Jewish Biker Group Rides to Life

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A group of Jewish motorcycle enthusiasts will be raising money during a charity ride on Aug. 9.

When Galina Nemtsov Wohl and Craig Wohl tell people they’re part of a Jewish motorcycle group, the first reaction is typically, “…What?”
The Star of David Bikers was started in 2007 by Galina’s late husband, Louis Nemtsov, along with a few other like-minded riders in the Philadelphia area. Since then, it has grown to about 40 members from around the Delaware Valley, 30 of which are typically active, they said.
Nemtsov passed away unexpectedly in 2009, and the group has since honored his legacy with the annual Louis Nemtsov Star to Star Memorial Ride. This year’s ride will take place as part of the Bucks County Jewish Festival at Congregation Beth El in Yardley on Aug. 9.
The riders’ approximately 90-mile route will start at 9:30 a.m. and follow a scenic path even reaching into New Jersey, Craig Wohl, the group’s president, said. It will end just in time to return to the synagogue for the most important part of the day: lunch.
“The most important thing is, we ride to eat,” he joked. “We meet for breakfast and figure out where we’re gonna have lunch and base the ride around that.”
The festival and the ride are a fundraiser for the American Friends of Magen David Adom, an Israeli organization that provides ambulance and emergency medical responders.
The festival, which is open to the public and lasts from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., will feature kid-friendly activities such as sand art and face painting as well as food, drinks and Israeli dancing. AFMDA and other nonprofit organizations will be on hand to answer questions and give out information, and there will also be vendors selling jewelry, crafts and such.
One of Galina Nemtsov Wohl’s daughters will also be singing a few songs during the event.
The Star of David Bikers approached the AFMDA Bucks County chapter last year about having this fundraiser, said Mark Melmed, leader of the Bucks County Friends of AFMDA.
A Beth El member, Melmed approached his rabbi and asked if they could host the festival at the synagogue.
The bikers are hoping to raise $36,000 for the AFMDA, which was a cause Louis Nemtsov was passionate about, Galina, the group’s secretaryand treasurer, said. That cost will provide enough for one medicycle, said Sharon Schmidt, director of the AFMDA Greater Philadelphia area, which can get to the beach and other places an ambulance may not be able to get to as quickly.
Schmidt said AFMDA has been working with the Star of David bikers for many years. She first met Louis Nemtsov in 2009 when she asked him about doing a fundraising ride for AFMDA. His board gave a resounding “Yes,” and their partnership was born.
Originally, the ride was part of a different Jewish community festival in Bucks County that has since ended, she said.
Craig Wohl approached her about doing a festival again last year, which brought about this year’s event.
Schmidt is hoping for a high turnout and added that almost every synagogue in the Bucks County area as well as a few in Montgomery County are co-sponsoring the event this weekend.
“I have a very good feeling about it,” she said. “Anyone who loves Israel should be there supporting us.”
Melmed explained that the Magen David Adom is the Israeli Red Cross, responsible for ambulance services in Israel. It’s nondenominational, he said, and relies heavily on donations.
“We’d like to get as much of AFMDA’s purpose and mission out to the public as much as possible and, of course, raise funds,” Melmed said.
While not a motorcycle rider himself — he prefers the bicycle — he is hoping for nice weather for the riders and that those who attend the festival come away with a better understanding of the AMFDA’s mission.
He hopes many will be there to cheer on the riders as they return to Beth El around the start of the festival.
Craig Wohl started riding motorcycles during his time in the service in 1982 after a friend in the army introduced him to it. Since then, he’s been cruising on a Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 and, more recently, a Road Glide — the “Cadillac of the fleet,” as he calls it.
“For me, it’s stress relief,” he said. “You can’t think about anything else, you have to focus on the road. You wander, and that’s where accidents happen. It’s a freedom, to sum it up.”
When he and Galina first met in 2011, their shared love for riding brought them together.
Galina has been riding since 2006 and loved it right from the start. Despite not actually being the one revving the engine, she maintained the freedom aspect is still there even from the backseat.
“As a passenger, it’s different, but, like Craig said, you feel the freedom. Even though I don’t operate the bike, but I still feel that. You look at things differently than you would riding in a car,” she said, adding that the sights and smells are more notably different than a window view in a car.
Though the memorial ride is an annual occurrence, members of the group unite for many other rides and events throughout the year.
“We don’t just ride, we have a lot of social events, as well — Shabbat dinners, Chanukah parties, Purim parties, barbecue parties — it’s always around food,” Craig said.
Many members of the local organization have also participated in a larger international event, Ride to Remember, held by the worldwide umbrella organization, Jewish Motorcycle Alliance. This ride benefits Holocaust education programs and takes place annually in a different city. This year’s ride took place in Nashville, Tenn. at the end of June. The Wohls are hoping to attend next year’s event in Birmingham, Ala.
For them, Star of David Bikers has become something much larger than just hanging out with fellow Jewish motorcycle enthusiasts. They support each other like a family, Craig said.
“It’s an experience,” he said. “The camaraderie, being with friends, people you don’t see all the time — it’s like a family gathering.”
“It’s probably even nicer because we have such a nice group,” Galina added. “[You’re] riding not with just anyone; it became a second family.”
This is the first time the Star of David Bikers will be participating in the ride as part of a larger event like the festival, but they are looking forward to being part of the community and showing others what they are all about, as many are surprised when they learn who they are.
“We’ll go to delis for breakfast [before the rides] and people love seeing our T-shirts and our gear,” Craig said, showing off his light and dark blue tie-dye Star of David Bikers t-shirt, featuring the slogan, “Love of Our People, Love of the Road,” stretched across the back.
They believe more riders will show up to the Memorial Ride, which will also likely begin with a reciting of the traveler’s prayer, done by the resident road rabbi who rides with the group, Joe Domosh, the rabbi for Cherry Hill’s Congregation Ner Tamid. He also performs the “Blessing of the Bikers” at the start of each season.
Galina is anticipating seeing the turnout of the festival and showing the community what the organization is all about. Craig, on the other hand, is looking forward to lunch, he said, laughing.
On a more serious note, he is curious to see what participating in the festival will do for his organization.
“I’m excited to see what it’s gonna do to set the stage for future events. This is a stepping stone.”
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