Tikva Goldberg from Queens, New York, grew up as a frequent patient of Hatzolah and hospital services.  As a child, she suffered from epilepsy and was often in need of frequent treatments and transportation to and from hospitals. “I always wanted to give back and help others just as I was helped,” she said as she drove home from working her first ever ambulance shift as an emergency medical responder (EMR) in Israel. “The Rescue Israel program is really fitting for me in that it is giving me an opportunity to do just that,” she added excitedly.

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Tikva getting into an ambulance during her shift in Tel Aviv

Goldberg is one of the twenty-two participants in a program called Rescue Israel that is being run by NCSY in cooperation with United Hatzalah of Israel. The program offers a full EMR training course as well as hands-on experience volunteering as a first responder on ambulances in Israel. In addition, the participants experience a full gamut of search and rescue operations beginning with water rescue operations on the Kinneret, and desert rescues that involve repelling and mountaineering training. The program is just over a month long and participants have been ecstatic about their experiences thus far.

Goldberg said that she felt comfortable working on an ambulance following the training that she received and that it brought back memories for her of just how important this job is. “In terms of treating others, I feel comfortable in situations where injuries occur knowing that I will be able to help. For me, going on an ambulance (as a responder and not as a patient) and seeing the different types of emergency calls that occur, was both educational and motivating. You get the most amazing feeling when you arrive at an emergency and everyone looks at you like you are their hero because you helped them. Riding on an ambulance is the most amazing experience ever and I recommend this program to everyone.”

Another U.S. volunteer, Rueben Stein who hails from Birmingham Alabama, but attends Cooper Yeshiva High School in Memphis Tennessee, brought a southern flair to the trip. According to Stein, the participants undergo a lot of maturing during the program.

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Reuben (3rd from left) on his ambulance shift.

“When you do the things that we did on this trip you get to see how serious and real the world can be. In truth, I didn’t choose to come on this program. My parents signed me up for it and I’m glad that they did. I see now that the world isn’t one big game. Serious things happen and that has been an eye-opening and amazing experience for me.”

Stein said that at first he thought it would be boring, but the trip has proved anything but.  “I saw up close a motorcycle accident and what happened to the people involved. Riding on an ambulance was a fun experience that I learned a lot from. Rescue Israel is a program for people who are interested in saving lives, and I one hundred percent recommend it for those interested next year.”

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The Director of NCSY’s Rescue Israel, Moshe (Ziggy) Zharnest has a lot of experience working as an EMT. He started when he was 16-years-old in Fairlawn, New Jersey, and is one of the trustees of Fairlawn Ambulance. In addition to being an EMT, Zharnest is also a firefighter in Fairlawn. However, he was still feeling a bit trepidatious about being the first director of an EMS summer program. “Being the director or pioneer of anything is really nerve-wracking. However, when you are working with a top-notch world-renowned organization such as United Hatzalah, and when you have motivated young men and women who are eager to make a positive impact on the world, it makes it a lot easier.”

For Zharnest, combining NCSY, Israel Summer Trips and the world of EMS was a dream. “What started off as a dream, quickly became a reality and the participants themselves are impacting the program in a way that we couldn’t even imagine. They are so excited in everything that they do and they are showing such professionalism that they are strengthening the volunteers here in Israel. I am confident that this program will grow by leaps and bounds because it incorporates all of the amazing things about Israel such as touring, learning about the country, and meeting its people first hand. But most of all it really allows the participants to give back to the country, in ways that no other program does.”  

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NCSY Rescue Israel participants taking a woman’s blood pressure on the back of an ambulance.

Zharnest quipped: “What kid wouldn’t want to go repelling down the side of a mountain with the United Hatzalah team and rescue their counselor? The participants receive hands-on medical training and will return not only as ambassadors for NCSY and United Hatzalah but also as leaders in their communities.”

Zharnest also commented on the level of training and professionalism shown by the organization itself. “From top to bottom, the professionalism of United Hatzalah permeated the entire program for the NCSY’ers and makes working as the director a real honor for me. This whole experience has given me a lot of renewed energy to continue to pursue my own EMS career back home as well.”

Avigail Schiff from Teaneck New Jersey will be entering 12th grade in Bruriah high school this fall. She joined the trip because she saw a flyer advertising it at her NCSY Spring Regional Shabbaton in New Jersey. She thought that the brochure looked terrific and “awesome”. “The program combined all of my passions. I want to go into the medical field when I am older and I love Israel and NCSY. So this program really brought all of that together for me in one place.”

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Avigail (3rd from left) on her ambulance shift

Schiff said that she experienced a lot of personal growth through the trip. “I think I’ve grown in a lot of ways because I came on this program. I grew on a personal level and on a spiritual level, but I also grew on an intellectual level as well. My CPR skills, as well as my leadership skills, have grown tremendously.”

But what Schiff says she really benefited from was the diversity. “I love that this program is so diverse. You get to know people from totally different backgrounds. We all started off together sitting in a classroom not knowing what to expect. A few weeks later we were on the streets treating people. It was incredible to see how much we have grown together as a group.”

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Wheeling a patient into the emergency room.

Schiff also said that the trip gave her new perspective on herself and her possible career path. “I always thought that EMTs were really cool and I always thought it would be the coolest job to do, but I never thought it was something that was practical for my own life. It is such a high knowing that you are there to help others and being part of a team that guides you and helps you. I’ve learned so much about how the medical world translates into Halacha and how it connects to my life. But what inspired me most about this trip was the fact that it enabled me to give back to Israel,” she concluded.