The Jewish Volunteer Ambulance Corp (JVAC) operates down in Palm Beach County, Florida. It is very much like the Hatzalah organizations we have been so familiar with for decades that actively save lives in densely populated Orthodox Jewish communities in states around the country.
So how is JVAC different? Actually, just like in New York, where the various neighborhood Hatzalah groups interface and work together, except for some nuanced differences, the lifesaving aspects of the two entities are very much the same.
Isaac Hersh is an EMT and a resident of Palm Beach County; he has lived here with his wife and two children for the last ten years. Prior to that he lived in Brooklyn and was a Queens Hatzalah member. Although Hatzalah is internationally known and is probably the most vital service provided by any organization to many communities, starting up, developing, and running an organization like this is an extraordinary undertaking.
I’d venture to say that 90% of all Hatzalah groups provide the same services to their communities. That is, saving people’s lives is the focus and priority, but there are also many other details that come along with that.
At the start a few years ago, there were some differences in approaches between Hatzalah and what has become known as JVAC. As Hersh says, Palm Beach County JVAC decided to take what he calls the Eli Beer or Israel’s United Hatzalah format rather than that of Hatzalah groups that exist in places like New York and South Florida. They work together, respect one another, and share professional know-how so as to dispense the best emergency medical care to the people they serve.
At the top of the list is what can be best described as identity issues. Why must the average person in any of these communities be aware of the minutiae of what distinguishes one Hatzalah group from the other?
The real possibility exists that you will be in Israel for Sukkos and be moved to make a sizable donation in support of United Hatzalah of Israel, an impressive organization with a significant medical presence in the Jewish State. Then you come back to South Florida or one of the New York communities where there might be a fundraising campaign, and you are at ease with the knowledge that you already did your part to financially support Hatzalah. Well, to some you did, to others perhaps not.
No one can debate that our personal financial support for Hatzalah is essential and should always be a top priority. From the outside, it looks like all Hatzalah groups are one and the same. Internally, however, the functional dynamics can differ somewhat, as is the case with many communal organizations.
The simple part of the story down here—and this is being written in Palm Beach County—is that the bottom line of Hatzalah or JVAC (or whatever the name) is about saving lives. Everything else is trivial, and if not trivial then it’s an issue that likely has political overtones.
Hatzalah anywhere in the U.S. or in Israel, or JVAC down here, does not operate in a vacuum and cannot function or be effective without necessary resources. So no one that I spoke to about the topic mentioned the competition—if you can call it that—but it is a matter of all types of non-profit groups relying on the largesse of the public. The last thing anyone wants is to have their identity confused with someone else’s.
But as far as emergency medical care is concerned here in Palm Beach County it was imperative for a number of reasons that the folks out here forge if not an independent then at least a unique identity for themselves, and that is why they are now known as JVAC.
“We have a set of rules that is molded and influenced by the United Hatzalah way of functioning,” Isaac Hersh said. He explains that if you are not in the northeast, New York, New Jersey, or even in South Florida, you really have no choice but to see things with at least slight differences.
“Here in Palm Beach County we are tied into the 911 network of emergency medical calls,” he says.
Historically, Hatzalah was founded more than 50 years ago because of the overwhelming demand of services in New York and the notoriously slow response of New York emergency services which unfortunately resulted in the loss of lives. From its very beginning no one could have imagined that Hatzalah would evolve into the lifesaving powerhouse it is today.
Not only does every state have different rules and regulations, but though we are all in the same country there are also cultural differences that are noticeable from state to state, and that includes our Jewish communities.
Today JVAC includes 35 volunteers and five emergency response vehicles serving areas like Boca Raton and Boynton Beach, which have experienced dramatic growth in the frum population over these last few years. JVAC is in the process of raising the $350,000 needed for a fully equipped ambulance.
Hersh says that, locally, the 911 response to calls is amazing. The average response time, he says, is six minutes. Along with the quick response there are also an appropriate number of EMTs from the various areas on the calls. With the dramatic increase in observant families in the county of late, it became imperative to have an emergency medical response team like JVAC to answer calls.
It is a sensitive issue in some areas, but JVAC follows the United Hatzalah of Israel model to incorporate into the response teams both men and women. To some the mix might be considered a matter of comfort on some emergency calls, but for the JVAC team it’s a matter of competence and efficiency. At the same time, some of the sensitivities that exist in more densely populated Jewish areas are not as present here.
The frum communities in South Florida have a deep history not just as a vacation getaway in a usually warm climate but of established communities with significant roots. On the other hand, it was never as populated as it is today. In the aftermath of the pandemic and with the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, parts of Florida have experienced exponential growth that could not have been anticipated. Many young people over the last few years came down here temporarily and many more than expected stayed and set up their homes here.
For Orthodox Jewish communities, that kind of growth requires unique infrastructure beyond shuls, mikva’os, supermarkets, and kosher restaurants. It also translates into the necessity of groups like JVAC. It might be a relatively small, fledgling group today, but you can be assured that as the communities continue to expand, JVAC is going to be something really big.
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.