Deadly Yom Kippur Crash Spurs Safety Push for Observant Jewish Pedestrians

How Can Orthodox Cross Without Pushing 'Walk' Button?

Dangerous Crossing: Orthodox Jews cross the intersection where Esther Ohayon was struck and killed on Yom Kippur. Pedestrians have only a few seconds to cross the wide street if they cannot push the ‘walk’ button on Shabbat or holidays.
bruce lipsky/florida times-union
Dangerous Crossing: Orthodox Jews cross the intersection where Esther Ohayon was struck and killed on Yom Kippur. Pedestrians have only a few seconds to cross the wide street if they cannot push the ‘walk’ button on Shabbat or holidays.

By Anne Cohen

Published September 30, 2013, issue of October 04, 2013.
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Observant Jews are particularly vulnerable because of the religious prohibition against using electrical devices on Shabbat and holidays.

“Observant Jewish pedestrians must exercise every possible precaution while walking to and from synagogue, or while visiting friends, on Shabbat,” Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President Emeritus of the Orthodox Union wrote in an email to the Forward.

Weinreb said Orthodox Jews are forced to wear light-colored clothing or even reflective belts when walking to services in his hometown of Monsey, N.Y., where many neighborhoods have no sidewalks and poor street lighting.

“More needs to be done,” he said.

According to Yaakov Fisch, rabbi at Etz Chaim Synagogue, the Orthodox congregation that the Ohayons were set to attend, roughly 250 people brave the dangerous intersection every week to get to services.

“In general, Florida is not a state that’s friendly to pedestrians,” said Fisch. “You see that from the top down: the way the roads are made, what considerations are given to sidewalks — it’s just not a place that encourages people to walk.”

Mitzmacher noted that both the Conservative and Orthodox synagogues are across the highway from where most of Jacksonville’s Jews live. The problem is not as acute for Reform Jews, who mostly take a more flexible approach to using cars or electricity on Shabbat.

“Most people who are walkers are not willing to push the button,” Mitzmacher said. “So you have a situation where you have families of Conservatives and Orthodox jaywalking every holiday.”

Block represented the family of 6-year-old Kaitlin Springer after she was struck and killed by Fortunato. He says traffic safety systems shouldn’t assume that pedestrians, Jewish or not, will push the “walk” button to cross busy streets.

“We all watch the traffic lights,” he said. “Most people… follow the green light.”

Scott Bricker, director of America Walks, an organization promoting walkable communities, says a number of longer-term options exist to mitigate risks for those who cannot press crosswalk buttons or other timer-engaging mechanisms.


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