Chai Riders
Chai Riders Mark Rotenberg, Rick Hyman, comedian Sandy Hackett, Ron Korman (seated), Mayer Mekelwitz (back) and Susie Haskin-Colovas. (Photo: Catalyst Media)

The Chai Riders are a local group of Jewish motorcycle enthusiasts started in 1994.

Jewish motorcyclists from across the country recently converged on Detroit to explore historical sites and meet fellow riders from the tribe.

The Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance (JMA) hosted its Motor City Meet & Greet July 9-11, sponsored by the Michigan Chai Riders.

The Chai Riders are a local group of Jewish motorcycle enthusiasts started in 1994 by local businessman Sy Freilich, who was looking for a few riding buddies to hit the open road with. The group, now about 50 strong, gets together a few times a week and were happy to host fellow Jewish riders from as far away as California and the East Coast, according to Chai Riders member Gerry Lullove, who volunteered to organize the event.

The JMA usually hosts the annual Ride to Remember, a fundraising ride held each year near International Holocaust Remembrance Day, focused on Holocaust remembrance and giving back to promote Holocaust education. This year it was canceled because of COVID-19.

Sandy Hackett
Comedian Sandy Hackett tests out a motorcycle. Photo courtesy of Catalyst Media

“We didn’t want to cancel our event because of the pandemic and went to great lengths to ensure physical distancing practices and safety measures were in place for the 50 Jewish motorcyclists expected to attend,” said Lullove, an advertising executive who attends services at Temple Shir Shalom and has been a Chai Rider for a few years.

The Meet & Greet started Thursday night with a welcome dinner at the Radisson Hotel on Orchard Lake. A planned visit to the Holocaust Memorial Center on Friday had to be canceled because of COVID-19, so instead Lullove arranged for a Detroit police escort to accompany the riders on a tour of the Motor City.

The four-hour Spirit of Detroit tour featured stops for photos at the Motown Museum, Michigan Central Station, Hart Plaza, Greektown and Belle Isle. The group of 55 bikes, led by their police escort, then rode back up Jefferson Avenue to see Ford Field and Comerica Park.

“We got caught in a downpour, but we just road through the rain,” Lullove said.

They ended the ride at Motor City Harley Davidson in Farmington Hills where riders enjoyed an outdoor barbecue and those who needed maintenance could attend to their bikes.

Barry Sobel of West Bloomfield said the day’s rain did nothing to dampen the group’s enthusiasm. Sobel, an executive at Microsoft, has been a member of Chai Riders for 10 years. He says the group has a wide range of people, from auto dealers to attorneys to podiatrists and business owners.

“We’re not your stereotypical motorcycle club,” he said. “I like to say we pull into a city and nobody gets scared.”

On Saturday, attendees had their choice of three rides: Frankenmuth, the Dexter-Chelsea area or Kalamazoo. When they returned, the group met for dinner at the Multi Lakes Conservation Center in Commerce Township, followed by a comedy performance by producer and “Rat Pack” revival star, Sandy Hackett, son of Buddy Hackett, at Big Tommy’s Parthenon and Comedy Club in Novi. “He was funny — very Jewish — and took a lot of questions from the audience about his dad,” Lullove said.

Ron Korman, Chai Rider for 10 years and motorcycle enthusiast for 60, said, “It was a great weekend. I met a lot of new people.” The semi-retired 74-year-old and his girlfriend enjoy the social aspect of the club, he added.

Chai Riders get together Wednesday nights to schmooze for “Bike Night” at Memorial Park in Royal Oak. “We’ve been careful to social distance because of coronavirus. We wear masks and bring our own food,” Korman said.

On Sunday mornings, members go for organized rides and they occasionally go on more extended trips.

Korman and seven others plan on heading to Sturgis, South Dakota, in August, home to an annual event that attracts hundreds of thousands of riders. “We don’t care if they end up canceling the national event because of COVID,” he said. “It’s a beautiful part of the country to ride in with the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore.”

You don’t have to be Jewish to be a Chai Rider, although “99.8 percent of members are,” Lullove said. Members also unite to support the community with projects and donations. Past recipients of their efforts include the Maccabi Games and the Jewish Book Fair.

“We’re always looking for new members,” Sobel said, “especially younger ones. We want to pass along this tradition to the next generation.”

For information about joining Chai Riders, email barry@sobel.org.

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