Following the deadly accident the day after Sukkot, it is long overdue that I, as a parent, express my deep concerns about safety on Bnei Akiva trips. I have two children, now grown, who participated in Bnei Akiva youth groups and trips in the past, and two children who are current participants in the Mitzpe Nevo (Maale Adumim) branch of the movement.
My kids enjoy the group’s activities and especially look forward to the day trips and overnights. However, I send them on Bnei Akiva outings with trepidation, having noticed a recurring problem over the years: the lack of safety and supervision on the bus rides.
Well before the horrific accident involving a bus transporting Bnei Akiva youth a few weeks ago, I had heard of the phenomenon of bus drivers sometimes resorting to dangerous methods in order to quiet down the kids. Two years ago, my daughter recounted a particularly chilling ride on her way back from a Bnei Akiva trip to Eilat. She recalled that, after the bus driver’s many failed attempts to get the kids to quiet down, he swerved the bus so dramatically that half of the kids flew from one side of the bus to the other, slamming into the bus wall. Luckily, no one was hurt (this did in fact shock the kids into silence, but only for a few minutes).
Before the next tragedy, it is incumbent on all of us — parents, bus companies and the Bnei Akiva Youth Movement — to pause and do some introspection about what we can do to improve the safety of our kids and indeed, everyone on the roads. This is true even as the investigation into the latest accident is ongoing, with fault yet to be determined conclusively.
As a mother, I ask myself and I ask other Bnei Akiva parents: Why have I not raised my voice earlier, after hearing my kids talk about the unchecked wild behavior of the kids on buses and the dangerous driving of some of the drivers? I never demanded from Bnei Akiva that they re-check their current safety procedures, both as far as what they require of the bus companies they hire and what protocol is in place to ensure proper supervision of the kids. Might it be wise to have an adult present on each bus, both to help the counselors ensure that kids’ behavior does not get out of control and to respond should a bus driver drive dangerously? How often have I spoken to my kids about their behavior on these bus trips?
Can we really expect the teen counselors (15-16 years old) to be fully responsible for a full busload of kids, and in addition be able to respond to a frustrated bus driver? Would they have the mind to call the police if the bus driver should resort to extreme measures to get the kids to be quiet?
I should hope that bus companies, particularly ones who regularly transport children, will also review their protocols, and carefully select the drivers they assign to transport youth groups with minimal supervision. Not every driver can drive safely in the midst of loud music, dancing in the aisle, shouting and raucous behavior.
I call on all of us — parents, bus companies, and Bnei Akiva — to rethink and doublecheck how we can all ensure the safest possible environment for our kids.
If you agree that we should not wait until the next accident to speak up as parents, and identify with the call for Bnei Akiva to review their safety procedures on trips, please add your name to my petition. There is a place where you can leave personal comments.
Every tragedy is a wake-up call, a time for introspection and improvement. We can and must do better.