Some of the local Hatzalah guys
Some of the local Hatzalah guys

By Larry Gordon

This is the one day a year that our community is afforded a singular opportunity; this is our chance to express gratitude and give something back to a group of people who give of themselves around the clock, all year long. This one event is the annual Hatzalah BBQ dinner to take place this coming Sunday, April 21, at the Sands in Atlantic Beach.

For Rabbi Elozer Kanner, who resides in Lawrence and is one of the Hatzalah area coordinators, his dedication and commitment know no limits. That is the only way he would have it, and it is the level of dedication he expects and demands from the 118 volunteers who share the status and distinction of being Hatzalah volunteers in the Five Towns/Far Rockaway unit of the life-saving organization.

His thoughts, he says, as we talk on Tuesday morning of this week, are about the events that transpired the day before in Boston. He says it is both disturbing and reminiscent of the memories of 9/11 and the citywide response of Hatzalah, the dangers the crews faced and the miracles and perseverance that brought Hatzalah crews out alive, thank G‑d. “It is just devastating when people have their right to live in peace taken from them,” Rabbi Kanner said.

As for the year in review–that is, since the last BBQ–Kanner reports that due to Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, it has been a difficult one. “The storm confronted us with numerous and simultaneous life-saving challenges,” he said. He describes how Hatzalah volunteers worked around the clock, for days, at full capacity, rescuing people from flooded homes. “Some of our people literally had to swim into homes in order to rescue people seeking higher areas in order to avoid the incoming, rising waters,” the rabbi said.

He adds that a great deal of what was done during Sandy was done without cell phones operating properly and very often without the ability to recharge radios that keep members of the organization in touch with one another. That situation was exacerbated by the lack of power at Hatzalah headquarters in Far Rockaway for nearly two weeks before they acquired a small generator so that volunteers could at least charge their portable electronic equipment and phones.

Hatzalah of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway used to operate nine ambulances to cover their designated area, which extends up to Belle Harbor in Queens. Despite resources stretched thin in the aftermath of Sandy and the loss of one very expensive ambulance to the flooding, the organization has taken on the coverage of an additional area in the neighboring community of West Hempstead. Rabbi Kanner says they are currently actively seeking a dedication to replace the ambulance that was ruined.

It is difficult to answer the question posed about what is new at Hatzalah since last year, because each day brings new challenges and sometimes adventures. I ask about the nature of the calls being received, and while Elozer Kanner acknowledges that they are mostly about conventional medical situations, there has also definitely been an uptick in calls related to emotional stress and situations that are an outgrowth of social or other difficult circumstances that people are unfortunately dealing with these days.

Hatzalah in the area here responded to 6,000 calls last year, with a high concentration of those calls during the tough days of Sandy and the storm’s devastating aftermath. Kanner reminds us that all these months later, there still are an alarming number of families who have not been able to return to their homes, many of which are still in a state of disrepair and unlivable.

On the topic of more routine life-saving matters, Kanner says that in addition to seeking to replace the lost ambulance, the organization has acquired a new piece of equipment called “the thumper.” This new, technologically advanced item wraps around the back and chest of a heart-attack victim and automatically does chest compressions, which previously had to be done by people present on the scene. The thumper costs about $15,000 and the organization would like very much to equip each ambulance with one.

While Hatzalah in our area continues to be on call and respond with alacrity, Rabbi Kanner says that after all these years he is still at a loss to understand how two-thirds of the residents of the area have never made a contribution in support of Hatzalah. He points out that it is important to note that the one-third of the population that does actively support the group has been and continues to be exceedingly generous, and this allows Hatzalah to operate at the high level that it does.

So perhaps there is something unique going on here, or then again maybe it is just the dynamics of fundraising that usually has a small number of people providing most of the money that makes things happen. Kanner says he just does not understand it, because it is not like people are supporting a competitor; Hatzalah has no competition.

As the population continues to grow in the Five Towns/Far Rockaway area, so do the demands on Hatzalah and its resources. This Sunday evening at The Sands is the one opportunity to demonstrate in a real and material way the appreciation and the high regard in which this selfless Hatzalah group is held by all. If you are part of two-thirds of the population that have not yet made a contribution to support Hatzalah’s efforts, this year would be a most auspicious time to change that and come out and show your support for our dedicated lifesavers. v

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