By Larry Gordon
We might just accept as factual that the only situations in which a kosher-consuming community needs careful and reliable supervision are those related to the food we eat.
We learned this year—and many of us knew it previously—that the most important thing we need to be scrupulous about is our health. And that is a lesson too many of us learned in a very difficult way.
But our more than yearlong battle with the coronavirus has also shown us some new, interesting, and even good things in our lives that we should appreciate more than we ever did previously.
One such presence in our lives for which we have all gained more respect and appreciation this year is Hatzalah. That applies to all the Hatzalah services that exist in many of our communities, whether here in the Five Towns, Queens, Brooklyn, or Los Angeles.
Unless you have personal experience with Hatzalah or are taking the time to write an essay like this about the group, it might be difficult to adequately grasp the role they play in our communities.
An important matter to focus on is the fashion in which Hatzalah conducted business during the difficult days of the pandemic.
According to Mark Gross, one of the Nassau County area coordinators for Hatzalah, the greatest pressure and challenge was during April and May of 2020 and through the months of October and November. That is when the virus first hit us all with intensity followed by what became known as the “second wave” in the fall. Through it all, with members taking ill themselves, every call was responded to and every patient tended to with maximum efficiency.
If all you know about Hatzalah is their emergency phone number, then let us fill you in and explain all that they do for us.
First of all, as in any organization of this size, the more resources they have access to, the more enhanced the service they provide. Today Hatzalah has become so much of an essential service to the community that it is almost expected that they will provide the people they serve with the most advanced emergency medical services available.
Area coordinators like Mark Gross and Howie Kafka are not only veteran Hatzalah members but men who have dedicated themselves to learning and understanding how a volunteer group like theirs can absorb everything there is to know about dealing with emergency medical situations and saving lives.
However, they can only do as much as we, the supporters of the organization, allow them to do. So, in a way, when we support or give to Hatzalah, we are really supporting and giving to ourselves.
For the next week or so, our Hatzalah organization is running a campaign to raise $1.5 million so as to maintain the level of emergency healthcare that our community not only requires but has also come to expect.
Today, this local Hatzalah group is not all that local anymore. Hatzalah RL (Rockaway–Lawrence), as it is known today, covers a geographic area larger than any other Hatzalah group on the map. It includes the Five Towns, Far Rockaway, West Hempstead, as well as Belle Harbor.
To service those areas there are two Hatzalah garages and training facilities for members. Currently, there are ten ambulances in service. Two are stationed in West Hempstead, one in Belle Harbor, and the remaining seven ambulances—or buses, as they call them—are in Far Rockaway and the Five Towns.
Recently, Hatzalah purchased an additional garage with training rooms on the second floor adjacent to the current garage in Woodmere. The funding you give to Hatzalah allows them to buy the latest medical equipment and continue to provide volunteers with state-of-the-art training.
This past year, with the pandemic raging, you might have thought that there was reluctance amongst volunteers to enter homes on a call. The reality was the opposite. Volunteers worked around the clock, some to the point of exhaustion. Their commitment and dedication was awe-inspiring.
As we all learned more about the coronavirus, it became common knowledge that if it was at all possible, the best thing was to stay out of the hospital. Our hospitals were overwhelmed at some point; people were being intubated and placed on ventilators. It eventually became apparent that being hooked up to a ventilator sometimes did more damage than anything else.
So Hatzalah was busy making sure that if people could be treated at home, they were equipped to assist. Oxygenators needed to be acquired and sometimes rushed into homes at a moment’s notice.
Hatzalah was under intense pressure, but Hatzalah volunteers are the primary asset in the community and were truly on the frontlines of the community’s effort to keep our people safe and in good health.
Today there are 155 Hatzalah volunteers who are ready and on call for their shifts around the clock. I asked both Mark and Howie if they could use additional volunteers. They said that they have applications on their desks from about 30 very qualified people, but they are not rushing to bring on new members. They explain that they want to keep the current roster of volunteers busy and on top of their game, so to speak. That means keeping them going out on calls, always honing their best skills.
Hatzalah is part of the landscape of this and so many other communities. They serve us with supreme dedication and great humility. One recurring theme when you speak with Hatzalah volunteers is the request that we please not mention their names. They insist that it is not about them but rather about keeping their community safe and in good health. Hatzalah is there for us, and I think we all know that.
Bumper To Bumper
If you are already standing still in traffic, by which I mean you are sitting there in your car and not moving, is it possible for traffic to get worse?
That might be more of a philosophical question than a motor vehicle problem, but that is the subject of chatter on social media and in newspapers as the behemoth structure at the corner of Rockaway Turnpike and Brookville Boulevard rapidly advances toward completion and becomes the focal point of our attention as we sit tapping our steering wheels, waiting to move.
If there was ever an issue that is smack dab in the middle of what government can do for the people, this is it. Traffic is congested along that stretch of roadway on the edge of what is technically Woodmere; it will become increasingly worse over the next few months, and nothing is being done about it.
By now you are probably aware that the large structure on that property will be an Amazon distribution center. The facility will be functioning around the clock seven days a week, and that means new realities, both positive and negative.
The good side of all this is that if you reside in the Five Towns or Far Rockaway, you will be able to place an order on Amazon in the morning and receive your package that very same afternoon. That means no more intolerable waiting until the next day.
The downside to all this is the additional traffic and congestion that the facility will inevitably create.
I reached out to two of our popular and well-respected elected officials, Howard Kopel of the Nassau County Legislature and State Senator Todd Kaminsky. Kopel is a Republican and Kaminsky is a Democrat. Kopel has been vocal about the continued deterioration of the traffic patterns along Rockaway Turnpike and has sounded the alarm about the extreme gridlock that will result once the Amazon building is open and functioning.
Senator Kaminsky said that over the last several years, the issue of moving traffic along has been addressed, and the traffic flow is improved, with less waiting time at traffic lights.
Howard Kopel says that there is a plan on the books that can improve the situation but that the Cuomo administration, and, for that matter, Senator Chuck Schumer, are not interested in moving on the project.
Kopel notes that there is property that runs behind the strip mall where the facility is located that can easily be turned into a bypass road by which those who are not interested in shopping along that stretch of Rockaway Turnpike can quickly make it out to the airport or on to the Van Wyck or Belt Parkway.
He adds that the new Amazon property is on the border between Nassau County and Queens, which means that both Nassau County and New York City officials would need to work together, and this is unlikely to happen anytime soon—or, for that matter, ever.
It is additionally important to realize that this route along Rockaway Turnpike and out to the highways is the emergency evacuation route out of the Five Towns if need be. Hopefully, it will not have to be used as it was during the Hurricane Sandy period, but, unfortunately, it is a potential disaster waiting to happen.
Whether it is Central Avenue, Broadway, or the local streets, our roadways are at least half a century old and were not intended to handle the burgeoning local population. On a Thursday afternoon or Friday leading into Shabbos, traffic on Central Avenue is usually moving at a crawl.
One thing is clear—traffic is about to get worse. Any ideas out there about ameliorating this jam?
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.