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Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Ottumwa – Though one rider called the event a “show of unity,” the sound of 14 closely packed motorcycles was more like a “roar of unity.” The Jewish bikers said they don’t want others to forget the Holocaust — or to see others go through one.
“This is about getting the word out,” said Lauren Secular, of New York City, an officer of the “Chai Riders” motorcycle club (Chai, which rhymes with high, is a Hebrew concept for “living”).
She rode into Ottumwa Wednesday afternoon, just ahead of her peers.
The word she wants to spread is that the Holocaust killed six million Jews, as well as millions of others in Nazi-occupied Europe, and must not be forgotten. She and her fellow riders — affiliated with the Jewish Motorcyclist Alliance of clubs — are on their way to Holocaust memorial ceremonies this week in Omaha and Lincoln, Neb.
“Remembering the Holocaust helps [promote] tolerance in the world,” said Shirah Kushner of Chicago, who arrived at the hotel and parked her motorcycle near Secular’s.
“As long as you keep awareness, it can’t happen again,” Secular said. “We ride to remember.”
Yet the goal of the Heartland Holocaust Education Fund — the riders’ destination in Nebraska — is about more than memorializing a past tragedy.
In fact, one of the organization’s founders told the Courier by phone, “This is not about the past, it’s about the future.”
Sam Frieb explained he and his group never want to see anything like the Holocaust occur again — to any group of people.
“Our [mission] is to protect the defining doctrine of not only America but also of free men and women around the globe — that people of all races and religions be treated equally and without prejudice,” he said.
It is important to remember the past, he acknowledged, not to dwell, as victims, but to learn from it, in part to work in preventing hatred from destroying others.
“I was in Auschwitz,” he said. “It’s too late for the victims.”
Most riders in Ottumwa Wednesday supported the idea that future attempts at genocide could be prevented by education on the consequences of hatred.
But some believed there is a Holocaust going on right now.
“This ride we’re going on is a memorial ride, to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive,” said Mindi Wynne of The Dayton (Ohio) Sons of Israel motorcycle club.
“But the Holocaust is still happening. It’s just changed locations.”
No group should be targeted for death based on how they were born, group members said. There are those in the world who won’t believe entire tribes of people can be wiped off the face of the Earth, they said, but as Jews, they know it can happen.
Wynne said people are being killed for who they are in Darfour, in parts of China and in the Middle East. And she is angry at the way Muslims are being treated in America.
Wynne said she’s a “red-blooded American,” a certified firefighter who has friends who rushed off to help after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, some who are still ill from that environment. She said she hates the terrorists for what they did.
“But do I hate all Muslims? Of course not,” she said, adding the Muslims she knows are peaceful, kind people. So when she sees prejudice against Arab families in America just because of their religion, she becomes angry. It’s that type of thinking that ends up causing Holocausts, she said.
By drawing attention to Nazi atrocities, she said, “people all over the world will become aware — and people won’t have to die.”
“The more we allow people to engage in hateful behavior, the less safe we all are,” said her husband Ron.
“Things aren’t black and white,” said Kushner. “I think [these clubs] are hysterical [because] you never think there’s other Jewish bikers!”
After parking her motorcycle at the hotel, she and her fellow motorcyclists from the U.S. and Canada were getting ready to have dinner with representatives from Ottumwa’s small Jewish population.
Growing up an Orthodox Jew in a kosher home and attending religious school, Kushner still ended up founding a Chicago motorcycle club: The Chaiway Riders. She is still very religious, keeps kosher — and rides her motorcycle.
“You can have your values and have your freedom on the road,” she said.
Ron and Mindi agreed bikers can help break down stereotypes. They live in a farm town, take in foster kids, own a tractor, ride Harleys — and pray every morning. The family is religious and keeps kosher.
There are those who believe their own truths — that Jews are wicked or that blacks are bad — she said, because they don’t really know any of them.
“We’re showing a new truth. That red-neck … Harley riders can also be Orthodox Jews,” Mindi said.
Copyright (c) 2008, Ottumwa Courier, Iowa
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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