Averting disaster on the high holidays

On Yom Kippur, a day when most Jews fast, medical emergencies are common.

A United Hatzalah volunteer seen wearing a Jewish prayer shawl while on the way to save a person in need during Yom Kippur. (photo credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)
A United Hatzalah volunteer seen wearing a Jewish prayer shawl while on the way to save a person in need during Yom Kippur.
(photo credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)
As millions of Jews around the world gather around their respective tables for the High Holidays, save for an awkward argument about politics between family members, most meals will go by without incident. However, despite the holiness of those days, accidents can and do happen – and United Hatzalah volunteers have been there to save the day.
On Yom Kippur, a day when most Jews fast, medical emergencies are common. Dr. Tzachi Ben Zion, a chief psychiatrist at Clalit Medical Center, recalls a harrowing incident last year when he had to revive an elderly gentleman.
Ben Tzion was called to save the man who had a dangerously low heart rate from fasting and was dehydrated. Despite having his own medical issues to bear with – the doctor underwent gastric bypass only a few days before the incident – he immediately went into action to revive him. After administering medications and fluids, the elderly man’s heart rate returned to normal and when he was completely recovered he insisted on going to synagogue - bringing a whole new meaning to the term the “show must go on.”
Ben Tzion is proud of that day and his ability to save the man’s life. Considering they lived in the small suburb of Omer outside of Beersheba, Ben Tzion is one of the few professionals in the area who would have been available to help.
“I’m the only one who can be reached in that area, on holidays and especially on Yom Kippur,” he said.
Ben Tzion felt compelled to join United Hatzalah after his day job had him traveling often and he would frequently drive past road accidents.
“I saw these accidents, but didn’t have the equipment to treat them. I decided I must equip myself with the tools to help others in this situation,” he said.
But what about dropping everything – especially during the most holy day of the year? For Dr. Ben Tzion, pikuah nefesh comes naturally. “To save a life, you put off everything else. It’s above everything else. It has to be,” he said.
“Everyone who knows how to save a life, is a valuable asset. We’re a nation with many casualties, so the more people who know how to save a life the better. If you have the ability, desire and stamina to volunteer, you should,” he suggested.
Another altruistic doctor who was at the right place at the right time was Dr. Yossi Walfisch, who gave another man CPR on Rosh Hashana five years ago. As the family doctor of his kibbutz, Rosh Hanikra, Walfisch is often called onto the scene and high holidays are no exception.
Upon getting the call that a man in his community lost consciousness after a very serious heart attack, he and a paramedic quickly drove to his home. After 20 minutes or so of giving the man CPR, the paramedic suggested that they stop as the man had no chance of survival. But, Walfish was undeterred Eventually, he was able to revive him.
“It’s special when something like this happens on Rosh Hashana,” he said. “You’re given an opportunity by God to be an angel and protect people.”
Dr. Walfish also believes caring for others should be a 24/7 responsibility if one is in the medical profession. “I really believe a family doctor needs to be available for all emergencies,” he said.
On Sukkot last year, United Hatzalah volunteer Menachem Shapiro was able to save a small child from the brink of death. In a small village next to Lod, he was called to help a family in need in the middle of their meal; during their Sukkot lunch, their son wandered off and fell into the family pool.
“He was on the floor, cold, barely breathing. Our team of volunteers worked on him while his family looked on,” Shapiro says, recalling their attempt to resuscitate the small two-year-old boy.
“He was such a sweet kid. In the next few days, I couldn’t stop thinking of his face. These situations aren’t easy,” he sighed.
The child was whisked to the hospital, where he stayed for several days. During that time, Shapiro prayed for the child in hopes he would be able to recover.
After two weeks in the hospital, the child was able to go back home, happy and healthy.
“This was an experience that I’ll never forget,” he marveled. “To save someone’s life, it doesn’t happen every day. To save someone from the brink of death is a rare opportunity. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
And during a time when both the religious and secular are vying for a place in the Book of Life, saving one certainly seems like a surefire way to get there.

This article was written in cooperation with United Hatzalah.