Hillel Yeshiva juniors and seniors were in for a Rude Awakening on May 16. During a graphic demonstration of the dangers of drinking and driving — including testimony from individuals who had lost family members to drunk drivers — students were visibly moved.
Molly Berkowitz, a trauma injury prevention coordinator at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, showed students a film of victims of accidents caused by drunk drivers, sparing them none of the violent unsettling details.
Her presentation was part of a program created in 1994 by Middletown rescue teams and brought to Hillel through the efforts of parent Esther Tebele of Eatontown.
Berkowitz, whose sister was killed by a drunk driver, held up, one by one, tools used by trauma teams on accident victims — an intercranial hand drill, a chest tube, a blade used to insert the tube.
Her final prop — a body bag — brought her presentation to a somber close. “You don’t want this to be the last outfit your parents see you in,” she said. “It comes only in one color. There is no designer label. And there’s no going back.”
For Edward Benjamin, 16, of West Long Branch, the program drove home what his parents have always warned him about. “We started taking it really seriously two years ago when my brother’s car folded like an accordion after being hit from behind by a drunk driver. Luckily he was not hurt,” Edward said. “This program really makes you realize it’s not a game — a car is a dangerous weapon.”
‘Hurts too much’
Rude Awakening helped 17-year-old Irene Goldman of Oakhurst reach a swift conclusion. “Never again,” she said. “I don’t drink, but I’ve shot a quick text message while driving at low speeds. This program definitely proved to me that’s not the way to go because someone around me could be impaired or killed.”
Attorney Lois Sutton of West Deal, in addressing the students, focused on the legal consequences of drinking and driving, emphasizing that parents can be charged even if they are not home and not aware drinking was taking place. Tim Macon, Ocean Township traffic safety officer, spoke about the penalties and fines drunk drivers face.
Guest speaker Alison Wheeler of Middletown described how her brother D.J. was killed by a drunk driver in 2003, five months after graduating high school.
“My family suffers every single day because of a young man who drove while intoxicated,” she said. “We don’t celebrate birthdays and holidays because it just hurts too much without my brother here.
“Before you get behind the wheel of a car drunk,” Wheeler told the students, “think of your family and what their lives would be like without you. The driver who killed my brother was sentenced for three years. Our sentence is for life.”
The dangers were dramatically demonstrated when students participated in an experiment in the school gym. After putting on “fatal vision” goggles that simulate the effects of inebriation, they attempted to drive golf carts. After knocking over an entire row of traffic cones, 16-year-old Shai Galapo of Deal emerged from the cart in a daze. “It was out of this world. I’m not doing that ever again. I’m still a little dizzy,” he said.
Students also witnessed a reenactment of a head-on collision and victim rescue operation in the school’s parking lot, with demonstrations by emergency medical service workers from Oakhurst, Wanamassa, and the Jersey Shore division of Hatzalah, the volunteer Jewish squad.
The program emphasizes the important role community plays in addressing this critical issue, said Dr. Gayle Krost of Oakhurst, Hillel’s vice president and chair of the board of education. “As a community we need to educate our children about the risk of driving under the influence and getting into a car with someone under the influence,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to save their lives.”
Rude Awakening helps ensure Hillel students make wise decisions, said Rabbi Howard Bald, head of the high school. “At the end of the day, there’s nothing more important than the safety and welfare of the children in our community.”