This week we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, or Israel’s Independence Day. On a day where the entire country celebrates its freedom and establishment as the Jewish State, it is hard not to think of the part of Israel that isn’t free: Israeli motorsports.
The first words that come to mind when you hear the words “Middle East” likely have absolutely nothing to do with motocross. In a place where the blood of war and western misunderstanding stains the reputation of its people and livelihood, racing would seem to be the last thing on people’s minds. Or so we may think.
In the fall of 2015, my passion for motocross and love for traveling came together when I decided to plan a trip to Israel. A friend of mine, Blake Wharton, had just returned to the States from a trip to Israel where he “met” with many people involved in the Israeli motocross and racing community. After talking with Blake about his trip to Israel, I decided that I needed to see the country for myself: the history, the people, the food and the culture. Being involved in the motocross community in the United States through Motocross Ladies, a company created to unite motocross ladies around the world, I saw Israel as an opportunity to do just that: unite women. So from that moment on, I started to plan a trip to the Holy Land with a mission to meet as many people as I could and to encourage and unite the Israeli women’s motocross community.
As an American, it is easy to believe what you hear and see through the eyes of the media and to justify and take a stand concerning the actions of people we know nothing about. With that being said, as I began to tell others about my plans for Israel, the typical fearful responses quickly flowed from those around me. The most common comments and questions surrounded the concern for my safety, and rightfully so. The majority of what we hear in the States about Israel includes stories about bombings, stabbings, war and how European nations are choosing to boycott Israeli goods. While a part of me wanted to fear what I was going to see, the other, larger part of my mind knew everything was going to be okay. All things put aside, I knew I had a G-d bigger than all of this, who has told me “do not fear” time and time again. So I took the time to create packets of information for those dear to me including my whereabouts and phone numbers of those I would be around, packed my bags and off I went.
First, let me start by saying that Israel is an absolutely incredible country. When you first land in Tel-Aviv, you are surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a beautiful city. Between the nature all around you and the colorful people filling the streets, Tel-Aviv is likely unlike anything you have ever seen. Driving through the old city of Jaffa really makes you feel as though you went back in time. Venturing up to Northern Israel to see places like Rosh HaNikra and Haifa will take your breath away. Taking a tour of the old city of Jerusalem and putting a note in the Western Wall is an incredible experience. Shopping in the markets and walking down Ben Yehuda Street to see the beautiful people, smell the spices and experience the Israeli culture first-hand will make you want to stay. And of course, a visit to Israel isn’t complete without floating in the Dead Sea. One of the great things about Israel is that it is tiny! You can see all of Israel quicker than you think. And when it comes to safety, I can honestly tell you that I felt safer in Israel than I do in the States. Israel is well protected! Just look around, there are soldiers with weapons all around you. Safety should NOT be what keeps you from Israel. If the Holy Land tour isn’t enough to get you there, then let me tell you about the dirt! Yes… the dirt.
If you take out your map, you will see that the Mediterranean Sea and a desert surround Israel. You’ve got Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon right there next to it. And while that may seem a bit scary when it comes to what we know about all of these countries, I urge you to put all that aside and think motocross. When it comes to the ideal riding conditions, dirt and weather included, Israel has got it all. You have the breeze coming off the Mediterranean Sea, the sand from the desert, variety of dirt across the country and perfect temperatures… well, most of the time. I’m telling you… if you were to come and ride in Israel you would never want to leave. You can ride during the day, go eat some fresh hummus and falafel, then go to the beach and watch the sunset – all in a day’s hard work! You can race right off the water, hit up the sand dunes in the desert and even ride the trails between the beautiful Israeli villages. The options are limitless.
During my trip to Israel, I had the opportunity to meet many incredible people who are working very hard to continue to grow the motocross community in Israel. When I worked with local Israeli motocross racer and owner of Dirt Bike Academy, Roey Shlomi, to plan a ride day for women there he quickly explained to me the political roadblocks riders experience each and every day in Israel. Despite how perfect Israel is for motocross, and even enduro, they have some serious obstacles standing in their way when it comes to becoming the ultimate mecca for racers around the world. Two words: uneducated politicians. Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure they are very smart individuals! However, their knowledge about motocross and what makes the motocross industry successful is minimal to none. These policy makers are creating what we would say in Hebrew: a balagan gadol, or a big mess, in English. First of all, at the time, there was only one “legal” motocross track in Israel. That’s right. One. But what does it mean for a track to be legal? Well, for a track to be legal, local government officials must approve the width of the track, the distance from the track to the spectator area, etc. before it can even be ridden. This includes tracks on private property. But it doesn’t stop there! Once the track is deemed “legal,” riders must then get permission to ride the track – again, even if it’s on personal property! But wait! It doesn’t stop there either! Once the track is approved and the ride day is approved, riders must have a license to even ride the track. It doesn’t matter how young or how old you are. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a pro! You have to have a license. And just to get a license, you have to pass a physical exam! To make a long story short, just to have a day for all of us girls to get together, a lot had to be done. And I am so incredibly thankful for Roey and all the work he put in to make the first ever Israeli Motocross Ladies Ride Day possible.
When I first heard about all of these things happening in the Israeli motocross community, I couldn’t believe it. The United States is far from perfect, but I had never in my life heard of such rules keeping riders from doing what they love as they should. I had to learn more! So that is what I did. I met rider after rider and they all told me the same thing: There are people making decisions that know nothing about the sport and want to make sure there is someone to blame if someone gets hurt. That and a law created many years ago put serious restrictions on motorsports in general in Israel. Yes… a LAW. This law is what requires tracks to be approved, ride days to be approved and riders to have a license to ride. I understand having a license to race a professional-level race, but for kids to have to have a license just to ride around in their backyard is a bit ridiculous. Oh! And wait! You can’t get a license until you’re eight years old. So forget about those vital years as a young child when you learn balance, throttle control and even shifting. How does this help the sport grow? How does this encourage more people to get involved? How does this law help motorsport businesses and communities make money? It doesn’t. In fact, it keeps all of that from happening.
What is completely fascinating to me is that in a country where it is required for kids to serve in the military – in a country where national defense and security are top priorities – the same kids aren’t allowed to hop on a dirt bike and ride unless the government “Okays” the location and day. In a country where their superior judo programs are known around the world, concerns about kids getting hurt dictate whether or not a track is deemed “legal.” In a country where western media blinds people from all over the world of its beauty, motocross could bring in tons of fans and business opportunities, but politicians are keeping the sport from growing as it should. For example, Yossi Nissan, who has never raced a motocross race in his life, is determining whether or not applications for licenses are approved and if tracks and events are “legal.” Politicians, like Miri Regev, know that more needs to be done to help motocross grow but are allowing the influence of others keep them from doing what they know is right. And a law created years ago is allowing insurance companies and government officials to profit off the injustice of keeping people from doing what they want with their property, their equipment and their bodies. In fact, when Blake Wharton traveled all the way from the States to Israel and had a scheduled meeting with Miri Regev, Ouri (אורי שפר), who works above Mr. Nissan, went into her office before Blake even got the chance to speak to her and kept her from actually meeting with him, hence why I put “met” in quotations at the beginning of this article. He made Blake sit in the waiting room while Israeli motocross trainer and advocate, Roey, went in and spoke on Blake’s behalf, just to basically be called a liar in front of Miri Regev. But no worries, they were willing to take a picture with him at the end of it all (they even have it all on film). It is so sad to see a motocross community full of potential crawl along when it could be running towards such an incredible future. This law has got to be abolished. These riders must be freed.
During my second week in Israel, I got to witness the opening of a second “legal” track. I was really looking forward to meeting even more people involved in the motocross community and hoped to get to ask more questions about the future of motocross in Israel. Unfortunately what I saw was decision makers in their VIP tent set aside from the motocross community who would only come out to make an appearance, say a few words and drive away. During my talk with Yossi Nissan, we spoke about the potential of Israeli motocross and my hope that more tracks would be opened and riders would be free to ride where they wanted. As any good politician does, he agreed. The sad thing is, I can guarantee that Mr. Nissan will continue to do what he is since his job depends on it. I get it. But what people like Mr. Nissan do not understand is that they have greatness right under their noses! They are just refusing to see it.
While all of that may be discouraging… Then you have the motocross community: the riders, the fans and the industry itself. I had the privilege to meet so many incredible people that absolutely love motocross. To say that the motocross community is alive in Israel would be an understatement. I had 10 girls come and ride at our ride day! TEN! You can’t even get that many girls lined up at a local race here in the States. The supportive fathers, the talented riders and superior trainers were so encouraging. Riders from all over Europe have come to Israel to ride and I can guarantee that every single one of them would tell you to do the same! I had such a wonderful time getting to meet these young women, their families and the group of individuals making it all happen. The passion they have for this sport is what keeps things going and it was an honor to meet each and every one of them.
So what do we do from here? I personally think that a good place to start is for Israeli politicians to start to work with the Israeli motocross community directly. Right now, they are working against each other when they could be working together to make things right. There are many people who are willing to help the government better these processes and regulations – they just need to genuinely ask and take the word of these extremely talented, knowledgeable individuals seriously. Most importantly, we most definitely cannot remain silent. We have an entire generation of talented riders that are being held back from the greatness that is within them because of this law and this way motorsports is being directed in Israel. Things have got to change! With that being said, I want to encourage you to help us in our fight against the motorsports law in Israel. I want to encourage you to write to the Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev, expressing your desire to free Israeli motorsports. Write, speak, learn and push as much as you can. Nothing worth doing is easy. But with time, together as a community, we can help people see that Israeli motocross deserves a spot on the map. The motocross community deserves it. The industry deserves it. Israel deserves it.
Till next time Israel… until next time.
Miri Regev contact information:
Special thanks to our sponsors: Fly Racing, Source MX Graphics, Off-Road Vixens, DP Brakes and Clutches, Bum Patch Factory, Ryno Power, Atlas Brace, Matrix, Ride 100& and Mud Motorsports.