They may wear black leather jackets and ride big bikes, but these motorcyclists are welcome when they roll into town.
Its 65 members from throughout the state — some women among them —ride to fulfill a mission to promote tolerance and Holocaust education and support community projects, such as feeding the hungry, all the while enjoying the camaraderie of the road.
They are the riders of Hillel’s Angels, a statewide Jewish motorcycle club that seeks to represent their faith and heritage proudly while showing respect for all.
“We have observant members and those who are not observant, but we are a Jewish club and we never schedule a club ride on Saturday or on any Jewish holiday,” said its president, David Levine of East Brunswick.
To deal with the difficulty of finding kosher food on the road, “we encourage our riders to bring their lunches, and we instead have beautiful picnic lunches in a park,” said Levine, a vice president of patient services for a Queens special needs pharmacy.
It was the club’s mission that attracted Sam Cohen of Bradley Beach to join. “It’s a great opportunity for those of us who have a love of riding and a commitment to Judaism to get together to support important causes,” he said. “We base everything we do on Jewish ethics.”
One highlight for Cohen, an IT manager, is the group’s annual ride in the Salute to Israel Parade in New York. “If you stick around to the end,” he said, “we’re the ones riding right before the trash trucks.”
The club was also featured in a short documentary, Hillel’s Angels, which was shown two years ago in New York’s Big Apple Film Festival.
Cohen, a member of both Conservative Congregation Torat El in Ocean and Orthodox Congregation Agudath Achim in Bradley Beach, jokingly admitted his own interest resulted from a midlife crisis — he got his first bike at 40 and is still riding 14 years later.
If riding a “hog” appears to be an unsuitable hobby for Jews, the club’s origins belie that notion. Founded in 1997 by Cantor Ilan Mamber of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, it was the country’s first Jewish motorcycle club. About 40 such clubs now operate in the United States and Canada under the Jewish Motorcycle Alliance.
The JMA’s biggest event of the year is the Ride to Remember, in which Hillel’s Angels has participated since its launch six years ago. Members travel long distances in support of a Shoa education or tolerance-related endeavor, including to the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and to Tennessee, when the “Paper Clips Ride” aided the children of Whitwell, made famous in a documentary about their efforts to spread Holocaust education.
The Ride to Remember typically brings in more than $20,000.
“There is anti-Semitism going on every day, and we do not want to let people forget the past,” said Levine, a board member at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick. “We have a lot of members whose parents or grandparents are survivors. My own dad is a World War II vet who helped liberate camps.”
And whether it’s a cross-country ride or a monthly excursion to the Catskills, Poconos, or Pine Barrens, Hillel’s Angels are always ready to hit the road for a good cause and some fun, and always sponsor a Shabbat program and a cultural outing at regional events, said Cohen. “We always find something unique to do.”
For more information, go to hillelsangels.com.