One of the benefits of getting older is suddenly realizing that the rest of the world is using words which make absolutely no sense. ‘Woke’, ‘normie’, ‘mansplain’ – thankfully English has never suffered from a lack of creativity in coining new and wonderful words. I even learned a new one today: ‘balconing.’
Starting back in 2011, Spanish authorities were dealing with so many cases of foreign tourists being radically unsafe around their hotel balconies– jumping from the balcony into the pool, climbing from one balcony to another, climbing up the balcony to get back in their room rather than use the lift– that they actually had to coin a term for it.
According to Juan José Segura, doctor at Son Espases´s hospital, 85% of the victims fall accidentally, usually while trying to jump from one balcony to the next or do some reckless movement near the edge … He estimates an average of 10 to 15 cases each year … and established the profile of the “average practitioner” as a 24 year old British male.
Obviously this is a tremendous tragedy, and 2018 has already seen at least 6 people killed via balconing. The lost of life is perhaps most upsetting because it is so easily avoidable!
It isn’t every week that something I hear about in the world around us coincides with the Torah reading, but balconing is actually shockingly relevant. This week, in parashat Ki Teitzei, we read one of the Torah’s more mundane laws (Deuteronomy 22:8):
כִּי תִבְנֶה בַּיִת חָדָשׁ, וְעָשִׂיתָ מַעֲקֶה לְגַגֶּךָ; וְלֹא-תָשִׂים דָּמִים בְּבֵיתֶךָ, כִּי-יִפֹּל הַנֹּפֵל מִמֶּנּוּ.
“When you build a new house you shall make a parapet around the roof- thus you won’t come to have blood on your house from someone falling.”
What a sad but welcome reminder of the relevance of our Torah. It seems that despite the many advances in human society in the last three thousand years, safety around rooftops and balconies has not changed in the slightest. A lot of the debate around the tragedy of balconing seems to be focused on blaming the balconers for their foolish behaviour. Yet, the Torah maintains no illusions about human behaviour. It does not rely on people always making good choices. Rather, it tells us that we have a responsibility to prevent accidents and harm on our properties, our roofs, and our balconies.
El País, in it’s recent coverage of this Summer’s crop of balconing tragedies, writes:
“Hoteliers refuse to take responsibility for the accidents, arguing that their establishments provide hotel guests with information pamphlets, always try to place groups of young people on the ground or lower floors, and comply with both the European and national norms that regulate construction conditions.”
It may be perfectly sensible for hotels and governments to call on individuals to be safer and make better choices- but in the eyes of the Torah, the first and primary responsibility falls on the property owner to ensure the safety of those using it.
Either way, if you’re travelling these last few weeks of Summer, please be safe, and please don’t try to climb your balcony.