(As Appeared in the Jerusalem Post on February 28th, 2018) 

The idea that people dress up on Purim as something that they hold dear or emulate is not a foreign concept. On the contrary, imitation is the highest form of flattery. This concept is certainly a relief to many parents who volunteer as first responders when their children and many other children in their neighborhoods dress up like them for Purim.

We asked Daniel Katzenstein, an emergency medical technician (EMT) volunteer with United Hatzalah for many years, about the price that children of medics pay due to witnessing their parent heading into emergency situations – or sometimes even being dragged along with them on calls due to necessity.

“I don’t know what the answer to that question is and I’m not sure there is a way to tell. What I do know is that when I asked my kid what he wanted to dress up as for Purim and he said ‘a United Hatzalah medic’, I knew that my children were okay.”

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Kids dressing up as United Hatzalah volunteers

The question faced by Katzenstein is one that has not yet been dealt with extensively in EMS journals, but it is certainly worthy of consideration, especially working in an organization such as United Hatzalah where all of the EMS workers are volunteers. The volunteers must ask themselves what impact their choice to volunteer will have on their loved ones? Will their loved ones suffer second-sphere trauma due to their proximity to incidents or in helping support their loved one who volunteers?   


While first responders are often resilient and can hopefully sense when they are suffering traumatic effects from their experiences, the question is raised regarding the second sphere effect.

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Dr. Francine Roberts, Psy.D a New Jersey-based Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in treating EMS personnel after traumatic incidents spoke about the degree to which volunteer responders need to worry about second sphere effects.


Roberts said: “If the children of a responder are exposed at any level, then the responder or other parent needs to engage the child on the child’s own level and help them understand what happened and why it happened. Then the children have to be given a chance to talk about it. One needs to use terms that are reassuring so that the children can understand and feel safe. They also need to be reassured that their parent is safe.”

Roberts even took a moment to comment on Katzenstein’s story. “Kids dressing up as United Hatzalah volunteers is very similar to kids in the United States dressing up as firefighters or police officers. It doesn’t seem to be a problem, and it is healthy to feel that there are superheroes around.”

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Dr. Rickie Rabinowitz is a psychologist and one of the founders of United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit. Regarding the issue of children suffering a second sphere trauma due to parents missing important life events because they were on rescue missions Rabinowitz said that it partially depends on how society looks at the activity. “From a sociological perspective, if what the parent is doing can be a source of pride to the child, then the child will already realize the ethical value of what their parent was doing was more valuable than attending the event. But if the same activity is looked down upon by society, i.e. the parent is a caregiver or rescuer in a wealthy society where having a low-paying job is looked down upon, then the pride will take a longer time to incubate and come to the fore.”


“One of the good things about United Hatzalah,” added Rabinowitz, “is that because the organization is comprised of volunteers, it is pretty much looked upon positively across the board, no matter which sociological or socio-economic grouping the children are coming from. For many, it is even a sense of great pride in their communities”


So how many children dress up as United Hatzalah volunteer first responders? The answer is thousands, and it is a trend that is growing.

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Yossi Amar a costume distributor said: “We opened up sales in numerous locations around Israel and we couldn’t believe how many we would sell, in most places they are sold out well before the holiday.”


Amar is usually a medical and health supplies distributor for an organization known as Haderech L’Hatzil Haim (The way to save a life), but when it gets close to the Purim holiday he begins to supply costumes to stores all over the country. “Children are dreaming of becoming  EMT’s, parents call me continuously and want to dress their kids up like this. People are even purchasing real first aid kits to go with the costume and to keep for the house after the holiday so that they have one.”


Amar said that the demand is not limited to the Ultra-Orthodox areas but the demand is highest there. “In areas where kids are not allowed to dress up like soldiers or police officers due to community concerns, one of the prevalent alternatives that they have for costumes of positive role models that give back to the community is a United Hatzalah medic,” Amar added.  

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From this standpoint, taking Katzenstein’s barometer to answer the question of whether or not children of first responders are suffering from their proximity to emergencies, one might say that the opposite is true and that most of the children of first responders, as well as those children who see them in action, are proud of their parents and community members who drop everything and rush out to emergencies to help other. Knowing this can help a lot of volunteer first responders rest easy on Purim, even though there are usually three times the amount of emergency calls that come in on Purim than on any other day of the year.