Letter | ICW traffic lights present problem for observant Jews
January 31, 2012 · 3:58 PM
I attend Congregation Shevet Achim, a Jewish Orthodox synagogue visible from Island Crest Way heading south just as it narrows to a single lane. Most of its members observe the Sabbath traditionally, which means pulling back on that day from acts of creation (as God did on the Seventh Day). The foremost example, cited in the Torah itself, is ‘lighting a fire,’ which in modern application means not initiating anything electric or even the ‘fire’ in the carburetor of a car. Because there’s no driving on the Sabbath, members and their families can be seen walking to and from services, conversing as they use the sidewalks on their way home.
Because of this biblical prohibition against initiating anything electric on the Sabbath (Friday sundown until Saturday, full-dark), the new traffic signals along Island Crest Way now present a danger. Previously, families whose homes are north and west of the synagogue could simply use crosswalks to cross Island Crest, waiting until clear. Now, however, they’re in a quandary. Since pressing the buttons to allow them a green light to cross is forbidden, either they must cross Island Crest at an unmarked intersection, or dart across against the light.
It’s ironic that the installation of these traffic lights, clearly meant to enhance safety, has now created a menace to the safety of at least a hundred families every week. It’s a Jewish custom to open your home with festive Sabbath meals for guests after services, and therefore there will be families heading in various directions, some unaccustomed to discerning the safest means to cross Island Crest given their inability to press the button to request a ‘walk’ period.
This is not, by far, the greatest obstacle Jews have encountered in their diligence to observe Torah obligations on the Sabbath, but it’s interesting to find this on our wonderful, privileged Island. Perhaps some creative City Council members or planner might suggest a way to allow the many Sabbath-observing members of Shevet Achim to cross Island Crest more safely, now that the signals have been installed.