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October 20, 2014

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Leather and Bubbies

Semites on Bikes combine a love of hogs and a sense of humor

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Tiffany Brown

Mishpocheh on wheels.

The skull tattoo on Sherryl Anctil’s arm is your basic white bone skeleton head. It’s almost generic, really, except for the black kippah—the round disk cap traditionally worn by Jews—sitting on the skull’s bald dome.

This is “Skullberg,” mascot of Semites on Bikes, the Jewish motorcycle club Anctil and her husband, Ron, belong to.

Ron’s Skullberg tattoo, by the way, is flanked in red flames. It’s identical to the patch Semites on Bikes wear on the back of their leather riding vests (at least when they’re not posing nude in calendars—but more on that in a minute).

Semites on Bikes, also known as S.O.B., was founded in Baltimore six years ago by a man named Ken Shapiro, or “King Ken” to his 40 or so fellow members. (Anctil’s nickname is “Bubbie”—she’s grandmother to nine. Ron’s nickname is Yiddish for Grandpa: “Zadie.” Anctil’s daughter, Carrie, is called “Scarrie Carrie,” largely because King Ken decided it was funny. That’s life in a bike gang.)

Anctil and her husband started the S.O.B. Southwest chapter almost two years ago. It consists of Anctil and her husband, a third guy in Vegas, two people in Arizona and one in Utah. Six people.

Anctil dearly wants her local chapter to grow. Jewish or not, a biker club needs bikers. And you don’t have to be Jewish, by the way, to join S.O.B. You just need a certain panache, Anctil says, and a sense of humor. Semites on Bikes like to rib each other.

“We welcome anybody foolish enough to ride with us,” she says.

The S.O.B. motto: “Eat to Ride, Ride to Eat.”

Of course, it’s more than that. Anctil longs for the group’s particular confluence of camaraderie—for people who understand her bikes and her background. In Baltimore, S.O.B. members meet regularly. Anctil and her husband can take trips to see the group back east, and can participate on the very active S.O.B. online message board, but it’s not the same as having a group in town.

“That’s what I miss, and that’s what I’d like to get going here,” she said. “The mishpocheh [family], the closeness.”

S.O.B. was founded, in part, as an affront to stereotype—the notion that Jews aren’t the sort to ride Harleys, wear leather chaps and generally celebrate bad-assery. Of course, the same stereotypes S.O.B.s reject are often held closest by fellow Jews; people who don’t approve of the group’s screw-you bawdiness. The sort of people who might see the tattoo on Anctil’s other arm—two skeletons making out, one wearing a kippah—and shake their heads.

The sort of people who don’t approve when Anctil and her husband come to temple in their riding leathers. Anctil doesn’t care. She became a biker after surviving breast cancer four years ago. Life is too short to worry about what anybody thinks when Bubbie flies by on her motorcycle. (Besides, even the rabbi’s wife said she wants to learn to ride some day.)

And yet, for a group that delights in activities that would make their grandmothers cringe, S.O.B. members also revel in their Jewish identity. When the KKK held a rally in 2006, S.O.B. was there to protest, singing “Hava Nagila” at the hooded Klansmen like it was a war cry. If they were really just about being tough bikers, after all, Skullberg wouldn’t need a skullcap.

The group is also keen on charity work, and this is where the nudity comes in. For the past two years, members of S.O.B. have been making and selling nude calendars to raise money for local pet shelters; 12 months of S.O.B. bikers, posing with their motorcycles and holding discreetly placed pets. They’ve raised more than $10,000 so far, says Anctil, who happens to be Mrs. August. In the photo, Anctil is sitting on her bike, cradling her white Chihuahua just so, and smiling—a nice Jewish girl.

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