While driving at dusk and after dark, Dean Ross of Lincroft realized that unlighted bicycles represent a significant hazard to motorists and to the bike riders themselves.
As chair of the Mitzva Day Committee at Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, Ross developed a plan for how the synagogue could help.
“We’re not far from Red Bank, which has a large population of Latino descent, many of whom are not high earners. For these individuals, bicycles are not recreational, but often a primary mode of transportation. They need them to go to work, go shopping or visit relatives and friends,” Ross told NJ Jewish News.
Working together with Art Fama, deacon of St. Anthony’s of Padua Church in Red Bank, Ross worked out a program through which volunteers from the temple and the church would jointly install safety lights for all bike riders who requested them.
On May 11, six days before MRT’s Mitzva Day, “Shine-A-Light” volunteers set up in the front yard of the church, equipping bikes with two flashing lights, white in front and red at the rear.
“We installed lights for 28 bikers in less than two hours, and also gave out a number of biking helmets donated by Karen Cole, a temple member, and David Prown, a Red Bank merchant,” said Ross.
The lights, valued at $30 per pair, were contributed by Cliff Wittenberg, owner of Bike Haven, a bicycle store in Fair Haven.
As the volunteers worked, a slow but steady stream of cyclists came up the street and stopped at the front yard of the church. “We chose an evening when our food bank is open to help encourage traffic,” said Fama.
“This was Dean’s idea, and he deserves the credit,” Fama added. “We hope to have one more round before winter, and we also would love to do it again next spring. Word-of-mouth should help bring in even more people than we had for this first effort.”
Ross said he hopes to expand the program, and has begun to explore the concept with synagogues in Long Branch and Freehold.
“This was a perfect pre-Mitzva Day event. It set the tone for the theme of tikun olam, ‘repairing the world,’” Ross said.
On Sunday, May 17, the official Mitzva Day, MRT planned a varied menu of activities. Temple members, through the auspices of Habitat for Humanity, worked on rebuilding homes destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, and worked in the temple’s own vegetable garden, where the crop is distributed to area food banks.
Some volunteers cleaned up a mile-long stretch of the Henry Hudson Trail. A group of Hebrew school children were also scheduled for a visit to Kensington Court, an assisted living facility in Tinton Falls, where they would entertain the residents, said Ross.
Citing the Talmud, MRT’s Cantor Gabrielle Clissold, who led the children’s entertainment efforts, said, “We are all responsible for one another, and while we can’t save the world alone, we can all do something in our own small way.”