“We ride for those who died” — that’s the motto of the national Police Unity Tour (PUT), a grueling, three-day bicycle ride in which teams of police officers from across the United States pedal to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. The annual spring event is held to honor the memory of officers killed each year in the line of duty.
This year, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer Lisa Herman wants to extend the tour’s motto to include a Jewish scope. Herman is gathering support to bring over two officers from Israel’s Northern Command to ride with the Southern California team in honor of Deputy Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer, who died last December after sustaining critical burns in the Carmel Mountains wildfire.
Tomer, then chief of the Haifa Police Department, was driving behind a bus of prison guard cadets that was surrounded by flames en route to evacuating a local jail. Tomer, 53, had been the highest-ranked policewoman in Israel.
“The way she died was so tragic and heroic. I felt it would be meaningful to ride for her on the tour,” said Herman, a field course coordinator for the LAPD Training Division.
As the Carmel fire blazed out of control in early December, Herman watched the news in horror as more than 40 people lost their lives in Israel’s worst natural disaster in recent decades. She contacted the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles about inviting a couple of Haifa law enforcement officers to ride in the PUT, and the Israeli government responded with enthusiasm. Karen Ofer, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) medic, and Mor Shlomo, a combat fitness trainer, were selected from among their peers to travel to the United States for the tour.
Herman, a member of the Happy Minyan, is now looking to raise $8,000 from the local Jewish community for the pair to participate. The funds would cover airfare, food and lodging, entry to the tour and bicycling equipment. So far she has raised about $7,000 from congregations including Young Israel of Century City, Beth Jacob, B’nai David-Judea and Sinai Temple, and also from the Israeli Leadership Council. The tour’s entry fees go toward the construction of a new law enforcement museum in Washington, D.C.
Herman says she would also like to raise a few thousand dollars extra to send back to Israel to help replant the charred Carmel Mountains, rebuild homes gutted in the blaze, and aid victims of burns and trauma from the area. The fire burned about 12,000 acres of land and consumed 5 million trees.
Commemorating Tomer during the 2011 tour would be especially significant because this year marks the 100th anniversary of women being able to serve in the LAPD, Herman said.
The Southern California PUT, slated for the week of May 8, will include about 200 riders from local police departments, sheriff’s departments and other law enforcement agencies. Starting in Somerset, N.J., the group will bike approximately 250 miles to the U.S. capital over three days. Along the way they will attend memorial services in the hometowns of slain officers in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Local residents and police usually come out to wave flags and show their support, Herman, who has ridden in the tour for the past three years, said.
On the third day, riders from all participating states will join ranks, and the group, expected to include about 1,500 cyclists, will ride the last 50 miles to the National Mall together. The event will culminate in a candlelight vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, at which the names of officers slain during the last year will be read. The televised vigil typically attracts up to 20,000 attendees.
Herman served in the IDF as a combat fitness trainer in the early 1990s — an experience that later led her to join the LAPD. She believes inviting Ofer and Shlomo into the PUT would help strengthen U.S.-Israel ties.
“It’s one more way for Israel to be represented in a positive light,” she said. “This is an important time for Israel to come out and talk about security, and the tour would offer a unique opportunity for [the officers] to get to know law enforcement agencies from all over the U.S.”
LAPD special forces have done joint training with Israeli officers in the past. This spring, an LAPD bomb squad will travel to Israel to glean expertise from bomb technicians there.
“Any cause that will shine a better light on our relationship with Israel is important to us,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, who helped raise funds for Herman’s campaign. “The connection between the U.S. and Israel is a strong one that goes beyond financial support. Interaction between the two countries is beneficial to both.”
Not only would the Israeli officers benefit from riding in the PUT, their presence would also be a boon to members of local law enforcement agencies, said LAPD Sgt. Gil Curtis, president of the PUT’s Southern California chapter.
“I think it would be a great opportunity,” Curtis said. With the officers riding alongside each other, “you gain a sense of camaraderie and sharing a common goal, and also being able to learn about policing issues from a different country. It would be a rewarding experience for everyone involved.”
For information on how to make a donation, visit socalput.com. For donations by check, include the notation “Israel” to sponsor the Israeli officers. To donate online, pick “Israeli Officer 1” or “Israeli Officer 2” from the list of riders on the Web site.