Yisrael Rosenberg

Skirting With Death

A Terrible Accident

Today, the radio reported new findings about last week’s horrible car accident in which eight members of one family were killed on the road to Tsfat. Who did not shudder when they heard about this accident? And whose heart did not ache for the little girl – Rachel Atias, seven years old – who was the sole family member to survive? She awoke in the hospital only to discover that her entire family had been wiped out.

Initial reports indicated that the car, a Mitsubishi Grandis, had experienced brake failure. Today’s report, however, mentioned that the direct cause of the accident may have been a problem that Mitsubishi knew about, and had taken steps to fix. The original driver’s car mat has a tendency to inch up over time and cover the gas pedal, pressing down and all of a sudden causing the engine to race ahead at top speed.

And then I remembered. Wait a minute – didn’t something like that happen to me about a year and a half ago? After all, we are the proud owners of a Mitsubishi Grandis – just like the one involved in the accident.


A UN Vehicle Speeds With Impunity

One cloudy day in January 2011, I was driving in the Grandis on my way from Jerusalem to my job in the shfeilah (Tel Aviv area), moving along comfortably in the left hand lane on Highway Number 1. Just past the Mevasseret Zion exit, a long, sleek, dark-blue Mercedes sedan with black on white United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) license plates blew past me from the right lane.

It wasn’t the first time I had caught a UN car arrogantly pushing the limits of Israeli law. Frequently, because of their diplomatic immunity, UN vehicles help themselves to all kinds of illegal parking spaces along the streets of Jerusalem.

Momzerim (illegitimates)”, I mutter to myself as the Mercedes sped down the highway, quickly moving out of sight. “My American tax payer dollars go for this?” For a moment, I envisioned the UN limousine careening off the road into the valley below.


Terror on the Highway

A few minutes later, I suddenly felt my car’s engine picking up speed. At first I didn’t grasp what was happening. My car raced forward. Once I reached the top of the rise and the car began to descend, I found myself hurtling downhill at breakneck speed.

I stomped on the gas pedal, trying to free it from its acceleration, but to no avail. Riding in the left lane, I zoomed past other cars as my speedometer registered an ever-climbing speed. The gas pedal refused to let up!

I rode this way for a good minute and a half. My car began to approach another vehicle in the left hand lane, and it looked like I was about to slam into his rear as I raced along at 135 kilometers per hour. I began to ride my brakes, gripping the steering wheel and grimacing with effort as I pushed on the brake pedal with all my might. Swerving to the right, I was able to pull off onto the shoulder of the road just in time to avoid smashing into the car in front of me. I jammed the gear stick into neutral. As the car came to a stop and the engine disconnected from the drive chain, the motor began to whine at a high pitch, racing uncontrollably.


I Didn’t Change the Mats

I switched off the car and killed the engine, and, breathing in short bursts, pondered what had happened to me. I then remembered the letter we had received from our Mitsubishi service center, urgently exhorting us to come to the dealership and pick up a new car mat. Apparently, the letter explained, in some cases the existing front car mat could suddenly slide over the gas pedal, causing the car to accelerate uncontrollably.

We had received that letter a few weeks before, and I had faithfully driven to the dealer to pick up the new rug – but it was folded at the back of the car, uninstalled. I didn’t think there was any rush to the request.

I was shaken up. From my side-of-the-road resting spot, I called my workplace to tell them that I would be late. I also called the dealership to report the problem. And then, I pulled out the rubber and textile car mat, threw it in the back, and installed in its place the new one I had picked up a few weeks before.

The next day, during morning prayers in synagogue, I recited the ‘HaGomel’ blessing, in which a person who has been saved from danger offers special thanks. I remember at that time feeling very fortunate that I had escaped harm. I never experienced the racing engine problem again.


A Look in ‘The Book’

So it seems that it was a wayward car mat that killed the Atias family, and left little Rachel a sole survivor.

And now, today – upon hearing the conclusions of the investigation into the Atias family accident – I did something I occasionally do. I stopped at the synagogue and found a book of Tehillim (Psalms). I closed my eyes, flipped through the pages a few times, and stuck my index figure onto a random page of text. My finger rested on the following verse:

לוּלֵי השם עֶזְרָתָה לִּי – כִּמְעַט שָׁכְנָה דוּמָה נַפְשִׁי. (תהילים צד,יז)

If it hadn’t been for HaShem helping me – my soul would have wound up in the grave. (Tehillim 94, 17)

About the Author
Yisrael Rosenberg is a former New Englander who made aliyah 30 years ago. He lives with his wife and four children in Jerusalem.