcome of the Paper Clip Ride was the substantial “buzz” the event generated in several segments of the North American Jewish community and the Jewish motorcycling community. It is fair to say that the event gave the JMA a boost and helped to publicize awareness of Jewish riders and the subsequent formation of many clubs that then joined the JMA.
At a meeting held May 5, 2006, in Chattanooga, with all 10 club representatives in attendance, the JMA charter was formally adopted thus providing a template for the conduct of the JMA going forward. An election was held naming the first officers of the JMA being led by Mel as the first President.
This is the point at which the origin of the JMA has been adequately articulated. From the formation of the first few Jewish motorcycle clubs in the 90’s to the initial awareness of the other’s existence leading to the Meet & Greet at Mike’s Famous culminating in the 1st JMA organized R2R: this is the sequence of events that that led to the formation of the JMA.