The next time you see a motorcycle club out for a ride, don't be surprised to find that you may be sharing the road with the Star of David Bikers.
These decidedly "mild-bunch" of Jewish riders from the Greater Philadelphia metropolitan area, as well as from Burlington, Camden and Glouster counties in New Jersey, take to local and long-distance highways and byways on social trips, and thereby raise money for various Jewish charities and causes.
Four charitable rides to raise money for area Jewish cemeteries, for example, are scheduled for the four Sundays during the month before Rosh Hashanah.
"As a Jewish motorcycle club, we have our people, we have our traditions, and we have the road," says Rabbi Joseph M. Domosh, 46, the bikers' so-called "road rabbi" -- and pulpit rabbi at Temple B'nai Israel, in Burlington, N.J.
"I can't even begin to put into words what it's like to ride a motorcycle, except to say you're there in something totally free and fun. In a car, you go point to point and are out of the weather, but on a motorcycle, you're in the elements, and it's a great feeling," he explains.
"It's a great feeling, also, that while riding in the traditional staggered formation, there is a tremendous sense of security because, when you look to the front and back, you know you're riding with your Jewish brothers and sisters."
Domosh has been the riders' rabbi since the group was formed in 2006, with six members, says Louis Nemtsov, 45, of Churchill, Pa., president of the club since its inception and chief information officer for a mortgage company. Today, there are 40 members, including several women, he notes.
"Riding a motorcycle is all about freedom, so much more freedom than being in a car, even in a convertible. On a motorcycle, the machine and the rider's body have to work as one, first for safety's sake and then to get the greatest possible enjoyment out of the ride."
Fashion on the Road
When on the road, in their leather vests and jackets (some members do wear denim) emblazoned with a Star of David patch on the back and similar patch in front, and with their club (that resembles Israel's flag) and American flags flying, they surprise people, says the rabbi.
"People ask us, 'You're Jewish? Wow! We never thought there were Jewish bikers,' they say. 'That's so cool.' Then they want a picture with us."
Through it all, and through all of the rides that have included trips to Tennessee, Nebraska and Savannah, Ga., site of this year's annual "Ride to Remember the Six Million" -- where up to 300 bikers from as far away as Australia took part -- the group has never had a problem, according to Nemtsov.
"It's been friendly everywhere we go -- on the road, in parking lots used as gathering places before rides, where sometimes we'll say morning prayers, and in restaurants and hotels, too," he adds.
At the cemeteries, such as Har Yehuda, Mount Sharon and Roosevelt -- up to 10 in all to be visited this month and next -- the riders will roll in, thundering gently, on their Harleys, Hondas and other cycles, as they have on previous fundraisers.
A Blessing, Not a Threat
And once again, people there will be wondering what's going on -- until they see the Star of David and realize the group is not a threat but a blessing, as Kaddish is said for late club members.
The group has also ridden to raise money for the American Friends of Magen David Adom and for Jewish veterans, notes Domosh.
At this year's Israel Independence Day event on the John F. Kennedy Parkway in Philadelphia, a woman asked the rabbi if his mother knew that he was out and about, riding in a motorcycle club.
As a potential response, he and other Star of David Bikers now don sweatshirts that read: "Yes, our mothers know we're doing this."