Holy Harley - Riding High on the Hog in the Holy Land

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Jack Lewis, Michael Lew

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, I picked up a kosher Hog in Tel Aviv. This is no easy thing.

Still, talk to enough people and sure enough, someone will square you away. The friend of a patron of an ambulance service had an uncle who knew a guy ... and so it came to pass that Eitan Ben-Arie of Tel Aviv Harley-Davidson had a Vivid Black Dyna waiting with bags on.

At 10:00 a.m., air-raid sirens interrupted my traffic briefing and every single citizen stopped and stood with bowed heads as the horns of Yom Hashoah wailed for 2 minutes, mourning 6 million irretrievable victims. Every Israeli shields a soldier's heart behind a creased veteran's smile.

Memorial complete, Eitan reminisced about cruising Miami with a chrome Iron Cross adorning his noggin.

"Seriously?" I raised a goybrow. "A Nazi helmet?"

He spread his hands and grinned. "Hey, why not?"

The rhythm and flow of Tel Aviv traffic resembles a cultural collision between Seoul and Milan, blue-lit by police beacons that are universally ignored. It's no wonder Israelis won't be pwned by terrorism. They commute to work as combat maneuver elements.

Tel Aviv itself is Europe with a Brazilian wax-a Levantine cosmopolis of kohl-eyed vitality; Madrid in a miniskirt with rolling acres of party cleavage shading tanned sandal toes. Beach bars pour Maccabi lager into schooners the size of a governor's arm. Men accessorize with chunky chronographs, aviator sunglasses and gun leather; women with skin, tight.

The next day, I pointed the black Hog southeast. Paved by Ottoman occupation forces to connect Jaffa with the world headquarters of religious strife, Highway 1 is Israel's mother road. Imperturbable as Jerusalem stone, my Harley plunged casually through time from Tel Aviv's beach-party future into Jerusalem's defiant, conflicting histories.

The toughest biker in Jerusalem is a diabetic stroke victim with government press credentials and a pistol permit. Tattooed with the scars of four open-heart surgeries, Alon Tuval is built like a No. 2 Dixon Ticonderoga and animated by the comfortable humor of the damned.

"Four people in the western hemisphere have my cluster of symptoms," he said, chaining off a smoke. "And the other three are dead."

Tearing through a pile of armored vests and telephoto lenses to find his helmet and a corpsman-quality aid kit ("If I bleed, I don't stop"), Alon hopped on and smacked my shoulder for GO!

"Did we touch?" he yelled a few minutes later. I waggled my helmet, unwilling to admit crunching the frame into the oily streets.

"Do it again!"

If you want to write a motorcycle story in Israel, you need your own Alon-not only for IDF access and the best arrak in J-town, but literally to show you how to get around. The secret, in this high power-to-weight country, is cheerful aggression. In a land where top predators tailgate through construction zones at triple the limit, traffic is not for the timid.

"Steal the lane!" he'd yell in my ear. "Ride Israeli-style!" Small wonder the bastard's had two heart attacks and a stroke.

Alon taught me to squeeze the Dyna through where angels fear to lane-split, but I never learned to navigate Jerusalem's antique warren of roundabouts, alleyways and bazaars. We flogged that Harley to the Old City, the West Bank, the American colony, the Dead Sea, the "Nazi colony" (look it up), the Mount of Olives and even the Western Wall. I have pictures to prove it, but couldn't guide you to those places on a rich bet.

"You get lost a lot," Alon said. "That's why you're a good rider: extra miles."

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