160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! As Jews across the city observe Yom Kippur beginning at sundown today, the city’s traffic lights will help them mark the occasion. The city has programmed some of its traffic signals so pedestrians won’t have to push the button to change the lights, a nod to those Jews who refrain from all worklike activities during the high holy days. “It’s a way we’re trying to accommodate all the users of our street system,” said John Fisher, assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. “It’s something we’ve always done.” Jewish leaders welcome the tech-savvy feature, saying it enables worshippers to attend services without having to jaywalk or wait endlessly for the light to change. “It’s immediately seen as an appreciative accommodation – a sensitive accommodation – to the religious community, because we’re not going to push buttons to change those lights,” said Rabbi Aron Tendler of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in North Hollywood, where 1,500 Orthodox families live. “You’re talking about 1,000 people crossing the street in this little area. What do you want them to do? Stand at the street corner waiting for the cars to trip the signal?” he said. “It just makes sense to accommodate that kind of population if it can be done.” Practicing Orthodox Jews and those who are more Conservative refrain from routine activities on the holy days and weekly Sabbath so they can focus on spiritual issues. They don’t drive or cook, and they particularly refrain from using electricity to heed the traditional ban on lighting fire. That leaves thousands of Jewish residents in Orthodox neighborhoods such as North Hollywood, Fairfax and West L.A. to walk to synagogues for services. When they come to intersections with traffic signals, they’re prohibited from pushing the button to trigger the light to green so they can cross the street. “It’s not that you’re not allowed to push buttons, it’s that one is not permitted to be involved in a certain type of creative work. It happens to be that turning switches and pushing a button fall into that category,” said Rabbi Aaron Abend of Chabad of North Hollywood Saara Ratner-Stauber Synagogue. “The spirit of the day is to be less involved in the mundane and more involved in the godly, divine, spiritual.” In all, 51 intersections across the city – including 17 in the San Fernando Valley – have traffic lights programmed to turn to green with each cycle, rather than when a car approaches. The signals are set to automatically change on seven holy days during the year, including Yom Kippur. They also automatically change on the weekly Sabbath, which is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Additionally, the signals give pedestrians about 30 seconds to cross the street instead of the usual five to nine seconds given when only cars are crossing. The city’s practice began in 1973 when Fairfax and Hancock Park area Jewish leaders approached the city with the issue, Fisher said. The program expanded as Jewish leaders heard horror stories of worshippers jaywalking into dangerous traffic or getting slapped with police citations, said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, West Coast director of the Orthodox Union, an international umbrella organization for synagogues, who had been involved in getting signals in West Los Angeles. In the old days, city crews would have to drive out and manually change the lights. Today, the computer downtown is programmed with the dates, and the signals automatically change. When the first signal was set, crews jokingly altered the street sign from “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” sign to “Valk” and “Don’t Valk” before changing it back. “It happened little by little,” Fisher said. “As new synagogues develop or expand, we get requests.” In 1999, more signals were added in the Valley after the 76-year-old wife of a rabbi was struck and killed while crossing Ventura Boulevard at Newcastle Avenue on her way to weekday morning prayers. One of the newest signals began operating this summer at Goodland Avenue as part of the new Metro Orange Line busway opening later this month. Fisher said the department gets occasional complaints about the seemingly special treatment. But he said it’s no different than what’s done for areas with concentrations of elderly or disabled people. The only expense is the staff time to program the changes. The Orthodox Union’s Rabbi Moshe Krupka compared L.A.’s accommodation to New York’s practice of running extra trains or lifting “No Parking” bans on all sorts of holidays, not just Jewish. However, the signals do slow traffic because drivers who would typically get green lights have to pause on the Sabbath and holidays as the signal cycles to allow pedestrians to cross. The wait’s about 20 seconds longer than usual. Abend said he’s appreciative that such arrangements can be made. “The beauty of America, of Los Angeles, of society is to help each other out,” he said. “I’m sure there’s issues we help other people out. That’s called a community, a government, a society.” Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761 firstname.lastname@example.org ADDITIONAL AID Crosswalks aren’t the only accommodation made for the Jewish holidays. Jewish leaders cite these additional aids: Elevators: Cars that stop on every floor so the button doesn’t have to be pushed to make a stop. Keys: Locks that use traditional keys rather than electronic key cards on buildings so a card doesn’t have to be swiped to gain entry. Eruv: In the San Fernando Valley, and other areas around the nation, wires are strung across utility poles to symbolically enclose a community. Worshippers who are prohibited from carrying items from private to public spaces during the Sabbath can then carry keys, strollers or other items within what is considered a private area.