Hatzalah, growing in good health

Celebrates its 30th year


An essential part of the Five Towns landscape, the Chevra hatzalah of the Rockaways and Nassau County, celebrated its 30th year with a model and renderings of a proposed garage and training facility for Woodmere, to better serve the growing Jewish community in the area.

“Do you know what it’s like to get a call in the midst of a winter storm at three in the morning? You clean your car, clean up the ambulance, warm it up, and it take up time,” said Cedarhurst resident Mordechai Goldfeder, 37, a FDNY paramedic who has been volunteering with Hatzalah for 19 years. “It’s a place to keep the ambulance warm and it will reduce costs.”

Currently, the 100-member organization has a garage in Far Rockaway, with ambulances stationed in Belle Harbor and Woodmere. Funded entirely by private donations, Hatzalah operates on a $900,000 annual budget that includes the maintenance of its ambulance fleet, purchase of drugs, and communications equipment.

“Our members have only one desire, to save lives. I am in awe of the chesed that they do behind the scenes,” said coordinator Rabbi Elozer Kanner, who has been a part of Hatzalah for 25 of its 30 years. Listing the costs of running the rescue service, Rabbi Kanner said that each ambulance costs $250,000 to purchase, with two parked in Woodmere. Having won a series of challenges form the local Board of Zoning Appeals, Rabbi Kanner argued that the building would greatly enhance Hatzalah’s ability to respond to calls. “If the ambulance is parked outdoors and it’s icy, that’s five to ten minutes digging yourself out. With a garage, we can respond sooner.”

Among those attending the annual fundraising barbecue were Rabbi Yaakov Bender, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, and his son Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender. Both are active supporters and volunteers for Hatzalah. “My father was a founder of Hatzalah, and everyone in Darchei Torah knows that. It’s been passed down to the students,” Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender said. “When they started, they used to transport people in the back of station wagons.”

The keynote speaker at the event, was real estate executive and Woodmere resident Charlie Harary, spoke of his first encounter with Hatzalah as a student at Queens College. “We were studying in the library for our finals and an African American student drops to the floor. Everything stops. One guy I was studying with took out his phone and within minutes four Jews in different yarmulkes walked in and had him stable,” Harary said.

Astonished at the speed and skill of the Orthodox volunteers, Harary’s classmates broke out in spontaneous applause and cheering. “I’ve never experienced such a raw Kiddush Hashem. That’s what it means to be a Jew.”

While the volunteers dined, the Queens branch of Hatzalah took on the duties for the area. Amid the conversations, the static of emergecy sounded off from the hips. “Just this morning I rescued a fellow Hatzalah member who had a heart attack. We took him to a hospital with a cath lab,” said Far Rockaway volunteer Shlomo, who did not want his name used, fearing it could reveal the identity of his patient. “These are everyday stories, but everybody is human. If there is a death, it hurts. We talk with other about it and this helps.”

Although Rabbi Kanner did not reveal the amount raised at the May 15 barbecue, he said that Hatzalah is still battling a budget deficit as it struggles to keep up with some 3000 calls annually. The groundbreaking date has not been set for the Woodmere facility, but its expected construction cost is $3 million.

Rabbi Kanner hopes to pour the foundation this year, as he continues fundraising. “Only 65 percent of our community has given to Hatzalah, but they cover 100 percent of it,” said Harary. “We have to give a little

bit more.”