Jewish motorcyclists in Toronto hit the open road with purpose

For 18 Sundays of the year (give or take), Jewish motorcyclists band together to embark on full day rides outside of Toronto. The objective is simple: enjoy each other’s company and the open road. 

The Yids on Wheels (YOW) Motorcycle Touring Club, has been part of the Jewish community since 1995. With 65 members, typically anywhere from five to 25 people meet up for the Sunday rides (which take place from May to October when the weather is preferable). The group also partakes in annual charitable rides for important causes like the Barrie to Baycrest event every September, to raise funds for its Brain Research unit. They also support Holocaust education initiatives like ShadowLight Project and Ride to Remember. 

YOW is also a member of the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance (JMA)—an umbrella organization whose affiliate clubs consist of 40 official, organized motorcycle riding clubs representing over 2,000 Jewish motorcycle enthusiasts from Canada, the U.S., Australia, Israel, and Scotland.

Jonny Diamond, the president of YOW, joined the club shortly after 2000, at the request of a friend. Never having been part of a motorcycle club before, there was something about YOW—the people, the food, the sheer fun of it all, that drew Diamond to the laidback community. 

Jonny Diamond President of YOW (left) and Bob Cohen President of JMA (right). Photo by Cheryl Yaffa.

I spoke with with Diamond to discuss the importance of YOW, the community it provides to members, and the important ways the club is giving back to the Jewish community. 

 

I’m curious to know more about how Yids on Wheels started? 

The initial thing about the club was it started to align like-minded Jewish motorcyclists and motorcycling was something that gained a lot of traction in middle class professionals and others. There was no formal Jewish club in Toronto, so a couple guys started it and the word spread around and basically that’s how the club got going. We still have 10 or less of the original crew.

What drew you to it? 

What is the attraction of 60 to 70 guys on motorcycles banding together as Jewish people? I think it’s just banding together as Jewish people. We probably do have more in common politically, socially, demographically, and culturally, among ourselves; not that we are not open to having others of any denomination. But this is a great place to be. The jokes are great, we can say what we want, and no one gets insulted. A magazine that wrote about us some time ago said we ride all day and stop six times to eat. . . so eating seems to be part of the process here. 

Can you tell me a little bit more about the routes you take on those Sunday rides? 

You’ll have to come and join us someday. We don’t ask you to wear black leather. 

I’ve never been on a motorcycle before—

I’m sure we could find a helmet for that head. But for the ride we would meet a Kiva’s, like a Sunday rally point. When there wasn’t a pandemic we might meet at 8 o’clock, have breakfast at Kiva’s—fill your boots. Make sure your gas tank is filled and your bladder is empty, which is often what we say. We then we head off around 9:15 a.m.; we take a run through Port Hope, up to Rice Lake, across to Port Perry and down again. We stop for lunch and then make our way back to the city at around 3:30 p.m. That would be a typical day. A one day ride is meant to be a lot of fun. 

And what are some of the most memorable trips you’ve taken over the years? 

A group of us go to Pennsylvania, or West Virginia, or Ohio. . . we’ve taken trips down to North Carolina and come to South Carolina which could be a 10 day trip. It happens maybe once a year. But I like to do three to five days in and out of Pennsylvania because it tends to be the most interesting and easiest to deal with as it doesn’t take up too much time from my work. A 10 day trip is with people I’ve typically been riding with over 20 years and it’s usually led by one or two guys. You’ll be on the road by 8:30 a.m. and arrive by 6 p.m. and just have a day of riding through the back roads of these states and provinces. 

Members and guests of YOW. Photo by Cheryl Yaffa.

And can you discuss the route you take on the Ride to Remember which raises money for Holocaust education? 

It’s done with the JMA and began in 2005 after a ride to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum followed by a ride to Whitwell, Tennesse. We raised money for a middle school there to support their initiative to fund the Children’s Holocaust Museum. The Vice-Principal wanted to teach the children about the Holocaust which began the acquisition of a Holocaust era railcar imported from Germany and arrived in the U.S. which is where they built their museum. After this we did the Ride to Remember every year. There’s a documentary on the school called Paper Clips you need to see it, if you haven’t already. And what we’ve managed to generate has been significant. Over 15 years, the JMA has raised over half a million U.S. dollars towards Jewish Holocaust education initiatives in the community. It’s very important, many in the club are either survivors or have family members who are survivors.

That’s really incredible and sounds like very meaningful work. Is that what drives you to be a part of Yids on Wheels? 

It’s that and also the opportunity to collaborate with people and being out in the open air. And I couldn’t do it without the board members who are so essential, and I have to name them all: Avrom Brown, Michael Freeman, Neville Joffe, Uri Kronenblut, Jay Mandelker, Howard Gang, and Cheryl Yaffa. One person cannot run this, they all play a distinctly significant role. 

I just like everyone in the club and we get new members all the time. I’m happy to show them the ropes. They join on the rides, get along with others and become integrated. You make friends in the club and some of them are lifelong.

Header image design by Clarrie Feinstein.

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Clarrie Feinstein is a journalist based in Toronto where she is currently a reporter for Metroland Media. Her work can be seen in Daily Hive, Business Insider, Salon, and Bedford + Bowery. Clarrie earned her M.A. in journalism from New York University.

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