As part of our Year Of The Volunteer project, we will be highlighting volunteers from across the country who give of themselves and their time to help others each and every day. It is time to recognize these heroes for the work that they do both as volunteer first responders and in their everyday lives.
Today on Yom HaAliyah, or Aliyah Day, we are highlighting four Olim (immigrants to Israel) from North America who have found a purpose and community by becoming a first responder with United Hatzalah.
It can be intimidating moving to a new country and into a new community. No matter when these volunteers made Aliyah, or if they had prior EMS training before coming to Israel, they each have a unique story on how being a part of United Hatzalah has given them a way to give back to the Israeli society at large.
“One on One connections with Individuals and Families”
I actually made Aliyah twice. The first time was in 2000 when I was 18 and joined the army. After my service, I began my studies at Bar Ilan University, but as soon as the Second Gulf War started in 2003 I decided to return to the U.S. and finish my studies there. I then remade Aliyah in 2017 with my wife and children from Birmingham, Alabama where I was a Rabbi for 7 years.
I have been an EMT since I was 15, which is permitted in the State of New Jersey where I grew up. So it feels like almost my whole life. It is the one piece of my life that no matter what happens, I always come back to it. I absolutely love it.
The reason I specifically decided to join United Hatzalah when I made Aliyah the second time is an interesting one. While I was a Rabbi in Birmingham for many years, I realized that the closeness to my congregation and intimate connections I had with the congregants was very important for me. There is a certain role you play in people’s lives that is really special. People rely on you, and you need to be emotionally present with them. Leaving the rabbinical world left a very wide gap for me.
And that is something that I found in United Hatzalah.
There is also something universal about the brotherhood of first responders. There is an unspoken language. There are cultural differences and even differences in medical practice based on training. However, there is a certain common focus and seriousness, but also balanced humor that permeates every EMS organization I have ever been in for the last 25 years.
It is that commonality that gives me the ability to feel like I could talk to almost anyone in Israeli society. It is less intimidating when you have something already built in to talk about and engage around. I think no matter how many years I have been in EMS, this would be true. This common ground creates communities and friendships.
Eytan currently lives with his wife and three kids in Gush Etzion.
I made Aliyah from Long Island, New York in 2008 at the age of 19 to go to seminary. I just recently joined United Hatzalah a little over two years ago, and currently am in the Women’s Unit run by Gitty Beer.
Through the years, people always told me that I am really great under pressure which is one of the reasons I decided to become an emergency first responder
For me, responding to emergencies is exactly that. Knowing what to do under pressure. If you can stay calm, then you can do almost anything on the field. I find this work very inspiring.
I also truly love our community of women first responders. It is like a sisterhood. I am so close to all the other volunteers. We talk on the phone all the time. We don’t even all live in the same city, but we share a special connection, a commonality of purpose.
Gitty Beer, our chapter head, is so supportive. She is available for everyone at all times and has unconditional love for all of us.
I was very surprised that I found such an amazing community within United Hatzalah. I thought I was only signing up to be a volunteer first responder and all of a sudden I had this beautiful sisterhood.
Yafa currently lives with her husband and 5 kids in the Old City, Jerusalem.
“From 9/11 to Israel. Responding with confidence.”
I made Aliyah with my wife from Florida in 2010 where I was already certified as an EMT. Prior to that I lived in New York and was one of the thousands of first responders on the scene on September 11, 2001.
I joined United Hatzalah in 2018 right after my close friend Ari Fuld z”l was murdered in Gush Etzion. There was a training course being given in Efrat in his memory and I decided to get recertified in Israel and become a first responder after many years of not being active. A lot of Ari’s close friends were joining and I figured since I was already familiar with the material I could help.
I have always liked the idea of helping and giving back to my community. I didn’t have the opportunity to join the army when I made Aliyah, so United Hatzalah has definitely been another way to achieve that goal.
I feel that I am a better EMT because of all the situations I have been in, especially from what I experienced on the field on 9/11. I actually have not responded to any mass casualty incidents yet in Israel. That being said, I do think I am prepared should I be needed.
Overall, I feel with my skill set and training I can respond with confidence no matter the situation. There is always a need for first responders. I still have a challenge with Hebrew, but I am always improving. I truly thank United Hatzalah for giving me the opportunity to give back to the community.
Eric currently lives with his wife and 3 kids in Gush Etzion.
“ Sharing in each other’s simchas”
I made Aliyah from Toronto after high school in 2012 to go to seminary at age 19. My mom happened to do the training course and join the organization’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit and afterward convinced me and my husband, Ami, to take the regular NREMT course, which we did in 2018. That is when I became a volunteer first responder. We had a young baby at the time, so my mom offered to regularly babysit so we could do the training course together.
When my grandmother passed away not long after, we decided to raise money for an e-bike and defibrillator that both Ami and I could use to respond to calls in our neighborhood of Baka in Jerusalem.
United Hatzalah has given us an amazing community. In addition to volunteering together with other people from our community, we go on ambulance shifts together (I really love being part of a team), go camping together, had Shabbat meals together, and we often share in each other’s simchas. We have a United Hatzalah crew and that is really nice.
Our neighborhood of Baka has a lot of elderly people, so we respond to local calls on a daily basis. It feels nice knowing that our Israeli neighbors and other people around us can benefit from what we have learned in United Hatzalah. As first responders, we have the unique ability to be able to help the larger community around us and that is important for me. It forces me to go out and meet new people that I might have never otherwise gotten the chance to know.
One of my dreams is to arrive at a home birth in our neighborhood. There are a lot of volunteers in our chapter who are all very active, so it hasn’t happened yet. But I hope it will soon.
Samara currently lives with her husband Ami and 2 kids in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem.
To support the lifesaving work of these United Hatzalah volunteers and those like them, or to send them messages of encouragement, please click here: