Every night throughout Hanukkah, United Hatzalah will be awarding one highly dedicated volunteer with the annual Korenvaes Miracle Award. Tonight’s recipient, on the seventh night of Hanukkah, is Esther Flax from Beitar Illit.
Esther Flax grew up in Gateshead, England. She is a 42-year-old married woman who is a mother of eight and soon to be a grandmother of one. Esther is a therapist who specializes in treating addictions, and ever since the beginning of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic she has been mainly working from her home in Beitar Illit, where she moved after she got married.
Esther became a United Hatzalah volunteer when she joined the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit (PCRU) three years ago after taking a specialized training course, that would help her take her therapy training and put it to use treating people suffering from acute traumatic stress after they witnessed a traumatic medical emergency. The point of the unit is to provide psychological first aid and emotional stabilization in the field in order to prevent the onset of an acute stress reaction which, if left untreated, can later develop into PTSD.
Esther was raised in an Ultra-Orthodox community in Gateshead and continues to live in one in Beitar Illit. Being one of the few women in the Ultra-Orthodox world to have specialized as a therapist who deals with addictions, her services are constantly in demand and she has clients from all over the globe.
Esther said that she got her start in the field of therapy by watching her father when she was growing up. “My father was the Mashgiach in a Yeshiva and was always talking to people for his work and helping them. I guess that rubbed off on me. I learned a lot from him about what to do and what not do or say.”
“When I got married I moved to Beitar Illit with my husband. After moving here I worked in a number of different jobs. I got my B.A. and am currently working on my M.A. in psychology. I also have an international addictions therapy license, and I work primarily with people who suffer from OCD and addictions in Jerusalem and Beitar Illit and clients come from abroad as well.”
Esther said that her work with the PCRU has aided her work as a therapist. “ When I began to work with addictions I found that I had many tools to deal with many of the causes of addiction but one was missing as I hadn’t so much experience with it and that was trauma. This was one of the reasons I joined the PCRU. Aside from that, I feel that I have the tools to help people in an emergency and that I am able to help them process their emotions in the face of a traumatic situation while containing mine. It’s a balancing act managing 8 children while responding to traumatic medical emergencies where someone is having an acute stress reaction, but I make it work.”
Esther said that ever since she moved to Israel it was a dream for her to join United Hatzalah. However, as the Ultra-Orthodox community in Beitar Illit does not allow for women to be medical first responders, she had to find another avenue to join the organization, and that was with the PCRU. “It’s always been a dream of mine to join United Hatzalah but I never thought I would be able to do it. For one thing, I don’t always have access to a car, as my husband often takes our car. Another issue that women aren’t allowed to be regular EMTs in the chapter of Beitar due to community sensitivity. Being part of United Hatzalah and the PCRU gives me a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself. And being able to help people is no small reward in of itself. There is tremendous satisfaction in helping people during an emergency.”
Esther recounted an incident that she says will always remain with her. “One of the most traumatic emergencies that I responded to was a large building fire that took place in Beitar where a woman lost two children. The social worker, who was male, told her the news, and she immediately fell on me and leaned on me and wouldn’t let me go. I stayed with her and accompanied her through her grieving process and I even went to be with her during the funeral the next day.”
Esther said that since joining the PCRU she has found a calling that she never thought she would be able to fulfill. “Through helping people I’ve found my own calling. I have these tools at my disposal and now I have where to use them. I enjoy helping others and I am good at it. While there are some who freak out during an emergency, I keep my cool and I use the knowledge and tools that I have gained from my therapy training as well as from the Psychotrauma Unit training to help those who need it most, even at scenes where people feel they don’t want help but where they really do need it.”
Esther has been selected as the 7th recipient of the Korenvaes Miracle Award this Hanukkah. We will be posting other recipients nightly. To send Esther a Hanukkah card or to make a donation in her honor that will help save lives in Israel throughout the next year, please click here.