On Friday night a week ago, my wife and I were sitting down at the Shabbat table with our five children, surrounded by the warmth and comfort of our home. Suddenly, my communications device started beeping, alerting me to a terror attack happening just one street away. Even though I was not on Shabbat duty, as the head of the local United Hatzalah team I immediately prepared to respond to this major incident.

As I was getting ready to go out, I heard the words “active shooting, safety, safety!” coming from one of our volunteers on my communications device. This was no false alarm, this was real. I quickly put on my body vest and helmet, gear I had received just a month earlier. My wife pleaded with me not to go, but as I told her, if I didn’t go, who would?

I radioed my team, warning them to stay away until we received confirmation that the scene was clear. I stepped outside, carefully checking the surrounding area for any signs of the shooter. What I saw outside was surprising: hundreds of people were out and about, enjoying their Shabbat evening walks and gatherings.

I jumped on my ambucycle and as I drove through the streets I yelled out to everyone I saw, “Go home, there’s a terrorist, go home!” My heart was racing, but I was determined to help in any way I could. I had no idea where the shooter was, but I was armed with a handgun. Back at home, my wife and kids were reciting Tehillim (psalms), praying for everyone’s safety.

When we were given the okay that the terrorist had been neutralized and I was able to approach the scene, the sight shocked me to my core. One person after another was lying motionless on the ground. I approached the first victim, a motorcycle rider, and searched for a pulse but he was already beyond help. The next victim was an older man, shot in the upper body and I couldn’t do anything to save him either. I then came upon a young child who had also been shot, and my team and I tried to perform CPR in a desperate attempt to save his life. Sadly, it was also too late. 

We continued to scan the area, coming upon a woman who was bleeding profusely from a leg wound. Another volunteer, Shlomi Gurfein, quickly applied a tourniquet and signaled for an ambulance to evacuate her. Our paramedic Aharon Amitay packed the abdomen wound of a young man and by doing so, saved his life. Yoni Rosenfeld,  another paramedic, didn’t give up on a woman who was bleeding from the throat and was unconscious. He intubated her and transferred her to an ambulance, he kept her alive long enough to be transported, but she was unfortunately declared dead at the hospital. 

Three minutes after entering the scene, there were no more injured to be found. Everyone had already been evacuated or declared dead on the spot. I started assisting eyewitnesses and relatives of victims who were in emotional shock and needed support. There were dozens of them, some were crying uncontrollably others were in a state of catatonia I began to help and assist where I could. One of the most heart-wrenching situations took place when a young man arrived and saw his father lying on the floor, deceased. The young man shouted, “Dad, I love you, I miss you!” and then collapsed in a heap of tears. I went over to him and brought him to one of our more experienced Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit members. We were all tearing up, broken, perhaps realizing for the first time the severity of the tragedy that we were bearing witness to and the circles of pain that were being created as a result. 

I suddenly remembered that I had left my wife and kids at home and that they were undoubtedly worried about me. Seeing enough EMTs and members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit begin to arrive at the scene, I walked back with my ambucycle in order to avoid unnecessary Shabbat desecration. When I arrived home at around 10:00 P.M. my children all jumped in my arms. They had just finished reciting the entire book of Tehillim (Psalms).

During the chaos of the scene, I had blocked out the background noise but when I later saw footage from that night, I heard the screams and tears of those who had been traumatized by the attack and I was vividly brought back to these fateful moments. It won’t be easy to recover from this, but together with the rest of the volunteers, we will heal in order to continue doing the holiest of missions: saving lives. Because if we don’t go to help when these things occur, who will?” 

Yehuda Cohen is a volunteer EMT with United Hatzalah who lives in Neve Yakov with his wife and five children. He is a private business owner and has been a volunteer EMT for more than 10 years. 

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