The pride of working in a falafel stand

When I broached the idea to one of the union heads at Magen David Adom he said to me: “I think you’re bored. Why don’t you go work at a falafel shop?”

Hummus and Falafel, Israel's favorite chickpea-based dishes (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Hummus and Falafel, Israel's favorite chickpea-based dishes
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
When I was a young child, I was overweight. One of my problems was that I could never turn down a falafel. Whenever I saw a falafel store I always went in and ate. Whenever I was on shift on an ambulance, I ate falafel and I ate too much of it.
As I continued to volunteer on ambulance shifts, I noticed that ambulances weren’t arriving fast enough to help people at medical emergencies. That is where I came up with the idea of first responders answering calls ahead of ambulances.
When I broached the idea to one of the union heads at Magen David Adom he said to me: “I think you’re bored. Why don’t you go work at a falafel shop?” He wasn’t saying it to be mean per se, but he said it because he saw me eating falafel all the time.
Sometime later, I used the Israeli innovation called chutzpah and bought a police scanner and together with a few friends, we tapped into the emergency radio channel and rushed out to the emergencies in our neighborhood, arriving before the ambulances did. That is how the organization, which eventually became known as United Hatzalah, was born. This off-handed comment about my love for falafel helped bring life to the first response organization that has treated more than 4,000,000 people.
A few weeks ago, a United Hatzalah volunteer and ambucycle driver, Tal Cooperstein, was hit at an intersection by a driver who the police say was texting while driving. Tal was on his way to respond to a medical emergency when he was struck by the woman’s vehicle and suffered severe injuries to his leg and chest. Tal had to undergo numerous surgeries.
I called his wife right after the accident and I asked her what Tal does for a living and she told me that Tal recently opened a falafel shop in Bat Yam, called Harel Falafel. She further told me that the family would most likely have to shut it down as they don’t have anyone to run the store while Tal recuperates.
Tal underwent his surgeries and thankfully is stable, but he has a long road to recovery. In the meantime, his falafel shop, which is the sole income of the family, needed people to help run it in order to make sure that it wouldn’t close and his family wouldn’t suffer. I told her that we wouldn’t let the falafel store shut down.
I decided that I was going to volunteer in the falafel shop and that as an organization, our volunteers would help run the falafel shop. We put the word out and hundreds of United Hatzalah volunteer EMTs, paramedics, and doctors from all over the country signed up to volunteer for shifts running the falafel shop.
I hadn’t gone near a falafel shop in years due to my diet, and I certainly never made falafel before in my life but our organization is a family and I knew that I needed to do this. Together, with all of the other volunteers who joined the effort, we helped keep the shop open.
I went one step further and contacted a donor, a true friend of United Hatazlah, from Panama, and explained the situation telling him that we needed to hire a manager for Tal’s store. He said that he would fund it. Last week, we succeeded in hiring a manager for the store.
Last Tuesday I volunteered in the falafel shop myself, for a second time. I went with the World Chairman of United Hatzalah, Mark Gerson from New York, who, together with his wife Rabbi Erica Gerson, are the biggest supporters that United Hatzalah has. Also joining us was the new Israel Chairman of United Hatzalah Mati Kochavi who is the Chairman and Owner of AGT International and the creator of the Instagram phenomenon “Eva Stories.” We went together to sell falafel and help a hero of United Hatzalah who was injured while attempting to save someone’s life.
We did it to help out one of the volunteers who put his own life on hold to help others. Doing so was the best feeling in the world. It brought me back to that union head all those years ago who told me that I should go work in a falafel shop. I have no idea if he is still alive, but I wonder what he would think of me now, working in a falafel shop started by one of the 6,000 volunteer first responders who rush out and save lives every day, and how proud I am to be serving falafel today.
The writer is the father of five children, a social entrepreneur and president and founder of United Hatzalah of Israel, an independent, nonprofit, fully volunteer EMS organization that provides fast and free emergency first response throughout Israel.