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Green-Light Grandpas

Chananel Shapira

You can spot them at busy intersections around Israel, a growing trend of zeidies making sure kids stay safe running to make the school bell

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

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RED LIGHT! Road-safety awareness and proper adult role models are the best insurance for keeping kids safe navigating busy streets, “because a guard with a stick is not enough when a child doesn’t understand the significance or the basic rules. And the best way to teach them is by personal example” (Photos: Yaakov Lederman)

I t’s 8:15 in the morning at the busy intersection of Nesivos Hamishpat and Ketzos Hachoshen Streets in Modiin Illit (Kiryat Sefer) near the city’s largest cheder.

Right now Reb Dovid Segal is king of the intersection, nudging a child here, rebuking a driver there, and most importantly, moving the pedestrians along and making sure they don’t generate a traffic jam — not on the sidewalk and not on the street.

Now he gently knocks his sign on the head of a small child standing and chatting with his friends. “I’ll help you cross the street while you talk, okay?” The children around him giggle.

“Not nice,” Segal chides them, knocking his sign on the boy’s head again. “He just got it over the head, how can you laugh at him?”

Reb Dovid keeps the young crowd moving, and gives another head tap, this time to a seven-year-old who seems afraid to cross. “Come on, let’s cross the street,” he coaxes. “What are you waiting for? Oh, I know, you’re waiting for Chanukah.” More giggles, but at least the crosswalk flow is smooth.

Segal tries to keep all sides in the morning rush calm and in good spirits, but later, after the children are safely in their classrooms, he explains that the subject is no laughing matter. “Believe me, I tremble with fear while I stand there every morning between the cars,” he admits. “I see things that the parents of these children don’t dream happen out here: I see how some children simply don’t know how to cross the street. I’ve seen accidents in front of my eyes. These kids must have angels watching them from Above.”

Well, one of those angels is Dovid Segal himself, and he’s not alone. He’s one of a growing trend of retired men — zeidies who are already marrying off their grandchildren — who spend their mornings and afternoons as volunteer crossing guards, making sure kids in Israeli cities stay safe while running to make the school bell, as anxious motorists press on the horns in their own morning rush.

While it’s been decades since Reb Dovid Segal walked his own children to school, today he’ll never miss a morning at his post.

 

“It all began when my wife passed away six and a half years ago,” he says. “I lived in Zichron Yaakov at the time. After we got up from shivah, I began to come to my daughter in Modiin Illit for Shabbos. I didn’t always go back on Motzaei Shabbos, and when I would walk out of shul after Shacharis on Sunday morning and see the kids running into the street without looking in any direction, some barely out of diapers walking with their older siblings, I almost got a heart attack from it. It was clear that a tragedy was only a matter of time. After this happened a few times, I said to myself, instead of complaining and grumbling, just do something. So I decided to stand at the intersection and direct traffic.”

On his very first day, Segal found himself in the middle of a frightening scene. “I was holding the hands of four children and I was about to cross them over at the crosswalk. Although I saw a car approaching from the right, I was sure the driver saw us. Only when the car came much closer did I see that the driver was looking into his rearview mirror, apparently at his children in the back seat. With one hand, he held his cell phone. And then he looked straight, saw us, and panicked. It was clear he hadn’t noticed us before. Brakes screeching, he was able to stop the car in the middle of the crosswalk, and it was a miracle we were able to jump back to the curb in time.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 675)

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