Phyllis Hecht
Phyllis Hecht

Worst ‘Machala’ (Disease) of 2019

Once again I woke up to horrendous news of loss of lives. This time 2 cyclists fathers in their 40’s husbands and fathers to young children, sons of distraught parents and siblings as well. Only two  weeks ago, the victims were a Mom and Baby – a wife, child, sister, daughter,etc. (Could have been my husband and me as we were in the same spot half hour earlier) In prior Months entire families were wiped out. Stories are always similar-with some horrific spin. We never  find out what actually happened. There are always speculations of course. But it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that these are victims in  the long list of people — most of whom I don’t personally know, and yet added to the long list of those I cannot forget. There is always a connection anyway-of somebody who knew somebody and is related-as the 6 degrees of separation goes and no matter really — because these are people from my nation.

 As we usher in the secular calendar — New Year of 2020-reflecting back o 2019:  the number of fatalities on the roads in 2019-in Israel  so far is 329. Up from last year’s 316 people who were killed in traffic accidents. This Machala of road unsafety must end and at the very least do a 180 and find a treatment if not a cure.

Here in Israel we have been plagued by one of the worst diseases of our times. One that began over time as an illness that became more severe-turning into an infection – graduating to a serious disease which thereby has been killing loads of people yearly. It has always been fatal-from the beginning of the plague-but sadly has spun out of control. We never know who or when one will be the next victim. In a sense we are all walking time bombs.This disease has taken babies and toddlers, teens and young adults, young mothers and fathers -grandparents and more. Not a week goes by when a life or 3 or four or more have not been spared by this fatal disease.The Russian Roulette on the roads is the ‘machala’ of road unsafety.

As a young country surrounded by enemies on all sides-a serious chunk of the state’s budget goes to the military defense of our country. This may need to be reexamined or perhaps a sub category entered into the defense of the citizens- but one that sadly stems for and from protecting the citizens from one another.

We are all human  shields on the roads. This is a battlefield where almost nobody is safe from bikers to joggers to pedestrians-to scooter riders. Bikers from cars, pedestrians from bikers and scooters, pedestrians from cars-and cars from one another.

Yes -big problems are from those who use cell phones while they drive — BUT IT”S SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT.  Why don’t the police wake up and see the problems? Some of which are from speeding, cutting off one another and NOT SIGNALING. Enforcing these laws here alone — will save lives. 

The roads have become inundated with traffic jams (pkakim). Everywhere one drives there is a  terrible lack of patience and a more serious volatile level of lack of consideration. Let’s face it- We are all stressed form it.

When one succumbs to the awful aforementioned ‘machala’, the survivors feel terrible and suddenly with an ‘App’- will raise money- write letters of support,  send- cooked meals , and baked cakes.There are prayers and tears and everyones comes out in full force to unite.

But I ask all citizens of Israel:


Why can’t we unite before and be considerate! We all want to get to work in a timely fashion, get our kids to school safely and make appointments in record time. We all want to go home in regular traffic and NOT in a pkak. This ‘machala’ exists everywhere -in the cities of Jerusalem and Telaviv, in the Gush and the Sharon.  From Eilat to Tzfat. We get into the car in the morning to begin our commute. We flip on the radio and listen to the dire traffic reports: “ Completely packed on highway #’s 2,4,1, aqnd 90. All tunnels blocked due to accidents…everywhere” we are thinking; hmm why bother? We should’ve stayed home, or gone in later. But, no choice. We must brave these roads. We are dressed for work or wherever and we will get there. And then hours later, we begin the dreaded commutes home with the identical reports. Only now we have had it. We are tired. We want to get home. So the aggressiveness begins.

Why do some feel that they have  a sense of entitlement to cut off drivers and go first, to cut the long lines that we are waiting on? Why is there such a lack of impatience which begins with the incessant brighting and tailgating? Then there  the motorcyclists who have their own code on the road-that nobody seems to know. Why don’t drivers signal? Why don’t police-officers patrol these battlegrounds called commuting roads and highways in the morning and evening. (At times where there are police cars-there is a noticeable improvement of people ‘behaving  on the roads’) yes WELL DONE on the  cell phone tickets- but so many more traffic infringements are killing our citizens. Where are the police???

Perhaps patience and road rage levels should be  tested periodically and only then allowed licensing? Perhaps people on heavy prescription meds- should have temporary suspension of licenses- to save  other lives. Too many times fatalities on the roads are attributed to these causes. So where is our reactive road rage that should be targeted at the system to change rules on the road? 

We spend loads of money learning to driver-and then spit on the rules of the road and become reckless. We are all guilty of the blame game. There are so many people to point the finger at-and yet we need to look at the finger being pointed back at ourselves. We all know too well the saying When in Rome-do as the Roman do. The issue is we are all guilty and have some part of this. YES some MUCH more than others. But-those of us who have driver’s licences are all guilty on some level. We must be. It is a survival game here living in Israel in general. Driving ‘like an Israeli’ is just one of those things that we do when living an Israeli lifestyle. But should it be?  Seemingly, to be a good Israeli, we need to get with the program and be a bit more aggressive and desensitized on the roads- or else we are the ‘friar’ (sucker) that might never get out of that stopped lane- (due to all the others cutting in) and get- to work- to the appointment and home. 

However, Part of the beauty of being the Olim that we are- from the various countries we hail is- yes to accept and become Israelis-that is the good part. But also to synthesize the cultures and bring into the culture our customs to alter the broken things in Israel that need fixing and by improving our society into a new and improved Israel.  We’ve all joked how the crazy drivers here would never get away with it in the places we come from. So why do we give in to crazy driver syndrome? It can be tough when even the police won’t tolerate polite driving and might force one to drive away rather than yield politely to someone backing out of a driveway or parking spot. Isn’t that how most of us learned driving ethics? But now it doesn’t exist here. Rather, to almost mow someone down and make every minute on the road count-in transit that is. Well this cries out for a change-immediately! 

What better timing then election season. To make the election season count-and move it away from the absurdity of ‘Paam shleeshit gleeda — we should badger and not give parties or candidates a moment’s rest. This is where protests should be. If they want our votes — then in return give us — not just promise falsely — but present a plan to turn around the road unsafety ‘Machala’. Honestly -other issues are not as important as we have been living with the status quo for awhile and will need loads of patience for those issues to come about. But this issue cannot wait-for the next victim of the Machala will succumb any-day. I am pretty terrified as you all should be-because it can be any of us.

Israel has always prided itself on protecting their citizens and soldiers  and bringing them home safely in times of battle. But in this area- of ‘road terror’-they have failed miserably. We as a unified nation need to reexamine our sense of unity- our ‘Achdut’ barometers- if you will.

Achdut begins with consideration in all areas of life and absolutely on the roads.I don’t want to unify in tragic times. I want to unify in Life!!!  Officials need to make the roads safer. The message needs to get to drivers that they need to think before getting behind the wheel.

The patriarch Jacob is credited for being the first person to say the wayfarer’s prayer- Tefilat haderech. He asked G-d to get him home safely and promised to repay-essentially paying it forward with kindness and charity to G-d and to others. Imagine if we could all do that. The Rav-  Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s position is that today’s danger on the roads is not like the olden days when danger resulted from highwaymen- but rather from traffic accidents. It is the automobile itself that is a contributing factor to the danger. Regarding the question of whether it is appropriate to recite Tefillat HaDerech before a trip in an automobile, his opinion is that when one sets out on a journey one could recite Tefillat HaDerech as soon as one enters the car, even while one is still within the city limits. He emphasizes, however, that this does not apply to short trips within the city, since the Rabbis originally instituted the prayer for those intending to travel outside the city.

Yet how many accidents happen so close to home- as statistics show? Perhaps since most of us go somewhere on the roads at some point during the day, this tefillah should be added as part of  our shacharit- (the morning prayers) every morning daily — no matter where we go — albeit it to the local makolet. The mitzvah of: “ ונשמרתם מאד את נפשותיכם-Venishmartem me’od lenafshoteichem” in sefer Devarim-‘commands us to watch over our bodies and souls at all times-should be on our minds at all times. But for those who are not  shomrei mitzvot- (religiously observant)-as well as anyone for that matter. The questions asked should be:

Have I thought before cutting one off? Have I thought before passing on oncoming traffic? Am I in the right mindset and health to even get behind the wheel. Am I too tired to be driving? Am I driving at a proper speed? Do you value your life? Is it worth losing it over 2 minutes? If you don’t care about yourself- care about others who do value their lives. There is someone else who is a baby, toddler, teenager, young adult parent, spouse, and most  important to others.

Before my 10 year old leaves the house to go somewhere on our small yishuv- I remind him to be careful when crossing streets-as I  have been doing for the couple  of years that he has been allowed to cross streets alone. He says: Eema /אמא-I know all that, don’t you trust me?? I always reply: “You I trust. But I don’t trust anybody who is driving by you”.

That is the sad truth. Sadder is that this article is most probably preaching to the choir. So let’s put fourth some serious effort. We must stand for unity BEFORE  tragedy. This is what our mantra should be. 

I don’t want a cake, a meal or a donation in my memory. I want to live a very long healthy life. Please help me-and my friends- neighbors-loved one fellow citizens do just that. We must get to work -as a nation. We must make changes! We must make a difference!

Say — Unity for life — BEFORE tragedy!!

(Note as this is going to print- another 6 people have been killed in roadside accidents)

About the Author
Phyllis Hecht is living in Chashmonaim with her family since their Aliyah-17.5 years ago from Queens, NY. She is a Judaic studies teacher with an MA in Holocaust studies. Phyllis has a teudat Horaah in teaching English and a license in special education reading recovery. She is also a licensed debating teacher. She has taught business English in Israel and abroad and has taught Holocaust and Judaic studies classes in Israel. Phyllis is currently a High school English teacher and Debating coach at the Zeitlin High school in Tel Aviv.