Im­mi­grants set to save lives

Olim set to save lives

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CON­TENTS - • By BEN BRESKY

Agroup of more than two dozen emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cians grad­u­ated their train­ing course and are now ready to hit the streets of Beit Shemesh for any emer­gency. Ini­ti­ated by a lo­cal Amer­i­can-Is­raeli and a group of vol­un­teers, the team was inspired to be­come cer­ti­fied in or­der to make a dif­fer­ence in their com­mu­nity. The grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony was held at the United Hatza­lah cen­ter in Beit Shemesh.

Mitch Sch­nei­der spoke to the Mag­a­zine about his pride in the ac­com­plish­ment and hope for the fu­ture.

Born in New Jersey, Sch­nei­der moved to Israel 12 years ago and lives in the She­in­feld neigh­bor­hood, which has a sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion of Jewish-Amer­i­can im­mi­grants to Israel. Beit Shemesh has a fast-grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of about 118,000, of whom ap­prox­i­mately 10% are na­tive English speak­ers.

“There are a lot of olim hadashim [new im­mi­grants],” Sch­nei­der noted, “but She­in­feld is not as new as other neigh­bor­hoods, so we have an aging pop­u­la­tion. Who is go­ing to be there when the need arises to help peo­ple turn­ing 60, 70, 80 years old?” he asked.

He also noted the lay­out of the city means that Ma­gen David Adom – Red Star of David, Israel’s emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices – can­not ar­rive at the scene in a mat­ter of min­utes.

He praised MDA but said nei­ther they nor United Hatza­lah vol­un­teers from other Beit Shemesh neigh­bor­hoods could pos­si­bly ar­rive so quickly. He noted that the clos­est hospi­tal is in an­other city about 25 min­utes away.

The new EMTs came from English-speak­ing coun­tries such as the United States, Eng­land, Canada and South Africa, and the

class was held in English. The stu­dents were about half-way split be­tween women and men of vary­ing ages, de­grees of re­li­gious ob­ser­vance and past med­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. All passed the course and earned their Na­tional Reg­istry Emer­gency Med­i­cal Tech­ni­cian li­cense.

“It doesn’t make a dif­fer­ence if you’re male or fe­male or your be­liefs,” Sch­nei­der said, “we have the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor of want­ing to save a life.”

Part of Sch­nei­der’s inspiratio­n was a do­na­tion made last year in mem­ory of Ari Fuld, the Jewish-Amer­i­can ac­tivist who was killed fight­ing a ter­ror­ist who in­fil­trated the shop­ping cen­ter in Gush Etzion. A large sum was do­nated for his home­town of Efrat to create a first re­spon­der class in English.

So Sch­nei­der, along with fel­low Beit Shemesh res­i­dents Rachel Holzer and Rifki Orzech, took to Face­book to re­cruit. They needed to raise about $25,000 to fund the course. Af­ter a se­ries of in­for­ma­tional evenings and on­line cam­paigns, they came up with $26,500 and 30 re­cruits within only a month.

Holzer, who grew up in Cleve­land, Ohio, and has been liv­ing in Israel for the past four years, like Mitch, was EMT-cer­ti­fied in the US. But she knew she needed a re­fresher course and in­sisted on start­ing from scratch. An in­ci­dent that helped pro­pel her to take the ini­tia­tive was a near-tragic sui­cide at­tempt on a busy high­way in Beit Shemesh.

“I WAS DRIV­ING on the high­way one night and saw a bunch of cars on the side of the road and teens walk­ing across,” she told the Mag­a­zine. “A girl was try­ing to run in front of traf­fic, and her fam­ily was help­less. They had al­ready called 101, and the fa­ther was hold­ing the girl back.” Holzer said she pulled over and ap­proached the fa­ther to ask per­mis­sion to at­tempt to calm down the daugh­ter. She sat with the teen un­til the am­bu­lance ar­rived.

“This was two years ago and it reawak­ened me­mories of my past EMT train­ing and my de­sire to help oth­ers,” she said. “I didn’t know where to chan­nel that feel­ing un­til Mitch and I took the re­fresher course. And every time I drive down that road, I think of that girl and hope she is OK to­day.”

Holzer echoed Mitch by call­ing MDA an amaz­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion but said it isn’t enough. She il­lus­trated by telling of the time she needed to call emer­gency ser­vices for one of her chil­dren. “EMT re­sponse time clearly needed to be im­proved and this could only hap­pen by an in­flux of vol­un­teers,” she ex­plained. Al­though an es­tab­lished city, Beit Shemesh is a quiet, bed­room com­mu­nity not par­tic­u­larly close to any ma­jor city or in­dus­trial zone.

“If there is an EMT on the street, re­sponse time could be only a minute or two, and if some­one has a com­pro­mised air­way, those min­utes can mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween life or death,” she said. Now thanks to their ini­tia­tive, a new team of EMTs can be on call around the clock.

Holzer said at­tend­ing the course was in­spir­ing. The age range of the par­tic­i­pants was about 20 to 55 years old. “They were full-grown adults with fam­i­lies and jobs and they took the time for a 180-hour course to help their friends and neigh­bors,” she ex­plained. There were five cou­ples and two pairs of sib­lings among the stu­dents. “It was a great en­vi­ron­ment. Ev­ery­one was mo­ti­vated and se­ri­ous. “

Dur­ing the ori­en­ta­tion, one lec­ture was on laws of treat­ing pa­tients on Shab­bat, which was at­tended by both the new Beit Shemesh stu­dents and EMT grads from other com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing Mus­lims and Chris­tians.

“We all learned the same laws,” Holzer said, “even though only ob­ser­vant Jews, of course, are ex­pected to ad­here per­son­ally to the laws of Shab­bat.” She ex­plained that the non-Jews were taught Jewish law so they can un­der­stand the ac­tions of their fel­low Jewish EMTs who do not use What­sApp or other non-es­sen­tial emer­gency group com­mu­ni­ca­tion dur­ing the day of rest.

“The in­struc­tor was a has­sidic man from Bnei Brak who was ex­tremely en­gag­ing,” Holzer said. “He con­vinced me to take calls on Shab­bat. At first, I thought it was not fair to be part of the Shab­bat week­end ro­ta­tion and leave my fam­ily,” she re­lated, “but I re­al­ized the im­por­tance of be­ing avail­able to my neigh­bors and to sacri­fice, on a per­sonal level, my Shab­bat peace.”

HOLZER RE­LATED a story the in­struc­tor told about an un­re­spon­sive three-month-old baby. The in­ci­dent hap­pened on Shab­bat and the in­struc­tor rushed to the home and ini­ti­ated CPR im­me­di­ately. “To­day the boy is a healthy four-year-old and at­tends kinder­garten,” Holzer said. “The in­struc­tor was cry­ing as he told the story. It was very mov­ing.”

Jonathan Zahtz hails from Skokie, Illi­nois, and has been liv­ing in Beit Shemesh for seven years. Al­though he does not have any pre­vi­ous med­i­cal train­ing, he took the op­por­tu­nity to be­come a cer­ti­fied EMT in or­der to give back to the com­mu­nity.

“It’s one thing to make aliyah,” Zahtz told the Mag­a­zine, but it’s an­other thing to con­trib­ute to­ward so­ci­ety.”

Zahtz said it was dif­fi­cult at first, but “when you are chal­lenged, you be­come a bet­ter per­son.”

He spoke of the ca­ma­raderie that de­vel­oped with the stu­dents who at­tended the class to­gether for about six months.

“I’ll now have to get up in the mid­dle of the night if nec­es­sary and put in a lot of time to get ex­pe­ri­ence in the field,” he said. “It’s one thing to go to school, but you have to ap­ply what you’ve learned.” Zahtz is look­ing for­ward to join­ing an am­bu­lance work­shift now that he has grad­u­ated. “I en­joy help­ing peo­ple and want to do it not just within my com­mu­nity but on the road and wher­ever it is needed,” he stated.

Su­san Duker was born in Canada, came to Israel in 2004 and was look­ing for a way to give back. Trained as a life­guard in her high school years, she called the class an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Now we are cov­er­ing more ground,” she said of her fel­low stu­dents. Their goal is to be able to reach an emer­gency in 90 sec­onds.

She re­lated to the Mag­a­zine a story of a lo­cal preg­nant woman who col­lapsed in front of a school sev­eral weeks ago. “Some­body was right there with a de­fib­ril­la­tor and started CPR,” she said. “Within min­utes she was re­vived. That’s the kind of goal we’re work­ing to­ward.”

Duker, whose day job is in hi-tech, said it was a bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to at­tend class with peo­ple from her neigh­bor­hood and see a dif­fer­ent side to them. The most for­mi­da­ble part of the class for her was the IV, or in­tra­venous, train­ing.

“When you prac­tice IVs, you have to prac­tice on your fel­low class­mates,” she ex­plained. “So we have to trust each other.”

Duker said there was a lot of blood that night in class. “We were get­ting used to pulling out the nee­dle in a safe and clean way,” she said. “I feel a kin­ship with my class­mates now.”

Duker hopes the pro­gram will ex­pand to other cities and en­able res­i­dents to learn life-sav­ing skills.

Sch­nei­der is glad he will no longer be the only one with an EMT vest in his lo­cal syn­a­gogue. The clos­est Hatza­lah mem­ber used to be 10 min­utes from my house,” he said.

“This is the coun­try where we im­mi­grated to and where we feel at home,” he stated. “Now this is our chance to give back.”

‘WE WERE get­ting used to pulling out the nee­dle in a safe and clean way. I feel a kin­ship with my class­mates now.’

(Pho­tos: Mitch Schneider)

NEW EMTS smile big at their train­ing grad­u­a­tion, at the United Hatza­lah cen­ter in Beit Shemesh.

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