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Motorcyclists revved up for Israel’s 60th

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Sam Blumenstein kneels next to the Yamaha motorcycle he will ride across Israel in a photo from January 2008. (Dan Goldberg)

Sam Blumenstein kneels next to the Yamaha motorcycle he will ride across Israel in a photo from January 2008. (Dan Goldberg)

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – As Israel and the Diaspora gear up for the Jewish state’s 60th birthday, seven Australian Jews are tuning their engines for a ride to remember.

They will join some 100 motorcyclists, mostly from Canada and Israel, for a two-week trip organized by the Israeli Motorbike Club to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and Israel’s diamond anniversary in May. The group will travel from Eilat to Metulla.

For two of the Aussies, the trip will be laden with emotion: Sam and Israel Blumenstein are the sons of an Auschwitz survivor and have never been to the Jewish state.

“The main reason why I’m going is to support Israel for its 60 years,” Sam Blumenstein, 54, told JTA. “My parents are Holocaust survivors; my mother spent 3 1/2 years in Auschwitz and some time in Majdanek. For me it’s important to support a country that rose out of the ashes of Nazism.”

The Blumenstein boys own a workshop that manufactures and builds motor engines.

“We’re in a profession uncommon in Jewish circles – we are drag racers,” said Blumenstein, a biker since he was 17.

He noted that his street car held the world record in the early 1990s for the quickest quarter-mile time – 8.8 seconds at 156 mph.

Among the other five Australian bikers are two sets of couples. All the Aussie bikers heading to Israel are members of Yidden on Wheels, a Jewish bike club founded in Melbourne 10 years ago with about 60 members.

“Two of the guys going grew up in Israel,” said Blumenstein, who nearly has finished building a special container to transport the motorcycles. “Their parents came out of the war and eventually emigrated to Australia.

Another biker, he said, is the son of Holocaust survivors “who came to Australia with nothing.”

Although the Blumenstein brothers grew up on the adrenaline of motorcycling speed, the ride across Israel will be a more leisurely affair.

The bikers will head south to Jerusalem, where they will join an official parade on Independence Day, May 8. The Israeli organizers have arranged for the convoy of bikes to be allowed near the Western Wall, according to Blumenstein.

Although he has not visited Israel, Blumenstein has been overseas for Jewish bike rides. Last year he joined the parade down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for the “Ride to Remember,” an annual event to honor Holocaust victims organized by the Jewish Motorcyclists’ Alliance, a U.S. group founded in 2004.

It was the Ride to Remember that inspired one of the bikers to suggest a trip to Israel on its 60th anniversary.

Among the alliance member clubs that participated were Hillel’s Angels of New Jersey; the Chaiway Riders of Chicago; Jews that Cruise from Pittsburgh; and Yidden on Wheels, which also has a club in Sydney.

Blumenstein will be riding his Yamaha 1200cc, but many bikers are expected to be on Harley-Davidsons.

“We think Harley-Davidsons go very well with the scenery,” quipped Gideon Lee, an Israeli-Canadian biker, to the Yediot Achronot newspaper.

It won’t come cheap for the Aussies. They each will pay about $10,000 for the shipment of their bikes, airfares and living costs.

Blumenstein acknowledges the major cost, but says, “I look at it this way: I’m 54. How many more years have I got to be riding around in a motorcycle?”

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