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Steering a Safer Course

Riva Pomerantz

Shlomi Katz could have been irrevocably broken after the tragic passing of his three-year-old son, accidentally dragged by a school bus when the little boy’s jacket got snagged in the automatic door. Instead, he and his wife gathered the shards of their heartbreak and created a way to make Israel’s notoriously dangerous roads safer for others.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Teetering precipitously on the edge of hastily assembled chairs, peyos flying in every direction, hundreds of boys of all ages cheer, stab at the air, and excitedly mark their papers as the brightly colored PowerPoint pictures appear on the screen.

“What’s the correct way to get onto a bus?” urges the presenter, cool and unruffled in a perfectly starched white shirt as his microphone soars over the din. 

“Wait till the bus comes to a complete stop!” shouts a particularly exuberant hand-waver.

It’s a regular Tuesday morning in this typical Israeli chareidi cheder. Yet alongside a rich, packed curriculum of limudei kodesh and a smattering of mathematics and language arts, these cheder boys are being taught a new subject — one that will remain with them for life. Literally.

Shlomi Katz is the 39-year-old instigator behind a nationwide wave of change: educating the public about the basics and the finer points of road safety. His organization, Cheftzeinu L’Chaim, which operates throughout the country, is saving lives onIsrael’s dangerous roads every day, educating all demographics including the very young and the elderly, all across the religious spectrum.

His voice still hasn’t given out an hour later when we exit the school building, leaving behind eight grades of rambunctious kids with their heads full of the material they have just reviewed.

“You couldn’t pay me to stand up there for even one minute,” I remark.

He just laughs. As a former rebbi and a beloved camp counselor since his early teens, Shlomi Katz isn’t intimidated by children, noise, or planning and executing large-scale projects. But although community activism is a part of him, it was a personal tragedy that kindled the spark of what is now a full-fledged operation Shlomi and his wife, Etty, tirelessly pursue today.

 

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