On Friday morning at 3:30 a.m., while most of the country was sleeping, my phone started beeping incessantly. I, together with 3,500 other volunteers from United Hatzalah across Israel, Jewish and Arab alike, was horrified to see texts pouring in reporting that one of our EMS brothers, Efraim Gadassi had been injured in a motor vehicle accident during an emergency call.
Effi (Efraim), had gotten out of bed to respond to an emergency and help a complete stranger. Reports came in that indicated that the situation was not good. CPR was in progress. The next report said that the outlook was bleak. Other messages were asking that people say tehillim. Effi, who was on his way to save others, now needed saving. Unfortunately, God had other plans and Effi Gadassi Z"L was tragically taken from all of us.
The outpouring of tears began, and so far, has not stopped. Logistics got underway to help the family prepare everything that was needed for the funeral and beyond. The Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit headed over to break the news to the family together with officers from the Jerusalem Police, and to help the family cope with what happened. People began unifying in action, offering help of any and every kind in a single-minded sense of support for the family and for each other.
Effi was a young father of three and a brother of some 3,500 fellow responders. An honor guard was arranged for the funeral of some 120 ambucycles from Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Jews and Arabs alike came together to show their support for their fallen brother. An additional hundred or so responders as well as United Hatzalah staff filled out the honor guard to pay their last respects for a fallen hero who just the week before had saved the lives of two young children who needed immediate medical help. Effi had responded to hundreds of calls each year and helped thousands of people, not just as an EMT but also as a volunteer in the Hospital Emergency Room program as well as with the Ten Kavod project in which Effi had volunteered to be matched up with an elderly citizen in which he would provide them with weekly medical checkups and companionship. In every sense of the word, this man was a hero.
As I watched the tears fall down the faces of our fellow responders who attended the funeral on Friday, and watched as the honor guard slowly made its way across the entrance of Jerusalem heading towards the cemetery and Effi’s final resting place, I could not help but think of the simple power of unity of purpose. Here were people from across the city and beyond, all coming together to show their respect, honor, love and support for a man with whom they shared a mission. The singular ideal that defines all of us as first responders is what brought us together, and brought us to tears. To lose a friend, a fellow first responder, a brother, a hero, is something that none of us ever wish to experience again, especially when that hero fell in the line of duty, responding to an emergency.
Effi, was doing what he was accustomed to doing,what had become a calling for him over the past few years - getting out of bed in the middle of the night to go help someone. This type of a response is performed on a daily basis throughout the world with absolutely no recognition or fanfare. While doing a sacred and holy deed of saving a life, Effi was taken and left behind three orphans, who will now grow up without a father.
As another Hatzalah volunteer from America, Zalman Cohen put it, “Generally, first responders go about doing our business, even in the middle of the night, without people being aware of it. At that time of the day, the lights, sirens and pomp , aka “the glory” are irrelevant. Trust me, the next morning when you wake up tired and sore, glory is the furthest thing from your mind. Remember, we are not paid crews. We are simply your brother, neighbor or friend who give our all to make sure you are in good hands.” That was indeed Effi.
People can always question the how or why something happened. However, as someone who has put on the vest of a first responder and gone out in the middle of the night to answer the call of those in need of help, I look at this incident and see the truest sense of loss. But I also see a reason to be thankful. We should be thankful to those like Effi, and the thousands of other responders all over the world, regardless of their organizational affiliations, who put their lives on hold, and even risk injury to life and limb in order to help others. As Mr. Cohen said so eloquently, their are Hatzalah volunteers around the globe from Mexico to Moscow, Johannesburg to Jerusalem, Toronto to Miami” and there are responders of other organizations as well, the police, the fire and rescue teams, Magen David Adom, and outside of Israel regular EMS responders. Perhaps this incident will give us all pause so that we may reflect on the hundreds of thousands of responses that occur yearly, many of them in the middle of cold and bitter nights. First responders head out to save lives while others are sleeping comfortably, blissfully unaware.
To quote Zalman one more time, “Let this tragedy remind us all how fragile life is. Let it remind us who we all are. We have families, jobs and commitments but let nothing stand in the way when someone else is in pain.” As first responders, we know the risks. We just hope and pray that none of our brothers or sisters will ever have to pay that price ever again. Let us do what we do best - unite in the goal of lifesaving and work to make sure that Effi’s sacrifice and memory will never be forgotten.