October 13, 2019

Riding on the Right Side of the Law

On the road to the hard-knock Israeli town of Ramla, between the small town of Kfar Chabad and the smaller moshav of Beit Dagan, there’s a bar where bikers come and park their hogs.

It’s called Bonnie Design, and it’s equal parts watering hole, social club and shrine to all things Harley-Davidson. It’s here that Barak “Doveleh” Moskowitz, a hardcore member of the Israeli motorcycle gang Zion Riders, parks his custom bike each day. (A friend gave Moskowitz the nickname “Doveleh,” Hebrew for “Little Bear,” and it stuck.)

He doesn’t come to drink, although he’s always happy to join his friends at the bar. Moskowitz says he has been sober since 1991, when at the age of 26, he joined Narcotics Anonymous, embraced its 12-step program and gave up the drugs, booze and petty theft that had marked his previous decade.

He doesn’t really come to chat, either, although Moskowitz is laid back and generally loves to talk.

For Moskowitz, the real reason to come to Bonnie Design is the dog that lives along the way.

“I have one dog and two cats at home,” Moskowitz said, “but I also have a dog near Ramla. He’s been tied up his whole life. He’s a big dog — very nasty. He’s chained up in a field. So every day I bring him food.”

Moskowitz is a study in contradictions: a tatted-up, road-hardened biker who greets friends with a grin and double kisses on the cheek; an ex-con who cuddles up at night with a rescue pup and who spends hours each day at a trendy vegetarian cafe in the heart of posh Tel Aviv.

Moskowitz has a name for the dog in the field: “Gingy,” because of his reddish fur. He would love to take home the animal, he said, but unlike Moskowitz, Gingy can’t be tamed.

“He’s a murderer,” he said. “He would kill anyone. He would kill my dog and my cats, but with me, and only me, he is OK. I understand him and he understands me, too.”

Moskowitz was born not far from Gingy’s field, in the Israeli town of Ness Ziona. He first tasted crime as a teenager, stealing cars and motorcycles with packs of friends who would hang out and cause trouble along Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv.

A few years later, while completing his mandatory three years in the Israel Defense Forces, he was stationed in a jeep with three other men at the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria. It was Oct. 6, 1973, and his commander wanted to make an omelet on the jeep’s hot plate. He ordered Moskowitz — the youngest and lowest ranking among the quartet — to head over to the unit’s makeshift kitchen tent to grab some olive oil.

A few seconds after Moskowitz scrambled out of the vehicle, a Syrian strike took out the jeep. Moskowitz survived, but the guilt shattered him.

“Three people died in one place, but I didn’t. For sure it was luck,” he said. “And that’s where it all started. I started taking opium, and then I started to live on the street.”

For years, Moskowitz was caught up in a cycle of crime and punishment. He served multiple stints in prison for theft. He lived illegally as a squatter.

He had a son while in prison, and before Moskowitz got out, his wife took the child and left. He says he held the baby once, when the boy was 8 months old. He says he hasn’t seen the child since.

The suffering, he said, “got too much,” and in 1991 he bade crime, drugs and alcohol goodbye. He started to earn a legal living by buying and reselling vintage items and antiques. Today, his closest and most genuine family, he said, is the Zion Riders, Israel’s answer to the Hell’s Angels.

He is a fixture at Cafe Xoho, the vegetarian Tel Aviv cafe popular among olim, Anglos and the gluten-free, raw-food and vegan set. He loves it there, he said, and this past summer he rode his Harley down to the Negev desert to attend the wedding of the cafe’s owner.

Last year, knowing he could never bring Gingy home with him, Moskowitz  rescued a black Labrador puppy named Sunny. He can’t bring Sunny on his bike with him, but in a few months, he said, he is going to purchase a motor home to drive around the country. Sunny will travel with him, wherever he goes.

These days, Moskowitz is recovering from gastric bypass surgery, which he had because of developing diabetes, and he is meeting weekly with his 12-step group to offer support and to help him stay clean.

“We sit and we talk about everything,” he said. “People like me, we are many thousands in Israel.” 

Debra Kamin, an American journalist living in Tel Aviv, is a regular contributor to The New York Times Travel section, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, Time magazine, Town & Country and Variety.