After one of the most difficult years in United Hatzalah’s history, it was time to celebrate and secure the future.
Over 1,000 people gathered in New York City on May 24 to support the 6,200-volunteer emergency medical service. The Friends of United Hatzalah of Israel’s third annual gala came a year after COVID-19 nearly took the life of Hatzalah’s founder and director Eli Beer and in the wake of crisis after crisis that tested the organization’s mettle and stretched its resources.
“We dealt with a few waves of COVID in Israel, some of which were very difficult,” Beer told JNS. “We had lockdowns. Then we had the Mount Meron tragedy, which is the worst in my lifetime that I remember, and we were all involved there performing CPR and helping over 300 people.
“Then we had the war in Gaza a year ago. Then we had the Surfside [Fla.] disaster. This last year was so busy and challenging for us, and now we’re operating on two fronts. We have 6,000 volunteers in Israel, and we have 200 volunteers involved in Ukraine.”
Beer fell gravely ill with COVID and said he didn’t believe he would survive his second coma. He spent a month in a hospital in Miami.
“I was worried that if something happened to me, that something could happen to United Hatzalah. It’s not like the next generation has taken over,” Beer said, adding that the experience taught him it was time to put a succession plan in place.
After his health scare, Beer was accompanied on his return to Israel by Miami-based physician Dr. Zev Neuwirth, who was honored by Hatzalah on Tuesday for his volunteer medical work in Ukraine, from where he recently returned after a five-week mission.
The founder of the Hatzalah branch in Montreal, Neuwirth started medical school at the age of 40 following the brain cancer-driven death of his wife. He graduated with honors, went on to a commission as a United States Naval Officer, and underwent training to deliver medical care in war-torn countries.
Neuwirth oversaw the purchase and staffing of two new ambulances, which are on their way to Ukraine from Spain. He previously brought what he believes to be the sole volunteer foreign ambulance in Ukraine that is operating in a medical capacity, rather than as a transportation vehicle.
It is the actions of people like Neuwirth that drove donors to deliver $6 million in pledges at the gala.
Jonathan Abrams, an active Hatzalah volunteer in the Tel Aviv area, is a jeweler by trade. He told JNS it is imperative to contribute what one can to Hatzalah, whether in the form of money, time or skill.
Attorney Alan Dershowitz addressed the gathering, placing Hatzalah a close second behind the Israel Defense Forces in regard to using G-d-given Jewish intelligence to develop ways to save lives.
“Hatzalah unites Jews, Arabs and Christians, haredim and secular. It has one goal: pikuach nefesh. That’s all. It’s a goal that unites the entire Jewish community,” he said.
The event was chaired by supporter Alex Blavatnik, who was honored, along with Cathy and Allan Weiss, and Chantal and Al Gindi, for their continued support of Israel and Hatzalah.