Hatzolah is an organization like no other. Day or night, Shabbos, or Yom Tov – when a call comes in, Hatzolah is there for us. A Hatzolah volunteer could be in the middle of doing homework with his child, helping around the house, or participating in an intense business meeting, but when the Hatzolah radio goes off, he is out the door.
Our community is blessed to have such a vital organization with members as our neighbors, shul members, and family. It is an organization that is literally always there for all of us, with volunteers who are totally moseir nefesh to save our lives.
It was an honor and privilege to interview several Queens Hatzolah members and to learn about the incredible work they perform and their personal experiences as volunteers. The stories they shared are so inspiring, moving, and impactful. Queens Hatzolah definitely embodies Mi K’Amcha Yisrael.
Mr. Yosef Matayev, the first Bukharian Hatzolah volunteer in Queens, shared his experience. His passion for Hatzolah was sparked when he was in first grade. He will always remember how his rebbe and role model, Rabbi Shmarya Rennert, rushed out of the classroom to take Hatzolah calls. Yosef shared that watching his role model rush to help someone, whom he didn’t even know, really made an impact on his life. When Yosef was ten years old, his brother fell ill, and Mr. Neil Levy, another devoted Queens Hatzolah volunteer, responded to their home in just minutes. Watching a Queens Hatzolah member in action in his own home, witnessing his professionalism, training, and compassion, made it clear to him that one day he hoped to be able to give back to the community in this way, too. Yosef has been a certified EMT and a Queens Hatzolah volunteer for the past six years.
Yosef said that “Hatzolah calls do not follow a schedule.” They can come just as you fall asleep after a long day at work, while at a family simchah, or on Shabbos and chagim. There are times where one can respond to three or four calls in a row. “It’s a job that doesn’t sleep. It’s nonstop 24/7/365.”
When asked what he would advise someone who is considering becoming a Hatzolah volunteer, he advised that he must be ready to be totally selfless and to give up personal space for others.” He pointed out that volunteering for Hatzolah makes you look at life differently and makes you appreciate it. “You see what others go through, and you are not allowed to be upset anymore. You appreciate more the health that G-d has given you.”
He shared a memorable Hatzolah call, when one of his best friends, who was only 19, went into cardiac arrest. Queens Hatzolah members where there within minutes and administered CPR. His friend was not breathing for 40 minutes; in the medical world he would be considered clinically dead. With Hashem’s help, Hatzolah was able to bring him back. When he arrived at the hospital, he was still unconscious and the doctors at the hospital laughed when the Hatzolah members told them he’d been lifeless for 40 minutes. They were in disbelief until they saw the EKG. The doctors proclaimed that this was truly a miracle. Three weeks later, Yosef and his friend were out eating at a restaurant in good health.
Yosef noted that 60 percent of the calls in Queens are from members of the Bukharian community. Queens Hatzolah plays a major role in saving lives in the Bukharian community. Queens Hatzolah is there for every Jewish person. He said that being a Bukharian Jew and speaking the language has been a major asset when he goes on calls. Many times, the language barrier can cause a delay in patient care. Having Bukharian members truly saves lives.
Rabbi Barak Levy, rav of The Cherry Lane Minyan in Great Neck, as well as a Queens Hatzolah member, shared that “being a Hatzolah volunteer means seeing those in need and being able to help. This gives me appreciation for life. I see how wonderful Hashem is. You see miracles around you all the time.”
Rabbi Levy pointed out how so many times you’re in the right place at the right time. There are countless encounters that are clearly Yad Hashem. “It impacts my life, being able to work for and to serve the community. It makes you a better person. Volunteering for Hatzolah motivates you to do other chasadim as well.”
Rabbi Levy noted that during COVID-19, Queens Hatzolah was way beyond supportive of its volunteers. During the height of the pandemic, when Hatzolah was responding to hundreds of COVID-19 calls all hours of the day and night, the coordinators and servicing team made sure the volunteers were fully equipped with the top-of-the-line emergency equipment, and that they were healthy emotionally, physically, and mentally. Whatever equipment they needed was supplied to them even at two a.m. Hatzolah continued servicing the community, even though it was a tremendous financial strain. Other agencies were forced to stop responding to emergencies due to financial difficulties; however, Hatzolah, with the help of the community members, continued to operate full force and extended beyond the normal order of operations.
Rabbi Levy shared that now, baruch Hashem, though there is an uptick of COVID-19 cases in our community, it is not in any way as severe as what we experienced in the height of the pandemic. People nowadays are educated and taking proper precautions, which is actively saving lives. These days, going to the hospital doesn’t mean a death sentence. Although there are severe cases, the majority are recovering fully.
Rabbi Levy has countless amazing stories, but he shared two memorable calls that were miraculous. A woman called Hatzolah just a few minutes after candle lighting on Erev Shabbos. Her table was set for Shabbos and you could smell the deliciously baked challah. She called because she “just wasn’t feeling right” and wanted to get evaluated. Upon arrival of the Hatzolah personnel, she was sweating and had some discomfort in her chest. While the Hatzolah members were taking her vital signs and obtaining her medical history, she went into cardiac arrest. With the top-of-the-line equipment provided to every member, they were able to revive her and to further treat her. She went from pulseless to full of life. The doctors in the emergency room told the Hatzolah volunteers that if not for their intervention, she would not be with us today. Rabbi Levy concluded that, as of last week, this dear woman is enjoying her family with much gratitude to Hashem and the Queens Hatzolah volunteers.
Rabbi Levy was once enjoying a leisurely bike ride around the neighborhood when a call came out for a woman in labor. He happened to be just 100 feet away from the home but he did not have any equipment with him. He responded and arrived at the house wearing his biking helmet and riding gloves and delivered the baby. As they were loading the mother and her new baby onto the ambulance, the father approached Rabbi Levy and asked him, “Do you guys wear a helmet every time you deliver a baby?” Rabbi Levy imparted that it is “one bike ride I will never forget.”
Mr. Moshe Vatch, a second-generation Queens Hatzolah volunteer, grew up watching his father respond to calls at all hours of the day and night. He admired the amazing chesed his father does. His older brother is also a volunteer for Queens Hatzolah. When Moshe was in Pre-1A, he told his teacher, “When I am old enough, I want to become a Hatzolah man.” His family instilled in him the idea of putting others before oneself and helping others in a time of need. “When you see others in a time of need, it changes your perspective of life.” He said, “I appreciate the unique opportunity to interact with people of all different ages and backgrounds. You could be talking with a four-year-old girl who broke her leg and in the same day, connecting with a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor experiencing shortness of breath. It’s amazing to connect with so many people from so many different backgrounds.”
Moshe added that a large percentage of calls to Hatzolah come from the Bukharian community in Forest Hills, Rego Park, and Kew Gardens Hills. Queens Hatzolah’s response time is significantly better than 911. “Hatzolah saves lives all day, every day.”
Moshe shared an incredible experience of helping save a man’s life who at the time was 18 or 19 years old. A few years later he bumped into him; however, this time he was with his wife and children. “One more generation is now here because Hashem gave you the z’chus to help that person survive.”
Moshe shared that one of his most difficult experiences during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was that many of the patients he took to the hospital would unfortunately not survive and that he was the last person to speak to a number of these patients.
Mr. Emanuel Fozailov, another devoted Bukharian volunteer, decided to join Queens Hatzolah when he saw the care and professionalism their members demonstrated while helping his family member, and he realized the impact this organization has on the community.
When Emanuel joined Queens Hatzolah three years ago, he was introduced to a whole new world of helping others. His family was very supportive of his sacrifice for the community. He often leaves on Shabbos or Yom Tov, and his family not only understands the importance, but they are very proud of him. Emanuel said that “when you are in an emergency situation, the training you have kicks in. Later you say to yourself, did we really do that?” He is very grateful to be one of the Queens Hatzolah volunteers.
By Susie Garber