The story that I would like to tell you transpired some three years ago.
A few families had gathered in Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv with our children. The younger children were playing on the jungle gym, the older ones were riding bicycles, the women were talking and us, the men, were barbecuing.
I want to point out, and this isn’t really connected to the story, well maybe it is somewhat connected, that all of us who were gathered there are secular, but we respect religion.
Our group of friends has known one another since childhood and we try to head out together for a picnic once in a while, usually sometime in the middle of the week.
A religious young man came close to where we were having our picnic, he had a very young child with him and they were playing with a ball. We didn’t pay them much attention.
One of the guys in our group, Tomer, headed to the car park in order to get some extra pitot that we had left in his car. He came back rather annoyed saying that a motorcycle had parked very close to the door of his car. “I couldn’t get into the car,” he exclaimed.
Tomer is the natural-born leader of our group. He’s tall, strong, and has a very short fuse. He usually has a very big heart, until someone gets on his bad side, and this motorcycle certainly annoyed him. “Who does the motorcycle belong to?” Tomer shouted at the world as if there was a chance that among the throngs of people in the park the owner would be near enough to us to hear him.
Miraculously, the modest religious fellow asked, “Are you talking about the United Hatzalah motorcycle?”
Tomer replied. “Yeah. The big one that is red and white with a big box on the back. Why is it yours?”
The man replied, “Yes it is mine.”
Tomer growled, “So get off your backside and move it for God’s sake.”
The man answered, “Why do you need to speak like that. Speak kindly.”
“Speak kindly?” Tomer replied “Very soon you’ll feel the kindness of my fists without any words whatsoever. Now move your damned motorcycle before I come over there.”
The religious man looked at him, was visibly hurt by his words, and remarked., “Would you like it if people spoke that way around your child?”
Tomer walked over to him menacingly. It looked like he really wanted to hit the fellow. But I and the other guys gathered and stopped Tomer mid-stride. We told the gentleman, “Leave it alone. Please move your motorcycle and leave it alone. Tomer is not a guy you want to get into a fight with.”
In truth, I didn’t support Tomer’s actions and I believe that neither did the rest of our group of friends, but he was our friend, and this other fellow we didn’t know at all. According to our rules of conduct, that meant that we supported Tomer. The other gentleman, why would he be of interest to us at all? The gentleman took his son and walked away rather embarrassed. A hush fell over our group. The silence screamed at us regarding what we all felt in our hearts. Why did Tomer have to embarrass this man so thoroughly, and why at all? So he could take the pitot out of the other side of the car, why did he have to treat this man so poorly. But this we only felt in our hearts. To Tomer, no one said anything. But we all felt guilty that we were part of the cause of this man’s embarrassment.
The man came back after a few minutes and continued to play with his son. What happened a few moments later changed everything.
Suddenly we heard a scream. Hagit had fallen off of the ladder on the playground. Hagit is Tomer’s daughter. She is six years old. She was playing with the rest of our children as well as dozens of others on a rope ladder that was part of a jungle gym. She simply collapsed from the top of the ladder and fell. All the other kids began screaming that something happened to her. We ran over to the jungle gym as fast as we could. Hagit simply lay on the sand, completely blue. It was clearly visible that she was not breathing.
Tomer ran over to her and began to shout, “Hagit! Hagit! Wake up! Help, Help, Somebody, help her! Someone call an ambulance.” His shouts were heard throughout the entire park.
Suddenly, the religious man appeared by my side and gave me his child. “Please take care of him, I’m coming back to help.” Before I could say or do anything he was gone as he dashed off in a crazed run.
It is hard for me to describe the next few moments. There were dozens of people who were watching a painful tragedy unfold and not a single one of them was able to do anything about it.
I can’t begin to explain the sensation of helplessness that we all felt. I simply can’t. And amid all this chaos and confusion, we heard an ambulance’s siren. We couldn’t figure out how an ambulance was arriving without anyone even calling for one. When suddenly the answer appeared before us. The siren was coming from the motorcycle, the big red one with the huge box on which it said United Hatzalah in bold words.
The young man who was sitting on it got off the motorcycle in a hurry, and with steady hands opened the box, pulled out a number of items, and went up to the girl.
The whole situation was incredibly surreal. Tomer, the strong man who was always steady, was shaking like a baby, and this soft-spoken man suddenly changed into the person who took charge of the situation. He began to give instructions to the gathered crowd. “You hold this… You bring me that… You run to the motorcycle and bring me the blue bag… Now tear it gently… “ Simultaneously, he called for an ambulance on his 2-way radio, “Send an ambulance to my location. We have a case of a child suffering from serious head trauma. She’s not breathing and has lost consciousness.”
We looked at this man as a saving angel. He acted with professionalism, efficiency, and a sense of purpose. Within less than a minute, Hagit, who was unconscious and not able to breathe began to move and cough. He succeeded in resuscitating her.
People all around began to cry. All of the women were in tears and many of the men as well. The man was focused, he continued to care for the girl and kept an open line of communication with his dispatch center. A few long minutes later that felt like an eternity, a stretcher arrived. A paramedic and two other men carried the girl to a waiting ambulance.
Tomer walked up to the young man and said, “I’m so sorry…. So very very sorry,” and broke down in tears. The man told him that “There is no time. Get onboard the ambulance and go with your daughter. It will all be okay.” He climbed on board and the ambulance left in a hurry.
We all approached the young man. We hugged him, and kissed him and thanked him profusely. We apologized profusely for our part in his embarrassment. I can’t express the outpouring of emotion that took place there. The man almost crumpled into himself due to the sheer amount of hugs and kisses he received. We were overwhelmed with emotion and we understood that something had occurred here that had never occurred to any of us ever before. We asked the young man for his name and number and promised him that we would keep in touch.
We headed to the hospital. Hagit had pulled through and was no longer at any risk. Tomer was shattered and pitiful. He was so embarrassed by his actions towards the man who had saved his daughter’s life. Tomer called him the next day, cried, and begged for forgiveness. Tomer offered to pay the man money but the man calmed him down and said, “It’s okay, I forgive you.” He simultaneously tried to downplay what he had done. “We at United Hatzalah do these things every day. That is our reward. God forbid I should take even one penny from you.”
Tomer pressured him and pushed him to accept financial compensation. The man refused and said, “If you insist, you can make a donation to the organization, but I will not take a single cent from you.”
Hagit was released from the hospital three days later, but Tomer had not calmed down. His soul was burning. He told us that he wanted to throw a thanksgiving party and invite the young gentleman as the guest of honor.
He set the date for a week later on Saturday night and got the young man to agree to attend. He promised the man that he would make a donation to United Hatzalah as a sign of thanks. To this, the young man agreed.
This should be the end of the story, right?
However, none of us could dream of how this story would actually end. I recommend that you, the reader make sure you are sitting before I tell you the end of the story.
On Thursday night, the eve of the 23rd of the Hebrew month of Iyar, two days before the thanksgiving party for Hagit was set to occur, at 3:30 in the morning, the young man was called to an emergency. His name was Effi Gadassi. While he was en route, on Menashe Ben Yisrael St. in Jerusalem, he was hit by a taxi cab while heading to save someone else’s life. He was killed on the spot.
You’ve most likely heard of Effi Gadassi, the United Hatzalah volunteer who was killed three years ago. He was the man who, with God’s help, had saved Hagit. The news reached us, and our lives were forever changed. Each and every one of us went to the funeral. We cried like babies. We held Tomer, who was close to fainting. I cannot express the pain he felt or the feelings of guilt that consumed him. We comforted him by reminding him that he had asked Effi for forgiveness and Effi had indeed forgiven him. But he felt that part of his heart had died with Effi.
However much we came back to find religion in the aftermath of these events, Tomer drew even closer to the religion that he had once overlooked. He now wears a very large Kippah on his head, he prays daily and he keeps all aspects of the Shabbat to its fullest. All because of, and in remembrance of Effi.
Tomer organized a fundraising drive amongst his friends and raised enough money to donate an ambucycle to the organization, the same kind of motorcycle that blocked his car and was used in saving his daughter’s life. The ambucycle will be dedicated in just one month’s time.
This is one story of Effi Gadassi, may his memory be a blessing. The story also represents the thousands of volunteers from United Hatzalah all of whom are doing holy work and without any regard for receiving benefit from it. As our story testifies, sometimes this holy work is not always looked upon favorably, and sometimes it even has its challenges and uncomfortable moments. It comes with a lack of sleep, and many times people even deride or chastise them. But they do it anyway.
May this story and the messages it contains, be a remembrance for the dedicated volunteer Effi Gadassi and may they help his spirit rise and soar in heaven.