By Jivanna Bennaeim
An article about the most dangerous Long Island roads for pedestrians and bicyclists was published in Newsday on April 6. If you have lived on Long Island for a while, there are some roads that you would not be surprised to see listed, such as Sunrise Highway, Hempstead Turnpike or Montauk Highway. Included along with the major fast-paced, three-lane roads is our very own Middle Neck Road in Great Neck Plaza.
Sadly, I was not surprised when the report was released. That day, I was speaking to a room filled with engineers and politicians about the fact that my husband had been killed by a speeding car on that street in the fall of 2016. I was speaking out so there would be changes made on roads to decrease drivers’ speed, so that others would not have to go through this same tragedy.
I often think communities are like marriages. You get to know your spouse best during life’s most difficult moments. I got to know this community, the schools and residents of Great Neck deeply after my husband, Oren, was killed.
As the storm of loss hit me and my son’s life, it was the coaches, teams, schools and dear friends who saved us from drowning. Within the week after my husband died, my son’s hockey team, the Great Neck Bruins, had already had Oren’s name put on all the children’s helmets; there was a tree planted for Oren in Steppingstone Park from donations from parents; we received letters that we still open from my son’s teachers at Lakeville Elementary School; and his guidance counselor and principal at Great Neck South Middle School made themselves available to both of us and still do. It was extraordinary to see, out of the wreckage of something so tragic and awful, all the love and support, the dinners and assistance in so many ways that came to us because of the people who live and work in Great Neck.
Two dear friends offered to find Oren’s car while I was sitting by his bedside, since my husband was in a coma for six days at North Shore Hospital. The song that was blasting from Oren’s CD player when they turned the car on was “Take the Long Way Home” by Supertramp. If you knew Oren, you wouldn’t be surprised. I listened to this song over and over. I still do, and I am always struck by the chorus that says:
“When you look through the years and see what you could have been
Oh, what you might have been,
If you’d had more time.
So, when the day comes to settle down,
Who’s to blame if you’re not around?
You took the long way home.”
This part always gets me, because Oren’s life is like the song—the catastrophe, what could have been, who’s to blame, what if the driver had taken the long way home and had not been speeding.
It had been a typical morning—making breakfasts and lunches, running off to work, my husband taking our son to school. I suppose it is always just a normal day when your life is forever changed. No one ever sees it coming.
Oren will never dance at our son’s wedding or cheer at his middle school graduation this week, complain about having to get reading glasses or that the winter lasted too long this year—the normal things we all take for granted.
There’s a senselessness I feel to Oren’s death. Basically, if someone had stopped at the red light or not been speeding, he would still be here. And, that is a fact I have to live with every day.
Each time I hear of someone getting hit by a car in our town or anywhere, it brings it all back—the shock, the sadness, the way time stops.
And, like anything else or anywhere else, we can be better, we can drive slower, we can walk more mindfully and we can model to our children what it means to be a good citizen by the way we treat the people who are walking in our neighborhoods, as well as how we act behind the steering wheel of our cars.
With a small group of parents, we are working to put together a 5k and Fun Run on Sunday, Nov. 4, starting in Jonathan L. Ielpi Firefighters Park on Grace Avenue at 8 a.m. The vision behind this is to bring together all the members of our vast Great Neck community and raise awareness about the consequences of distracted driving and speeding, and to remind everyone to drive and walk mindfully.
The first time Oren and I had a fight about something, I burst into tears. In his very Israeli way, he said, “Why are you crying?” And I told him that it was because we were fighting and we’ve only known each other a very short time. Oren responded, “These are the important moments, pay attention. You will get to see who I am and I get to see who you are, because we will have conflicts and better to know now who walks beside you.”
I got to see who walks beside me in this town in the last year and a half. And I would say the thing that got me through the worst days since Oren died is friendship and connection—from some new friends who we barely knew and some who were complete strangers and never met my husband. Old and new friends lifted us up with our broken hearts and very quiet home and made us feel we were part of a whole and not alone.
There are some logistical details still being worked out, but please keep the morning of Nov. 4 free and this tragedy in your minds as you walk and drive in our extraordinary town. Help us take Great Neck from having one of the most dangerous roads on Long Island to one of the safest. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.