On the Purim holiday it is traditional to dress up in a costume or mask to fulfill the spirit of the holiday in which God allegedly hid his face from the salvation of the Jewish people and instead brought about their salvation through natural means. In an ironic twist on the tradition the Ultra-Orthodox community in Israel is coming out in droves to purchase costumes and dress up as EMS paramedics from Israel’s national volunteer EMS organization United Hatzalah in order to honor true heroes who go out everyday to save people’s lives in Israel.
The irony of dressing up as “saviours” is not lost on the community many of whom look up at these EMS technicians, paramedics, EMTs, doctors and first responder volunteers as true heroes and saviours of the nation. With United Hatzalah first responders, many of whom are Ultra-Orthodox themselves, responding to over 260,000 calls last year (over 700 per day), it is no mystery as to why they are viewed that way.
Gavy Friedson, the Deputy Director of International Relations for United Hatzalah spoke about his experience with Haredi children emulating him and other United Hatzalah volunteers. “It happens all the time. Every time I walk out of the office I get asked for a sticker or to take a picture with Haredi kids. These kids don’t have TV at home and they see their brother or father or uncle going out and working for United Hatzalah or Zaka. They see their older family members zipping through traffic to go save someone’s life, so it is only natural that these people should become role models or ‘heroes’ in their eyes.”
“Fulfill a child’s dream and let them be an EMT for a day” so reads the ad put out by costume distributor Yossi Amar. “We opened up sales in numerous locations around Israel and we couldn’t believe how many we would sell. We’ve sold over 1,500 costumes so far and that is still with a week and a half to go until Purim,” said Yossi Amar.
Amar is usually a medical and health supplies distributor for an organization known as Haderech L’Hatzil Haim (The way to save a life), but when it gets close to the Purim holiday he begins to supply costumes stores all over the country with the United Hatzalah costumes due to their high demand.
“Children are dreaming of becoming EMT’s,” Amar explains, “parents call me continuously and want to dress their kids up like this. People are even purchasing real first aid kits to go with the costume and to keep for the house after the holiday so that they have one.”
Amar said that the demand is not limited to the Ultra-Orthodox areas but the demand is highest there. Many stores in Modi’in Illit, Bnei Brak and Jerusalem which are all densely populated by Ultra-Orthodox communities have sold out of the costumes and have requested more from distributors such as Amar or from United Hatzalah themselves. “In areas where kids are not allowed to dress up like soldiers or police officers due t community concerns, one of the prevalent alternatives that they have for costumes of positive role models that give back to the community is a United Hatzalah medic,” Amar added.
Amar illustrated how some families spare no expense in getting the United Hatzalah costume just right. “Parents even dress up the bicycles of their children to make it look as if it is a United Hatzalah ambucycle. We supply stores with cardboard boxes that have sirens on them so that the kids can attach it to their bicycles, and they sell out.”
Amar said that currently the supplies have not met the demands and his company has been asked continually for more costumes and associated paraphernalia for these costumes. “The kids look up at United Hatzalah medics as real life role models and superheroes. They are the real life Batman and Superman for these children, people who race to the scenes of emergencies to help save lives.”
Daniel Katzenstein – a volunteer EMT with United Hatzalah has often been asked what the cost is that children of medics pay due to witnessing their father or mother heading into emergency situations, or sometimes even being dragged along with them on calls due to necessity. “I don’t know what the answer to that question is and I’m not sure there is a way to tell. But I know that when I asked my kid what he wanted to dress up as for Purim and he said ‘a United Hatzalah medic’, I knew we were okay.”