Why This Harley-Davidson Lover Refuses to Ride in Israel

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An American expat who rode a Harley-Davidson through Yosemite National Park, and a teacher who covers up her tattoos but likes to wear tattoo sleeves

Jason Laufer.
Meged Gozani

Jason Laufer, 60, lives in Hashmonaim, in the West Bank; arriving from San Francisco

Hi, may I ask what you did in San Francisco?

A good friend and I picked up two Harley-Davidson motorcycles there, and spent a week riding in Yosemite National Park.

Was that as fun as it sounds?

Yes, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. The valley – Yosemite Valley – is one of the most beautiful in America: 10 kilometers of waterfalls and rivers on every side. And it’s all clean, you can’t just throw trash anywhere, the way you can in Israel. There are police called park rangers and they are very strict about what’s allowed and what’s not.

So you can’t race around?

The roads are one lane in each direction and you can’t drive fast. The max is something like 60 kilometers per hour.

But that was fine with you?

Totally. When you’re riding calmly and responsibly, your senses are working at 100 percent. On a motorcycle, you enjoy the park in a much more dramatic way then in a car; there’s nothing between you and nature besides the handlebars. But we weren’t on the cycles every day. We stopped, we hiked, we were at the famous waterfall. We saw the giant sequoias, which are so massive you can drive through them at the base.

That must have been a high point, being on a Harley underneath a sequoia.

For me, the highlight was El Capitan. Have you seen the documentary “Free Solo”?

The one that won the Oscar? No.

El Capitan is a rock face about 1,000 meters high, completely vertical, and the movie is about a guy who climbed it without ropes or safety equipment, using only his hands and feet. No one had done that before. We only climbed up to the base. That was quite something.

Who is “we”?

My friend and I. His name is Robert Moriber. He’s my neighbor. He also made aliyah from New York and he had a motorcycle. Every two years or so we do a motorcycle trip. Without our wives, just us.

Where do you enjoy riding the most?

We go to the States a lot, it’s a great place for riding. We choose places like Montana or Idaho, where you can ride for an hour without seeing anyone else on the road. The best time was four years ago, when we went to Sturgis, South Dakota. It’s a small city where Harley-Davidson owners gather every summer; the tradition goes back many years. We went there for the 75th anniversary celebrations. There were a million Harley riders from all over the world.

A million, metaphorically speaking?

No, really a million.

Wow. Why Harley in particular? What’s wrong with a Suzuki?

Harley is one of the oldest cycles, the first ones were built in the early 20th century. It still has a big engine, 103 horsepower, and it can carry a lot of baggage. It’s what’s called a cruising motorcycle. You can lean back on it, so it’s very comfortable to sit on and to drive, and because of the wide tires, you don’t have to worry about potholes. Also, its engine makes a very nice sound – at least, that’s what I think.

Not to mention the look.

There’s a cliché about Harley riders: In the movies, they’re part of Hell’s Angels gangs, but today a Harley cost more than a good car. In the States, they cost something like $30,000, and in Israel it’s twice that. So the riders today are generally businesspeople, not such young people.

Do you ride in Israel too?

No. You’d have to be crazy to ride here. The motorcyclists don’t drive responsibly and the people driving cars don’t respect the motorcyclists. It’s a bad combination. It might be fine to get around Tel Aviv on a scooter from Rothschild Blvd. to Jaffa, but if you’re riding on the Ayalon highway, there’ll be one motorcycle zigzagging on your left and another on your right and you don’t know where to look.

When did you make aliyah?

Fifteen years ago, when I was 45. Before that we lived in Manhattan and New Jersey. I was the CEO of a biotech company. Before we made aliyah, we checked out 14 places here; you don’t just pick up and take five children and a dog to another continent. I think [the settlement of] Hashmonaim is the best place to live, especially if you have children and you’re a traditional Jew. Our front yard is the Ben Shemen Forest, the neighborhood is religious but modern and everyone can do what he wants. Live and let live.

Why did you choose that time to make aliyah?

We sold the business and it was a good opportunity to leave. But the real reason was because of the shawarma (laughs). You won’t find shawarma in Manhattan that’s as good as here.

Tania Badrov.
Meged Gozani

Tania Badrov, 45, lives in Be’er Sheva; flying to Luxembourg

Hello, can I ask what’s up with the shirt?

I have a few Harley-Davidson shirts like this. I love tattoos, especially on the arm, and it suddenly occurred to me that there might be some kind of clothing like this, so I searched on eBay for tattoo sleeve shirts and the only ones I found were from Harley. I wonder why.

Meged, the photographer: Because the sleeves protect the riders from the sun.

Why not real tattoos?

That’s a totally theoretical question, because I do have tattoos. I just don’t like to show them to everyone. Just like there are places where you shouldn’t go with a snobby face. It’s all about boundaries. I’m always thinking about boundaries, because of my profession too.

What do you do?

I’m an English teacher. I made aliyah from Belarus in 1999, so I’ve been here 20 years; I’m an old-timer. And I was an English teacher there too. Because I spoke English, already from the outset I didn’t feel like a guest here. Usually, the lack of a language has a big effect, at least people have told me it was hard for them, but English made me feel at home. Maybe I’m lucky.

Definitely. You don’t look at all like a teacher.

That’s how it should be, I think. You shouldn’t just be able to look at me and say: “She’s a teacher.” I think there should be a difference between our profession and our other life. If you work in computers, you can look like a hipster. The profession doesn’t have to influence every part of your life. I’ve also done belly-dancing for 10 years. Why not? There’s the teacher part of me and the part of me that can do all kinds of stuff. As long as it doesn’t affect the students, there’s no problem. A person also needs to be receptive to what’s happening around them and in the world.

How did you develop this style?

Personal taste and genetics. In my family there are people who like to dress in a special way, and I also read about fashion and go onto websites. Pinterest is the easiest.

I’ve grown tired of Instagram.

I don’t use Instagram too much. I really prefer something live to sitting and looking at the internet. I go out and enjoy looking at what’s going on around me. I notice someone on the street and think, “That’s interesting – there’s an idea.” Also, on the internet there are lots of things I can’t really use in Israel. There are clothes I only take abroad, because in Israel they would be too much. I might see a special hat and get excited, but then I say: Wait, we’re not in Italy, this isn’t Milan. Remember, I live in Be’er Sheva, where it’s 35 degrees Celsius.

How is it in Be’er Sheva?

I’m someone who looks for the positive things in everything. It’s easier for me that way. Be’er Sheva is fine for me and I can go to the center of the country whenever I want. I know Tel Aviv better than Be’er Sheva.

Why did you make aliyah?

I wanted to make a change in life, to open a new door, to try and make it somewhere else – to come here from a place where you only see the sun two months a year. The sun has a big influence on life, on your mood and energy. I understand why so many people want to come here, even if they’re originally from America or France. Here you always get support from people. Though I guess I must be missing something here too, because I like to travel abroad a lot, mainly to Europe.

You’re not the only one, especially during the holidays.

People, especially those who made aliyah from Russia like me, come here and then want to travel around like crazy. It’s something we didn’t have there. We read a lot and saw movies, but it was hard to go anywhere else. It was only when we arrived here that this possibility opened up to us. At first, I went on organized trips, but now I plan independent ones. Alone.

That’s part of the fun, the planning.

I love planning trips, checking out every little detail very carefully. I know how to put together a fun trip.

How long beforehand do you start planning?

I’m always thinking about the next trip. When I have free time, or when I’m getting tired of the usual things I need to do – I start planning, looking at websites, writing notes to myself. When I’m planning the trip, I’m basically already there in my imagination.