- By: Daniel Katzenstein
A delegation of 55 medical professionals from United Hatzalah of Israel is currently here in Chisinau, Moldova. We are undertaking a humanitarian mission to assist Ukrainian refugees who are fleeing their country in order to stay alive. Our group of volunteers includes doctors, paramedics, psychotrauma responders, a dentist, and EMTs, and we are all working hard to supply the needs of the Ukrainian refugees here in Moldova, many of whom are Jewish.
Our teams are present at two border crossings, one in the north and one in the south of the country, to make sure that the refugees who come into Moldova, be they Jewish or non-Jewish, are taken care of with anything and everything they need. Part of our efforts involves arranging flights for the Jewish refugees and others who are eligible to immigrate to Israel as soon as possible.
Each day, more refugees are boarding planes and arriving in Israel to end their long and treacherous journeys. It’s really amazing; this is something huge, something historical.
My team, which was the second team to arrive from United Hatzalah, landed in Romania on Thursday and we then made our way across the border into Moldova, where our advance team of 15 first responders had already set up our base of operations. We got right to work when we arrived and put the finishing touches on our field hospital that had been constructed with the help of the municipality the day before.
Throughout the day on Friday, Erev Shabbat, I was on kitchen duty and peeling potatoes with a group of other fellow United Hatzalah volunteers, some of whom are trained doctors and psychologists. We prepared and cooked more than 2,000 meals which were distributed to the different hotels and community centers where the refugees are being temporarily housed.
Being in the kitchen with the other volunteers, cooking a massive amount of food for refugees during a war, was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and I hope none of us will ever have to experience it again. The work was tiring, but we were helping people and that’s all that was important to me.
I was part of the group that spent Shabbat with the refugees in the main synagogue where the United Hatzalah delegation was based. We were on-call the entire Shabbat to be at the aid of the refugees and to treat them in case of any medical emergencies. Even during prayers, we were all ready to rush out in case of anything, and at times, we did.
One medical incident involved a woman who suffered from gangrene because of untreated diabetes. Thankfully, we caught it early on and were able to treat it without complications. Another incident was a psychotrauma emergency of a woman who was crying uncontrollably and no matter what those around her tried, she refused to calm down. We led her out of the main room to a quiet space where I could speak with her and soothe her, all the time reassuring her that she was now in a safe place. Vicki Tiferet, a Russian-speaking EMT and member of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, who she, herself, fled Ukraine back in 1991 with her family, and Einat Kaufman, one of the directors of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, joined me to help the troubled woman. She was suffering from psychological stress caused by fleeing her home and everything she knew and was feeling extremely overwhelmed by the situation.
I was happy to help and give her the time and space she needed to relax. I spoke with her as well, putting my own psychotrauma training to use in order to alleviate her stress levels and give her the emotional support she needed.
That night, we laid out mattresses on the floor of the synagogue and that’s where we all slept, refugees and United Hatzalah volunteers alike, shoulder to shoulder.
After Shabbat, I continued working to register the refugees who would be departing in the coming days on flights to Israel. We also prepared and sorted packages for the refugees at the borders.
I would like to share something small that I shared at one of our Shabbat meals. After finishing the Parsha on Shabbat we said, ‘חזק, חזק, ותחזק’ (‘chazak, chazak, ve’nit’chazek’). I felt that this saying really connected to our situation. Someone once asked, why do we repeat the words, two times in the singular form and the last time in the plural? I understood it as we can only be strong as a nation if we help and empower each other. First, we look to our left and tell the person next to us to be strong, then we look to our right and tell the person on that side of us to be strong. Then, all three of us gather our strength together and find our strength in the fact that we aren’t going through this ordeal alone, but together with others by our side.
The reason I felt connected to this right now, is because I see that is exactly what is happening right now. Our whole nation is getting involved in order to help the Jewish refugees. Some are donating money, and some are sending supplies, both of which are a huge help and empower the refugees to stay strong during this hard time. Here in Chisinau, we have Jews from Israel, and Jews from Moldova, as well as Jews from other places around the world, coming together to help the Jews from Ukraine. Even the Ukrainian refugees here in Moldova, all of whom are from different places and towns inside Ukraine, each of them is doing what they can to help one another and it is so beautiful to see. That is something historical.
Daniel Katzenstein lives in the neighborhood of Neve Yaakov in Jerusalem. He is a volunteer EMT and one of the founding members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit that provides psychological first aid and emotional stabilization to people at the scenes of disasters or medical tauma. Daniel originally hails from Dallas, Texas where he served as a teacher for many years.
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