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

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Jack Lewis, Michael Lew

At least I found the Negev Desert. Follow blue signs south to Be'er Sheba ("Seven Wells"), then make for Ben Gurion University, perched overlooking the world's largest makhtesh. Nightfall in the Negev forms a temple to solitude, every footstep and twinkle exploding against the dark silence. If Yahweh vacations in the Holy Land, it's more likely here than in fractious, theocultural Jerusalem.

Israel's weekend is one day long: Friday for Muslims, Saturday for Jews, Sunday for tourists. When Israeli sport riders celebrate Shabbat, tripling the speed limit suddenly looks conservative. Want to see God? Try hanging with these guys.

Seeking Eitan's H.O.G. buddies for a Saturday ride, I sailed into a gas station featuring every flavor of bike from an unrestored 1942 Triumph sidehack to a fresh Ducati Hypermotard. They brought ratfighters, big trailies and a candy-apple red sea of cruisers-not one of which was a Harley.

Surrounded by unintelligible bike banter, I smiled, nodded, bit my non-Hebraic lip and waited for the Harleys to show up. They did not so do.

Riders presently abandoned chemical-orange drinks to gather for a safety briefing. All maps distributed were utterly innocent of English.

What would Alon do?

I took off after them.

The gaggle soon pulled over, commencing a field-expedient memorial service. A spade-bearded bear of a man softly addressed the crowd. Blue-starred flags snapped in the crisp breeze of the still-shiny new country. Out on the highway, my lost H.O.G. patrol thundered past.

Israel's somber Memorial Day reflection would start the next evening. After that, Independence Day parties with live bands, barbeque and beer.

A woman softly touched my elbow and whispered, "Do you speak Hebrew?"

"No," I admitted, "not a word."

"So ... you don't know what it is?"

Yes, I thought, staring into cobalt blue eyes. Yes, I do.

I didn't, of course. Besides falling in with the wrong crowd, I misjudged the speaker's gravitas. After losing his son Roi years ago in an ugly motorcycle accident, Yankele Weintraub extracts his vengeance on the world with an annual rolling party. Yankele greeted every biker like long-lost family, even ladling out cardamom coffee for the stranger from America.

I was gonna need that caffeine. Israelis are adventure riders.

While I hadn't a clue where we were headed or what to do when we got there, everyone pretended I was supposed to be bumbling around, getting in the way. Desert nomads respect ancient traditions of hospitality.

Overlooking the valley where David slew Goliath, Vulcan-mounted Moshe insisted I eat one of the kosher sandwiches his wife had packed. Then we wobbled together down dusty tank trails-cruisers and scooters et al, oh my!

One of perhaps a thousand Israeli memorials bedecks a hillside at "Peace Island," a cooperative border oasis where seven pre-teen Israeli girls were shot by a crazed Jordanian soldier in 1997. Afterward, Jordan's monarch visited Beit Shemesh to beg forgiveness from the girls' families.

"He was our sworn enemy," said John Markow, a tall Transalp rider who made aliyah from South Africa, "but King Hussein had class."

Between our last mountaintop stop and the restaurant at ride's end, I was lost no less than four times. I got lost in townships, lost in olive groves and completely bollixed by a gas pump's pigheaded insistence on my citizenship number. But without getting lost, I'd have missed the whole adventure.

Gazing across Galilee, I asked John if he believed the Biblical story recounting Hebrew slaves escaping Egypt only to wander the desert for 40 years.

"Maybe," he said. "It's our fable. We believe it."

He paused for a moment, then said, "I believe it. I don't believe in God, though."

"Neither do I," I said. "But He still rides pillion when He feels like it."

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