On Friday afternoon around 3:30 in the afternoon, a young woman who was wearing a lifejacket began to swim away from the beaches in Tiberias in order to enjoy the cool water of the Kinneret. After swimming for a short time, the strong undertow that exists around the beaches of Tiberias and is extremely strong during the afternoon hours when the winds blow out towards the center of the lake pulled the young woman a significant distance away from the beach. At first, she had felt safe and secure in that she was wearing her life vest and therefore did not pay attention to how far away from the coast she had drifted. Before she knew it she was stranded in the middle of the lake, with sizable waves and a current pulling her continuously away from the beach with no way to return.
Worried beachgoers saw the young woman’s plight from the beach and called United Hatzalah for help. Upon receiving the phone call, United Hatzalah’s dispatch alerted their emergency team on the water, consisting of an aquatic rescue team riding an ambuboat and Jetski. Chapter Head of the Tiberias chapter of United Hatzalah Yossi Oknin was commanding the boat together with volunteers Yosef Chaim Cohen, Moshe Mizrachi and Yasmin Levy. The team raced out to the middle of the sea where the beachgoers had last spotted the young woman.
After conducting a quick search of the area, the team found the exhausted teenager barely managing to stay afloat almost in the center of the lake. Large waves were crashing down on her and she was utterly exhausted. The girl had suffered a mild sunburn and was already showing signs of heat exhaustion.
“As we pulled the boat alongside the girl, we threw a life preserver near her, and then Yasmin jumped in the water,” Yosef Chaim Cohen recounted. “Yasmin brought the girl the life preserver and put it over her head and torso. Then we hauled them both back to the boat. Once the young woman was brought up onto the boat we checked her vital signs, and aside from being completely exhausted, hot, somewhat dehydrated, and sunburned, she was okay. We made it to her in time.”
Chaim Cohen, who grew up in Tiberias and spent a lot of time near the water as a child, warned of the unseen dangers of the lake. “People don’t know the dangers that exist here, especially the tourists who come to swim every year during the summer months. I grew up here. When I was younger I saw three people drown and I had no way to help as I was too small. But I told myself when I grew up I would do whatever I can to help others. I love the sea and I love helping people. I hate when people get hurt or God forbid die because they don’t know how dangerous it can be here due to the unseen undertow and the winds that pick up during the mid-afternoon hours.”
Chaim Cohen added, “The winds and the undertow are not seen by people at the beach, When you are close to the shore you simply don’t see or feel the danger. It’s only when you go a bit further out into the water that the danger becomes apparent, and by then it is already too late. The current and the wind drag people out into the middle of the lake all the time. The people get exhausted trying to fight the current in order to get back to the beach, and sadly cannot make it back. This is exactly why United Hatzalah has had a water rescue team here for more than a decade.”
United Hatzalah patrols the Kinneret daily during swimming hours over the course of the summer. Chaim Cohen joins the water patrols every Friday “I work during the week and I don’t have as much free time as I would like to give of myself and help safeguard others on the sea. On Fridays, I have the time, so I spend all day, from the early morning until 30 minutes before Shabbat comes in on the sea, whether on the boat or the jet ski, safeguarding the people who come here so that we can prevent a tragedy. Part of the time I am out on patrol, and part of the time we use the water rescue vehicles to warn the swimmers on the beaches about the currents and undertows so that they don’t get dragged out to the middle of the lake themselves. It is very fulfilling for me and I am glad that I can do my part. We saved a life today, and it isn’t the first one, but every single one is important.”
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