Two years after Yisrael Goldberg lost his oldest child, 19-year-old Avia, to a car crash, he has dedicated himself to preventing similar tragedies in the future. Goldberg, the founder of Israel's first religious PR firm, has used his skills as a publicist to educate the public about traffic safety.
In his pocket Goldberg carries a card with a picture of Avia, the Traveler's Prayer, and the words, “I hereby accept upon myself to drive carefully and fulfill the mitzva of 'be extremely protective of your lives.'”
One of his projects involves running simulations for young drivers in the religious world. He brings his equipment to yeshivot and seminaries, where men and women take the wheel and deal with situations that include an approaching motorcycle, and oncoming truck, or careless drivers nearby. Several young people who took part in the simulations later told Goldberg the experience helped them stay safe in real life situations.
Other work takes place at random times, when Goldberg or a fellow activist sees someone crossing the street on a red light. They approach the offender, offer them a copy of the Traveler's Prayer, and explain the dangers in crossing the street against the light – both to the person themselves, and to any children who may decide to imitate their behavior.
He laments the lack of awareness of traffic safety in the religious world. “I live in Jerusalem, where fifty percent of the population is religious or hareidi-religious, and the behavior on the roads is unacceptable... There are people who feel that G-d is in their pocket – it is chilling, but true, and it causes a real desecration of G-d's name.” He now calls on the religious public to lead the way in setting an example of responsible driving.
In addition, Goldberg waged an 18-month campaign to fix roads in Samaria, and in particular, the pothole that caused his son's death. Avia was driving to his yeshiva in Elon Moreh when he hit the pothole, causing him to lose control. The car flipped over and hit a pole, killing Avia instantly.
Goldberg fought through various levels of bureaucracy, reaching the Traffic Minister himself, before finally winning a government commitment to repair roads in the area.
He also works on behalf of a campaign for religious organ donation through the Adi organization. The campaign would see a “mehadrin” organ donation card which would allow for organ donation only if a rabbi has confirmed the holder's death, to ensure that doctors do not declare dead in a situation where halacha, Torah law, would view the holder as living.
'The Worst Moments of My Life'
In a conversation with B'Sheva magazine, Goldberg described the minutes in which he and his wife Ronit drove to the hospital after Avia's accident as “the worst moments of my life.” Hospital staff refused to discuss Avia's condition on the phone, leaving the couple to realize that their son had died.
When people ask how many children he has, Goldberg now says, “Six – one in heaven, and five on earth.”
Three weeks after Avia's death, the Goldbergs paid their first visit to a family that had also lost a child in a traffic accident, in order to provide whatever comfort they could.
'PR With One Hand Tied'
Goldberg also spoke about his business, which he founded after study in the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva. The job of a religious publicist “is like working, or fighting, with one hand tied behind your back,” he said.
“Most publicists worldwide aim for people's most basic desires, to their animal urges,” he continued. “We don't use those tools; we use something much more refined. We turn to the lofty side of human nature, to the soul, and not to the weaker elements. It is tremendously challenging.”
The office has a diverse staff that includes religious, secular, and hareidi-religious workers, he said. Rabbis advise the staff and help create guidelines for which customers to work with, and how to reach diverse audiences without promoting immorality.
The Battle for Gush Katif
In 2005 the Goldberg family fought a different battle – the fight for Gush Katif. The entire family moved to the town of Kfar Darom, joining their relatives, Eliezer and Chana Bart and their children.
For months they lived in Gaza. Goldberg drove to work in Jerusalem every day, and on the way home, helped young activists gain access to Jewish Gaza by telling soldiers – who had orders to bar any non-residents from entering the area – that they were his children. “I had 300 children,” he recalled.
After the expulsion of Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria, Avia joined the struggle to renew Jewish life in Homesh, one of the towns that was destroyed. “The expulsion was very hard for Avia, but he turned his pain into fuel for the struggle... He organized groups that went to Homesh,” Goldberg said. Avia also organized supplies for the Homesh activists.
Goldberg sees a connection between his personal pain over losing Avia, and the nation's mourning for Gush Katif. “We struggle not to fall into depression, but rather, to channel our feelings into action and faith.”