By Larry Gordon

We have long maintained that there is really no such thing as local news in our Jewish communities. Just about everything that happens is of concern to everyone, albeit on varying levels.

Last Saturday night, there was a tragic car crash on Peninsula Boulevard that resulted in the passing of a 15-year-old young woman and the serious injury of several others. Helping out or pitching in became everyone’s concern, regardless of geographic location.

The funeral took place in Israel for Liel Namdar, a’h, of Great Neck, the teenager who was fatally injured by a drunk driver who was speeding on Peninsula Boulevard in a pickup truck. The driver of the other car was Miriam Meltser, who was seriously injured. Miriam is 38 years old and a single mother of three children. Those who know her well have undertaken a half-million-dollar fundraising campaign to help the family through this most difficult time.

Miriam was driving her SUV down Edward Avenue toward Peninsula Boulevard. Peninsula Boulevard is a dangerous roadway; the way it is constructed and the distance between traffic signals almost encourages vehicles to speed. It is particularly dangerous at night and when it is raining, which was the case this past Saturday night.

Of course, the inexplicable nature of an event like this defies our ability to comprehend. For us it is impossible to understand that a wonderful, friendly young woman—and, as her teachers have said, an excellent student—had just 15 years Divinely allotted to her. But unfortunately, we have to grapple with and try to reconcile this, as difficult and unbearable as it is for us in our mundane human existence.

Miriam Meltser is currently hospitalized in critical condition. As we stated, she’s a divorcee with three children at home. According to those involved with the family, she lost her job two weeks ago, which, compounded with the crash, has stirred the community to come together in an effort to raise money for the family.

On the matter of Peninsula Boulevard, where several people have lost their lives just trying to cross the street, there has been talk for a long time about dealing with the ever-present danger posed by speeding cars and trucks. Considering the number of oil tankers racing down the boulevard to fill up near JFK, one must marvel that there are not more incidents of this nature. There has been talk for years about traffic lights at these corners, but while that might add to the safety at these intersections, it does not mean that this tragic event could have been avoided. In this situation, we were dealing with an inebriated driver of a pickup truck driving more than 60 miles per hour on a roadway with a 35-miles-per-hour speed limit.

Here is the police report that was filed by the officers on the scene on Saturday night:

The Homicide Squad is investigating a fatal auto accident that occurred on Saturday, December 11, 2021, at 10:58 p.m. in Woodmere.

According to detectives, Fourth Precinct officers responded to an auto accident at the intersection of Peninsula Boulevard and Edward Avenue. Upon arrival, officers discovered a blue 2014 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck and a white 2018 Audi Q5 SUV that had been in collision. The Dodge pickup truck had been traveling northbound on Peninsula Boulevard and had two occupants who were both transported to an area hospital with minor injuries. The Audi SUV had been turning southbound onto Peninsula Boulevard from Edward Avenue and had five occupants. All occupants of the Audi SUV were transported to an area hospital, including a 15-year-old female passenger who was pronounced deceased by a staff physician at 11:45 PM and the 38-year-old female driver who is in critical condition. The other occupants sustained less serious injuries. During the investigation, the driver of the Dodge pickup truck, Arlin Javier Aguilera, 34, of …Washington Avenue, West Hempstead, was placed into custody.

Arlin Javier Aguilera has been charged with Vehicular Manslaughter 2nd Degree, Vehicular Assault 2nd Degree, and Driving While Intoxicated. He will be arraigned on Sunday, December 12, 2021, at First District Court in Hempstead.

According to the Nassau County District Attorney’s office, Aguilera was being held on $200,000 bail bond or $100,000 in cash or a $1 million property bond. It has also been determined that Aguilera has overstayed his visa and has been here illegally for the last five years. That means that if our immigration laws were applied, the perpetrator would not have been here. His passport has been revoked and his driver’s license suspended. At this time we are told that he is out on bail.

We are in touch with Nassau County law enforcement and will keep readers updated on developments in the case.

That Mask Mandate

Beginning this past Monday, Governor Kathy Hochul has instituted a mask mandate in New York State, taking a chapter, so to speak, out of former governor Andrew Cuomo’s book on how to deal with the pandemic.

The difference this time is that the governor has no plans to allocate funding to enforce the mandate, and a number of counties have said that they have no plans to designate resources for enforcement either.

Here in Nassau, County Executive-elect Bruce Blakeman—who takes office on January 1—said that as far as he is concerned, his agencies, including the police and health departments, are busy with their central focus and responsibilities and not with a statewide decision that is not based on data or science.

Mr. Blakeman said that the governor’s motivation in this decision was an uptick in hospitalizations in Buffalo and Rochester. But, he pointed out, the key consideration in a drastic decision like the one Governor Hochul instituted is primarily bed space in hospitals and ICUs. And here in Nassau County there is no crunch or pressure on our hospitals that warrants extreme measures.

“You should not be making decisions for Nassau or Suffolk County based on what is taking place in Buffalo or Rochester. Buffalo is closer to Cleveland than it is to Long Island,” Blakeman said. “Are we going to determine health policy based on what is going on in Cleveland?” He added that at this point 97% of adults in Nassau County have received at least one shot of the vaccine.

In all, nine county leaders around New York State have announced that they will not be enforcing this new mask mandate. Still, this week there are chain stores featuring signage that says you must wear a mask in the store whether you are vaccinated or not. The new mandate will reinforce what is commonly referred to as “vaccine hesitancy” more than anything else. After all, if you still need to wear a mask contrary to scientific findings, why bother going through the arduous process of vaccination?

Some local shuls have communicated with membership that they are waiting for policies on mask-wearing in shul to be determined. Certainly, those who have taken the vaccine and the booster along with those who test negative should not be subject to these restrictions.

We may be witnessing a process that will again drive people from our shuls and back to outdoor or private minyanim that are less restrictive. Some shuls are still dealing with empty pews since our shuls were closed for months in the days prior to the availability of the vaccines. Back then, about 18 months ago, even after local Nassau County government said that shuls may open, many decided to remain closed for longer periods of time.

After nearly two years of dealing with the pandemic, we should know how to implement safety measures without resorting to early policies like mask mandates that have proven scientifically shaky. We should recognize health policy determined by political expediency for what it is—not at all helpful in dealing with the pandemic.

Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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