Two dozen newly trained EMTS hit the streets in Beit Shemesh, filling gap

Schneider [trained EMT] is glad he is no longer the only EMT in his local synagogue. The closest Hatzalah member used to be 10 minutes from my house,” he said.

WE WERE getting used to pulling out the needle in a safe and clean way. I feel a kinship with my classmates now. (photo credit: MITCH SCHNEIDER)
WE WERE getting used to pulling out the needle in a safe and clean way. I feel a kinship with my classmates now.
(photo credit: MITCH SCHNEIDER)
A group of more than two dozen emergency medical technicians graduated their training course and are now ready to hit the streets of Beit Shemesh for any emergency. Initiated by a local American-Israeli and a group of volunteers, the team was inspired to become certified in order to make a difference in their community.
The graduation ceremony was held at the United Hatzalah center in Beit Shemesh.
Mitch Schneider spoke to the Magazine about his pride in the accomplishment and hope for the future.
Born in New Jersey, Schneider moved to Israel 12 years ago and lives in the Sheinfeld neighborhood, which has a significant population of Jewish-American immigrants to Israel. Beit Shemesh has a fast-growing population of about 118,000, of whom approximately 10% are native English speakers.
“There are a lot of olim hadashim [new immigrants],” Schneider noted, “but Sheinfeld is not as new as other neighborhoods, so we have an aging population. Who is going to be there when the need arises to help people turning 60, 70, 80 years old?” he asked.
He also noted the layout of the city means that Magen David Adom – Red Star of David, Israel’s emergency medical services – cannot arrive at the scene in a matter of minutes.
He praised MDA but said neither they nor United Hatzalah volunteers from other Beit Shemesh neighborhoods could possibly arrive so quickly. He noted that the closest hospital is in another city about 25 minutes away.
The new EMTs came from English-speaking countries such as the United States, England, Canada and South Africa, and the class was held in English. The students were about half-way split between women and men of varying ages, degrees of religious observance and past medical experience. All passed the course and earned their National Registry Emergency Medical Technician license.
“It doesn’t make a difference if you’re male or female or your beliefs,” Schneider said, “we have the common denominator of wanting to save a life.”
Part of Schneider’s inspiration was a donation made last year in memory of Ari Fuld, the Jewish-American activist who was killed fighting a terrorist who infiltrated the shopping center in Gush Etzion. A large sum was donated for his hometown of Efrat to create a first responder class in English.
So Schneider, along with fellow Beit Shemesh residents Rachel Holzer and Rifki Orzech, took to Facebook to recruit. They needed to raise about $25,000 to fund the course. After a series of informational evenings and online campaigns, they came up with $26,500 and 30 recruits within only a month.
Holzer, who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and has been living in Israel for the past four years, like Mitch, was EMT-certified in the US. But she knew she needed a refresher course and insisted on starting from scratch. An incident that helped propel her to take the initiative was a near-tragic suicide attempt on a busy highway in Beit Shemesh.
“I WAS DRIVING on the highway one night and saw a bunch of cars on the side of the road and teens walking across,” she told the Magazine. “A girl was trying to run in front of traffic, and her family was helpless. They had already called 101, and the father was holding the girl back.” Holzer said she pulled over and approached the father to ask permission to attempt to calm down the daughter. She sat with the teen until the ambulance arrived.
“This was two years ago and it reawakened memories of my past EMT training and my desire to help others,” she said. “I didn’t know where to channel that feeling until Mitch and I took the refresher course. And every time I drive down that road, I think of that girl and hope she is OK today.”
Holzer echoed Mitch by calling MDA an amazing organization but said it isn’t enough. She illustrated by telling of the time she needed to call emergency services for one of her children. “EMT response time clearly needed to be improved and this could only happen by an influx of volunteers,” she explained. Although an established city, Beit Shemesh is a quiet, bedroom community not particularly close to any major city or industrial zone.
“If there is an EMT on the street, response time could be only a minute or two, and if someone has a compromised airway, those minutes can mean the difference between life or death,” she said. Now thanks to their initiative, a new team of EMTs can be on call around the clock.
Holzer said attending the course was inspiring. The age range of the participants was about 20 to 55 years old. “They were full-grown adults with families and jobs and they took the time for a 180-hour course to help their friends and neighbors,” she explained. There were five couples and two pairs of siblings among the students. “It was a great environment. Everyone was motivated and serious."
During the orientation, one lecture was on laws of treating patients on Shabbat, which was attended by both the new Beit Shemesh students and EMT grads from other communities, including Muslims and Christians.
“We all learned the same laws,” Holzer said, “even though only observant Jews, of course, are expected to adhere personally to the laws of Shabbat.” She explained that the non-Jews were taught Jewish law so they can understand the actions of their fellow Jewish EMTs who do not use WhatsApp or other non-essential emergency group communication during the day of rest.
“The instructor was a hassidic man from Bnei Brak who was extremely engaging,” Holzer said. “He convinced me to take calls on Shabbat. At first, I thought it was not fair to be part of the Shabbat weekend rotation and leave my family,” she related, “but I realized the importance of being available to my neighbors and to sacrifice, on a personal level, my Shabbat peace.”
HOLZER RELATED a story the instructor told about an unresponsive three-month-old baby. The incident happened on Shabbat and the instructor rushed to the home and initiated CPR immediately. “Today the boy is a healthy four-year-old and attends kindergarten,” Holzer said. “The instructor was crying as he told the story. It was very moving.”
Jonathan Zahtz hails from Skokie, Illinois, and has been living in Beit Shemesh for seven years. Although he does not have any previous medical training, he took the opportunity to become a certified EMT in order to give back to the community.
“It’s one thing to make aliyah,” Zahtz told the Magazine, but it’s another thing to contribute toward society.”
Zahtz said it was difficult at first, but “when you are challenged, you become a better person.”
He spoke of the camaraderie that developed with the students who attended the class together for about six months.
“I’ll now have to get up in the middle of the night if necessary and put in a lot of time to get experience in the field,” he said. “It’s one thing to go to school, but you have to apply what you’ve learned.” Zahtz is looking forward to joining an ambulance work-shift now that he has graduated. “I enjoy helping people and want to do it not just within my community but on the road and wherever it is needed,” he stated.
Susan Duker was born in Canada, came to Israel in 2004 and was looking for a way to give back. Trained as a lifeguard in her high school years, she called the class an incredible experience.
“Now we are covering more ground,” she said of her fellow students. Their goal is to be able to reach an emergency in 90 seconds.
She related to the Magazine a story of a local pregnant woman who collapsed in front of a school several weeks ago. “Somebody was right there with a defibrillator and started CPR,” she said. “Within minutes she was revived. That’s the kind of goal we’re working toward.”
Duker, whose day job is in hi-tech, said it was a bonding experience to attend class with people from her neighborhood and see a different side to them. The most formidable part of the class for her was the IV, or intravenous, training.
“When you practice IVs, you have to practice on your fellow classmates,” she explained. “So we have to trust each other.”
Duker said there was a lot of blood that night in class. “We were getting used to pulling out the needle in a safe and clean way,” she said. “I feel a kinship with my classmates now.”
Duker hopes the program will expand to other cities and enable residents to learn life-saving skills.
Schneider is glad he will no longer be the only one with an EMT vest in his local synagogue. The closest Hatzalah member used to be 10 minutes from my house,” he said.
“This is the country where we immigrated to and where we feel at home,” he stated. “Now this is our chance to give back.”