A Gang of Big Tough Bikers…

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Sdei Boker
01 May 2008

… with folded pink dinner napkins perched daintily on their heads.

That presents an ‘interesting’ mental image, doesn’t it?

My wife and I recently took our kids to spend a weekend at a Field School.

First a little background for the non-Israelis reading along:

Field schools are located all over the country and are often associated with The Society for the Protection of Nature. In addition to providing a learning environment for undergraduate and graduate students in environmental, wildlife and archaeological disciplines, these schools offer classes and tours to the public.

Many Field Schools also offer comfortable, albeit rustic, guest accommodations that allow visitors to spend extended stays in close proximity to nature. We try to take advantage of these wonderful institutions at least once each year. This year’s trip was to the Field School at Midreshet Sde Boker (near Kibbutz Sde Boker, the former home of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister).

Midreshet Sde Boker is set in the heart of the Negev Desert on the edge of a breathtaking canyon that rivals Arizona’s Grand Canyon and South Dakota’s Badlands for wild, spectacular beauty. The place houses a wide array of programs including an Environmental High School, an Interdisciplinary Institute, a Desert Research Institute and a Solar Energy Center.

The Guest Houses are centrally located on the campus and enjoy incredible views of the canyons beyond. There is also a very nicely appointed kosher dining room and a Synagogue.

When we arrived on Friday, we attended a lecture given by one of the Field School staff at ‘The Snake House’. This is a small building with enclosures containing live examples of many of the snake species that are indigenous to Israel. Outside the building they also have enclosures for various animals such as owls, falcons, and foxes that, due to injuries, can’t be returned to their natural habitat.

The lecture was fascinating and was perfectly balanced to offer enough descriptive analogies for the kids… and enough ‘meat’ to keep the grown-ups engaged.

As we were leaving the ‘Snake House’ and heading back to our room to clean up and change for Shabbat, we heard the roar of motorcycles entering the Field School campus and watched as a large ‘gang’ of bikers rode into the parking lot.

Once I got over the initial shock of the noise in this quiet desert setting, I was fascinated to see that they were riding a collection of classic old bikes including lots of Indians, BSAs and Nortons that were all in pristine condition. The same could not be said for the riders, however, who all seemed to be showing their mileage to a greater extent than their rides.

The group was made up of older men… mostly approaching or just past retirement age… who wore their gray hair closely cropped, and sported the pot bellies and beefy arms one would expect of the biker set. But when they got off their bikes I was surprised to hear them conversing in Hebrew. I honestly didn’t know that motorcycle culture (especially classic motorcycle culture) had made such deep inroads here in Israel!

If there had been a fleeting worry about this group of bikers being a bit, um, unruly, it was quickly set aside as I watched them turn off their bikes and thoughtfully push them the last dozen yards to the area near their rooms. In addition, as I was admiring the beautiful antiques they’d been riding, several of the bikers quickly apologized in advance for any noise they might need to make on Shabbat morning when they were planning on leaving to continue their ride.

I was charmed.

After Friday evening services in the Synagogue, we went to the dining room for dinner. We quickly went about making the traditional Kiddush over the wine and washed our hands in preparation for making the Hamotzi blessing on the Challahs.

But while we were waiting for the kids to finish washing their hands, the group of bikers – wearing clean t-shirts (sporting various motorcycle logos and mottoes) and blue jeans tucked into dusty engineer boots – filed into the dining-room and sat down around a long table near us.

Again, I was struck by a small tickle of dissonance at seeing these burly old bikers striding confidently into an Israeli Field School dining hall… speaking Hebrew!

But the real eye-opener came a few moments later when one of the bikers opened a bottle of wine, poured himself a full glass and stood up at the head of the table. As one, the rest of the bikers stood, took the neatly folded pink cloth dinner napkins from their place settings, and perched them carefully on top of their heads as makeshift yarmulkes, while the leader began making Kiddush (the blessing over the wine).

Too often I allow myself to forget that Israel is a very diverse place with Jews of every conceivable stripe and color. Too frequently we are quick to label and be labeled… and in the process forget that in the Jewish State, Judaism is not simply a binary switch that toggles between secular and religious, but rather a continuum that also covers all the territory in between.

It is not uncommon – especially amongst the older set – to find ‘secular’ Israelis who know their ‘Tanach’ (Bible) better than many Yeshiva students… and who can tell you the connection between most places in Israel and our ancient past. Sadly, as Tanach is increasingly watered down and redacted from secular elementary and high school curriculum, the labels will likely become more apt… and the fuzzy continuum between the secular/religious divide will contain fewer and fewer inhabitants.

As the leader of the bikers finished saying kiddush, and the group sat down to a traditional Shabbat dinner, I turned to Zahava and said, “I think that has to be the holiest kiddush I’ve ever heard”.

It wasn’t that it was fancy or flashy, mind you. The leader didn’t chant the kiddush particularly beautifully and the listeners didn’t seem particularly moved when they answered ‘amen’. It was the very ‘matter-of-factness’ of the kiddush that struck me as wonderful.

It was Friday night, and the most natural thing for these old Israeli Bikers to be doing before tucking into their dinner was to stand up, place a pink dinner napkin respectfully on their heads (in place of a kippah) and listen to one of their members make a proper kiddush.

It reminded me (once again) how essential it is that the Jewish state remain true to her Zionist roots. Because if anyone takes the time to consider why we Jews are here in this small corner of the world… they’d have to admit to themselves that we are bound together by far more than divides us.

David Bogner, formerly of Fairfield, CT, lives in Efrat with his wife Zahava (nee Cheryl Pomeranz), and their children Ariella, Gilad and Yonah. Since moving to Israel in 2003 David has been working in Israel’s defense industry on International Marketing and Business Development. In his free time David keeps a blog (www.treppenwitz.com) and is an amateur beekeeper.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.