By Larry Gordon
It’s about selflessness, setting all else aside at the spur of a moment in an effort to save lives. Of the multiplicity of agencies, organizations, and causes, Hatzalah is unique. You can scour the landscape of causes, but few — perhaps none — perform on this level
or in this fashion.
I sit in shul on Shabbos morning in a building somewhat set back from Broadway, a main thoroughfare of the Five Towns. There is rarely a Shabbos or yom tov morning—especially these days with the windows open—when we do not hear the blaring sirens of a Hatzalah ambulance racing up Broadway, often with a patient riding inside, probably on the way to South Nassau or some other area hospital.
As a pedestrian and not an emergency medical technician, just someone who has on occasion viewed one of those medical-center-type video broadcast programs, I can attest that being at the ready, the way the volunteers of Hatzalah spring into action at the drop of a hat, so to speak, is something beyond impressive. It’s an effort that should be admired and supported generously.
And that is exactly the point of this Sunday’s annual barbecue event at The Sands at Atlantic Beach. For the community to come together as a unit to celebrate and recognize that which unifies and binds us as one community—support for a strong, proficient, and effective Hatzalah organization here in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway.
I’ve been speaking to some of the Hatzalah volunteers that I come in contact with on a fairly regular, if not daily, basis. Sometimes, when I’m walking up to our second-floor offices in Cedarhurst, some of them are running in the opposite direction responding to a call.
I don’t know how they feel, but from this perspective it looks like a superhero type of event as they race to the unknown, prepared to use all the lifesaving skills they have acquired in training and through their experience as Hatzalah volunteers in order to make a difference and save a life.
“It’s hard to explain how I feel when we rush into a home and there is a child choking or someone having difficulty breathing,” said one volunteer. When one of those calls is made, it is usually with an air of desperation and a lack of understanding about what is going on—especially if it is a health event that occurs suddenly and without warning. “There is a discernible sense of relief once the Hatzalah people arrive and walk through the door fully equipped to assess the situation and do what needs to be done,” the Hatzalah member told us.
And, parenthetically, it is not without forethought that each of the people we spoke with for the purpose of this essay all said the same thing: “Please do not use my name.” Even though we know them by those jackets they wear and the radios they carry—even in shul on Shabbos—the endeavor, along with the dedication and commitment, is not about them. It’s about the obvious need to respond with alacrity when an emergency arises.
So let’s spend a few lines talking about the finances of this kind of operation. These are sophisticated vehicles we are talking about here that transport people to medical facilities to receive the necessary attention. Ten Hatzalah ambulances are stationed in the Five Towns/Far Rockaway and the surrounding area. According to a Hatzalah spokesperson, each ambulance is fully equipped with the most advanced medical and technological equipment and costs about $400,000.
So to simply call these vehicles “ambulances” would be an understatement. In effect, these vehicles are mobile hospital units in which it is possible to save and sustain life until the patient is brought to the hospital.
Then there is the backbone of Hatzalah—the volunteers. We pay humble tribute to them at this annual barbecue event. It’s difficult to identify precisely what motivates them individually, but collectively it seems that their goals and objectives are providing a collective chesed to those in need by protecting the sanctity of life.
For members of Hatzalah, just about everything else in their lives comes second to their commitment to their lifesaving work. “There is nothing that is better or more satisfying than coming into a home where there is a possible emergency, with people sometimes in a panic,” another volunteer member said. “Once we assess and stabilize the situation, people don’t know what to do or say; all they can say is thank-you, and that’s more than enough.”
The same volunteer talked about a recent experience where an elderly woman dialed the emergency number to say that she was having difficulty breathing. Hatzalah EMTs raced to her home and rang the doorbell; she opened the door, and they immediately began to administer assistance while preparing to take her to a nearby hospital.
As part of the admittance procedures at the hospital, a nurse asked one of the Hatzalah members about the circumstances of the call. He said that she had called their number and that when they arrived she opened the front door of her home. “The nurse was kind of astounded and asked, ‘She opened the door? She’s in cardiac arrest.’”
I’m sure you hear the beeps and the crackling on the radios that are particularly noticeable on Shabbos in shul. But this is the priority—in halachah, preserving and saving lives supersedes everything. They can be summoned out of shul or away from their Pesach Seder or Purim seudah at any time without warning. But they know—and even more importantly, their families know—that this is what they signed up for.
Hatzalah members are a unique breed. Their spirit is about giving unquestionably, and this weekend we are presented with the special opportunity to pitch in and do our part to strengthen the magic that Hatzalah performs. It is likely that you will never need to call Hatzalah, and that is good. But you also want to be assured that in the case of a medical emergency, they will be there with efficiency to do what they do best, and to do it in an instant.
Now is the time to give a little of yourself to support them at HatzalahRL.org/BBQ or by simply showing up and donating at the barbecue this Sunday at the Sands (no reservation needed).
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at email@example.com.