The network of emergency medical services operated by United Hatzalah is often referred to as the Uber of lifesaving. This is even more true in the case of Hadad Ischak, a taxi driver by trade who also serves as one of the organization’s Muslim volunteers in Jerusalem.
Ischak is a professional taxi driver, so he is always on the roads of the capital city. He carries his medical equipment in the taxi’s trunk, and keeps his EMT vest on the passenger seat next to him. Ischak responds to any and all medical emergencies that take place in his vicinity. The volunteer EMT, who hails from the Arab Shuafat neighborhood, may be the first taxi driver to become a first responder.
Ischak spoke about how his volunteering and his work jive together in harmony. “In most cases, one doesn’t conflict with the other,” he said. “Taxi drivers have a lot of down time waiting for customers. Instead of just sitting and waiting, I respond to emergency calls whenever they happen nearby. I use that time to save lives,” he added with a smile on his face.
As with most volunteer first responders, the opposite is also true and sometimes, emergencies happen at the worst possible moments. “When I do get a call while I have a client, they usually understand what is happening. I drop them off before we get to their final destination and I do not charge them for the ride.”
This magnanimous act of taking the financial hit for saving lives occasionally also works out in Ischak’s favor. “I once had a client who insisted on coming with me to the location of the emergency, and he even paid for the meter.”
Ischak says that one has to have faith in one’s efforts, and if they do, then God will provide. “Overall, I don’t feel that I am losing out on anything by being a volunteer.” For every taxi ride that he has to end early or cannot take in order to respond to an emergency, “God rewards me with an additional two,” Ischak says.
Driving a taxi isn’t always enough for the volunteer, who is dedicated to helping others wherever and whenever he can. Ischak also volunteers to drive ambulances for two shifts a week and on weekends, often driving ambulances during Shabbat when the organization’s Jewish volunteers generally do not. “Keeping the ambulances running means more lives are saved, and as all of the organization’s services are free, it means that the patients we transport are saved the costly ambulance fees that they would otherwise have to pay. I see this as two acts of kindness done simultaneously.”
Ischak’s family supports his ideals and his volunteering even though the organization he works with is predominantly Jewish. “My wife supported me from the get-go, and my community does as well. When I began, some people raised an eyebrow, but now everyone in my family and people in my community are proud of what I do. I even managed to convince two of my good friends to join as well. While the organization was started by Orthodox Jews, we welcome everyone and we serve everyone. Jews, Arabs and Christians are all treated alike, both as volunteers and as patients. The work that I do helps my own community and it would only benefit us more if we had even more volunteers in our neighborhood. Anything we can do to increase the recognition of the importance of the organization’s mission to save lives will make things better for everyone.”