Eliana Siegal says she believes she survived unharmed a bus crash yesterday, Thursday, on Interstate 55, because her father gave her a dollar to give to charity, a Jewish tradition that she said helped protect her en route.
On Thursday morning, Eliana Siegal boarded a double-decker Megabus at Union Station in downtown Chicago, on her way to a concert in St. Louis that night.
Megabus is an intercity bus service providing discount travel services throughout the Northeast, parts of the Southeast, and Midwestern United States, and in southern Canada.
According to the Chicago Tribune, a few hours later, the 64-passenger bus she was sitting in blew a tire and skidded until it smashed into a concrete pillar of an overpass on Interstate 55 near Litchfield, Illinois, some 60 miles northeast of St. Louis.
Television footage from the scene shows crews on ladders reaching inside the smashed front end of the bus. Thirty ambulances and five medical helicopters responded, and I-55 was shut down in both directions from the Carlinville exit to the Litchfield exit.
One woman was killed and dozens of other passengers were injured, Illinois State Police said.
As many as half the people on the bus were injured, according to Illinois State Police Capt. Scott Compton. Five of the injured were trapped and had to be extricated, including the woman who died, Aditi R. Avhad, of Columbia, Mo.
“I flew forward, and my glasses were smashed into the back of the seat in front of me,” said Siegal, 16, of Chicago’s West Rogers Park neighborhood. “People were panicking, and babies were crying. A woman across the aisle from me was screaming that her leg was broken.”
West Rogers Park is one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Chicago, with a prominent Jewish population, dozens of synagogues and several Jewish day schools.
Siegal, who was riding on the top tier of the double-decker bus, said she and other passengers exited the bus quickly, afraid it might explode. She told the Tribune that the driver and some passengers were trapped.
Four people were airlifted to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, and another two were taken there by ambulance. Nineteen other passengers were treated for non-life-threatening injuries in local hospitals.
The Talmud (Pesachim 8.) cites Rabbi Eliezer who states: “Emissaries of a mitzvah will not be harmed,” suggesting that if a person is on a mission to fulfil a certain commandment in a dangerous environment (this was often applied to rabbis who labored to free fellow Jews from prison) enjoy a divine protection. This generated a custom in many Jewish communities of giving a person a small amount of money to give to charity at their destination, turning them into emissaries of a mitzvah.