As Jews around the world, both secular and religious, gather around the Seder table to celebrate their exodus from ancient Egypt, for a select few that experience will be interrupted for the most important reason of all: saving a life.
That’s what happened to United Hatzalah volunteer Doron Mah-Tov just last year.
As the family began to read from the Haggada, Mah-Tov was alerted that a man had collapsed just a few minutes' drive away from his house.
“Of course, I left everything and rushed to the scene,” Mah-Tov said, in a reaction that is universal for all United Hatzalah volunteers.
After extensive rounds of CPR, Mah- Tov was able to revive the man, who chose to resume his Seder – despite his near-death experience.
“By the time I came back home, I missed most of the Seder,” he lamented.
“But we returned to the Seder with joy – we saved his life and were able to resume the Seder with our families.”
For Mah-Tov, who spent 20 years as a first responder and is the chief technology officer for United Hatzalah, dropping everything to rush to an emergency is second nature. It is that dedication to helping others which is part of United Hatzalah’s formula for success: impassioned volunteers and cuttingedge technology which leads to rapid response times.
Moshe Adler is another United Hatzalah volunteer who has internalized the motto of patient above all costs.
That dedication, though, cost him spending the Seder with his family when he received an emergency call two years ago.
Despite his request to not be on duty during the Seder night, one of the other volunteers in his neighborhood couldn’t be available, leaving Adler to take on a harrowing Seder night experience alone.
“I found myself suddenly on duty for the neighborhood. As we raised the glass for kiddush, wine full to brim, I got a beeper notification that near my street an elderly man had choked,” he recalled.
“I didn’t have a second thought. I didn’t drink the wine, I looked my wife in the eyes – and she so wanted me to be home that night – I told everyone to resume the kiddush and start reading the Haggada. I was already out the door with my helmet,” he said.
Arriving on the scene, he was greeted by screams coming out of the apartment.
“When I arrived I saw a sight that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone: I saw an elaborately decorated Seder table, the whole family is around it, and on the floor I saw an elderly man and his two daughters trying to revive him,” he said, recalling the traumatic experience.
After spending nearly 20 minutes of CPR, he was able to dislodge a piece of steak from the man’s throat. While he was sent to the hospital in stable condition, unfortunately, he died a week later due to old age.
Today, his family constantly thanks Adler for making it possible for their father to be with them for that additional time, however short it was.
United Hatzalah volunteer Aryeh Amit also encountered a frightening scene with a somewhat happier ending when, on Seder night, he was notified of a man who had tried to hang himself in a hotel in Bat Yam.
Fortunately, the man did not tie the knot properly, and was hanging from the light fixture so he was choking, but did not break his neck and die.
Upon receiving the alert, Amit rushed to the scene, and cut the rope, allowing the man to breathe again.
“What, am I in heaven?” the man joked to Amit as he fell to the ground. As a first responder, Amit went beyond the call of duty when he asked the man to join his family for dinner the following night.
“He told me he was very depressed and lonely. We stayed in touch, but a year later he died of old age,” Amit said of the incident that occurred six years ago.
Amit, who works as a recruiter for United Hatzalah, is proud to be a part of the life-saving organization’s team.
“United Hatzalah helps communities be self-sufficient. These are everyday people who are saving lives of strangers,” he explained.
As for leaving his family in the middle of meals in the event of emergency, Amit says his family is used to it at this point.
“I have a wife who loves to host, but she’s used to me fleeing to scenes in the middle. When I do get to eat, the meals are often cold,” he joked.
For many United Hatzalah volunteers, the drive to put their personal lives aside momentarily stems from a keen awareness of the immense responsibility they have when they enter a stranger’s home and attempt to save a life. It is a task that is not suitable for everyone, but they find the work incredibly gratifying.
“I felt an enormous responsibility – you must give your all, there is no room for error,” Adler said, adding that alongside the huge feeling of responsibility is a sense of duty.
“It’s very gratifying to know that you can give people the biggest gift possible.
Ever since I was a kid, I’d see first responders who go from place to place and restore calm in people’s homes,” Adler said.
“Today, even when there are hard moments – like reviving an unconscious young girl – you know you’ve done the ultimate good. The sheer gratitude people have for you is unparalleled.”This article was written in cooperation with United Hatzalah.
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