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My Ben Yachid

August 27, 2012


Gothamist’s Christopher Robbins explains why irrational bike hate — which can even appear in a movie review — is so damaging to the overall goal of safer streets.

…bloodthirsty screeds like Leitch’s also contribute to the warped, anti-cycling mentality that the media willfully exploits, and echoes into a real world in which investigating the senseless death of a loved one is not a priority if they happened to be riding a bike.

Robbins continues:

You could forgive cyclists for believing that there is a spiteful cabal conspiring to promote falsehoods about bikes and the people who ride them, because there is. Emails obtained by Streetsblog show that former deputy mayor Norman Steisel and former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall (oh, did we mention she’s also Senator Chuck Schumer’s wife?) used their media connections to manipulate coverage of the dispute over the Prospect Park West bike lane. The coverage contained half-truths and altogether pitiful reporting to gin up outrage at “the cyclists,” (one of whom happens to be Chuck Schumer. Awkward!)

And if nearly every newspaper (or website) in town denounces cyclists as law-breaking assholes, why should the NYPD devote resources to investigate when they are injured or killed?

My wife often tells her congregants a story of a yeshiva with a stellar reputation for the kindness and compassion of its graduates.  One day, the head of the yeshiva receives a visitor who’s curious about how the school has earned its reputation.  The head of the yeshiva takes the visitor on a tour of the school and when then reach the first class room he points to a student and says, “Do you see that boy over there? That is my ben yachid, my only son.”  The visitor exclaims, “How wonderful that your only son attends your school!”

The two continue to the next classroom and the head of the yeshiva once again says, “Do you see that boy over there?  That is my ben yachid, my only son.”  This confuses the visitor, but not wanting to offend his host, he just nods and follows the head of the yeshiva down the hall.  They reach a third classroom and the head of the yeshiva points through the door and says, “Do you see that boy over there? That is my ben yachid, my only son.”

This continues as the two men visit a fourth, a fifth, and a sixth classroom.  Finally, the visitor can’t contain his confusion any longer and says, “Sir, how is it possible that in every classroom you point to a different boy and say that he is your only son?”

“You came here wanting to know how our school sends such kind and compassionate graduates out in the world,” the head of the yeshiva responds.  “Here is the answer: I tell my teachers that our students should all be treated as if each one of them is our ben yachid, our only son.”

This story speaks to a deep truth that I believe about how to make our city safer, and it has nothing to do with infrastructure.  Instead of demonizing cyclists because they’ve “taken over” the city or labeling people as “smug” or “entitled” simply because they don’t want to get hit by trucks, we must understand that every person with whom we share the road — as well as every victim of traffic violence — is someone’s son or someone’s daughter.  It may be pie-in-the-sky, Polyanna-esque thinking, but the quest for page views shouldn’t trump the basic rules of human decency.

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