For as long as I can remember, I have always been curious to learn about Hatzolah volunteers and their families.
As we see them zoom by with lights and sirens blaring, rushing to save a life, we recite a chapter of T’hilim and wonder what it is like to have a family member who is a Hatzolah volunteer? How does this vital mitzvah impact the family?
I had the opportunity to speak with several wives of our community’s Hatzolah volunteers. I also interviewed several second-generation Hatzolah members and even one third-generation member. Their thoughts and stories affirmed my belief that these family members are the “hidden heroes” behind the Hatzolah volunteers.
First, I had the opportunity to interview Mrs. Elizabeth Kariyev, wife of Mr. Daniel Kariyev, also known as Q54. She shared that while growing up in an ordinary Jewish home, she played with toys, LEGO sets, dolls, and cards. In her home nowadays, her young children run around the house with backpacks over their shoulders and play-phones, as Hatzolah radios, saying, “H-Base, H-Base, Q54 is on the scene.” She says that the positive impact her children received from being in the car at times, when her husband responds to emergencies, encourages her children to help others. If a child falls at the park or in school, her children will rush over and offer a band aid or say, “Call my Abba. He can help you.” She noted, “We know that Queens Hatzolah members are our family and they will always be there for us when we need them.”
Mrs. Kariyev proudly stated, “Hatzolah calls are not just a mitzvah for the husband. The wives and children are partners, as well; it is a family effort to save lives.” She shared that, in her opinion, even though at times it’s definitely challenging to have her husband run out on calls, having to maintain the home and care for the children, yet she pushes her husband to respond to Hatzolah calls, knowing that at the end of the day he is doing something great for the community and she receives a share in the mitzvah – a sacrifice she feels honored to make.
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mrs. Kariyev was concerned that if her husband responded to calls, he could potentially bring home the virus. After seeing what the community was experiencing, she realized that she must trust in Hashem that this great mitzvah of saving lives will protect her family. With that in mind, her husband responded to multiple COVID-19 calls and helped the community during these troubling times.
Mrs. Kariyev concluded her interview by stating that her children are always very excited when their father goes on calls. She recalls that once, the family was going out for ice cream after the kids deserved a special treat for their wonderful behavior. Before they could get to the ice cream store, a Hatzolah call came over the radio for an “elderly with chest pains” not far from where they were. The kids said “Abba, you have to go! Our ice cream can wait but this person’s life cannot!” Her children view their father as a real-life superhero. “This is a great life lesson to pass on to our children. We are all one team. We are all one community. We are all one family. It is an honor and a privilege to be part of the holy work that Queens Hatzolah does.”
I also had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Nosson Reichmann, a devoted Queens Hatzolah volunteer and the son of Mr. Shiu Reichmann, Queens Hatzolah veteran and current Queens Hatzolah coordinator. Nosson pointed out that his great-grandparents were involved in the Vaad Hatzalah during the Holocaust, which helped procure visas for Jews in Europe during the Nazi occupation.
Nosson grew up his whole life with hearing the Hatzolah radio dispatching emergencies and his father running out on calls at all hours of the day and night. “It gives me a unique perspective on the importance of life and giving back to the community.” Nosson shared, “We could be playing a game, learning together, or at the Pesach Seder, and at a moment’s notice, my father is out the door. I always understood that what my father was doing was the greatest work anyone can do – saving a life.”
Nosson said that for the past four years, during Simchas Torah, instead of dancing with his daughter like all the other fathers in shul, he was responding to emergencies in the community. At times, his daughter would ask, “Why do you have to go?” After explaining to her why he was not there and that she was part of this great mitzvah, his daughter gave him a huge hug and was so proud.
“It’s harder for family members when we respond to calls because they don’t get the instant gratification when a community member is in need and we can provide the help. I am certain that the merit waiting for them in the world to come is greater than they can ever imagine.”
Nosson concluded his interview with a powerful statement. “We, as proud members of Queens Hatzolah, stand out with the radio on our hips and lights in our cars. Our family members are the silent members; they are behind the scenes. Make no mistake, however – our devoted family members are the backbone of Queens Hatzolah.”
Next, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Max Rowe, a third-generation Queens Hatzolah member, whose grandfather Mr. Dov Rowe was one of the founders of Queens Hatzolah, and father Mr. Eli Rowe is a current Queens Hatzolah paramedic. To think that not only does his father devote his time and energy for the community, but his grandfather – who shared a vision of what the community would need –actively contributed to saving so many lives that Queens Hatzolah saves every single day is hard to explain in words. I was eager to hear Max’s perspective.
Max shared, “I personally think that it is amazing. My grandfather devoted so much time, money, and energy to establish Queens Hatzolah. Queens Hatzolah was actually initially operating out of his home.”
“The first Queens Hatzolah ambulance was parked in my grandfather’s home garage in Kew Gardens. I was surrounded by Hatzolah my entire life.” He would know if his grandfather was home based on whether the ambulance was parked at his home or not.
He continued by saying that his father was the first Queens Hatzolah paramedic. “There are more than 2,000 hours of classes, exams, and practical skills required to become a paramedic. Basically, they are trained to be a field doctor.” For his father to take upon himself the responsibility of such training in order to serve the community, all while conducting a normal family life, is something Max will always carry with him for many years to come.
Max pointed out that Queens Hatzolah is not just another EMS service; it is unique in many ways. Every Queens Hatzolah member goes above and beyond what would ever be expected. The weather could be below zero or in the middle of a heat wave – patient care always comes first. Freezing, getting rained on, or sweating from the scorching sun will not stop a Queens Hatzolah member from providing professional, genuine, and proper care.
Max recalls an instance where, during a snowy winter night, a woman was being transferred to the ambulance on the stretcher. She was saying, “I am freezing.” The Hatzolah volunteer who rushed out of his house wearing a sweatshirt took off his sweatshirt and covered the patient to assure she wasn’t cold. “I will never forget the image of my fellow Hatzolah member standing outside in a T-shirt and tzitzis in the snow with a huge smile on his face, because he was able to make the patient feel warmer.” He pointed out that Hatzolah members take the time to advise the family what to bring along to the hospital: a phone with its charger, ID, and even cash for a taxi. “On one call, I witnessed a Queens Hatzolah member give $50 in cash of his own money to the patient’s family member who forgot to bring along money and was worried how they would get home. It was yet one more valuable life lesson I learned from Hatzolah.”
“I believe,” concluded Max, “that the only reason Queens Hatzolah members can provide this service to the community with such sacrifice and devotion is because of their support system at home – their wives encouraging them and their children cheering them on.”
I also had the chance to interview Mrs. Susy Levy, proud Hatzolah wife of longtime Queens Hatzolah member Mr. Gideon Levy. Mrs. Levy shared that she is so proud of what her husband has been selflessly doing with such passion and devotion for the past 28 years as a Queens Hatzolah volunteer. “My husband going on Hatzolah calls at all hours of the day and night has been a tool we have been using to engrain in our children the importance of helping others.” Mrs. Levy told me that her son recently registered for an EMT course so he can follow in his father’s footsteps – a day he has been waiting for since he could say the word “Hatzolah.”
Mrs. Levy ended with telling me that her personal perspective as the wife of a Queens Hatzolah volunteer is that they learn to sacrifice and, at times, live outside of their comfort zone. In 2001, her husband was one of the many Hatzolah members who ran towards the Twin Towers when most people were running away. He bravely went to help the victims of the horrific terror attack. He put his own safety on the line but trusted his training. In Mrs. Levy’s words, “Having a family member in Queens Hatzolah is a great undertaking with immeasurable reward.”
I ended my interview with Mrs. Charlene Aminoff, a well-known inspirational speaker and wife of Mr. Jonathan Aminoff, yet another devoted Queens Hatzolah member for nearly three decades. “My husband’s dedication to Queens Hatzolah has been a z’chus for our entire family.” She continued to say: “My children and the children of every Hatzolah member are growing up with a role model within the confinement of their own homes.” She quoted the famous Talmudic teaching in tractate Sanhedrin, “Whoever saves a life of Israel, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Supporting such a cause is in essence supporting ourselves.
Mrs. Aminoff shared the incredible story of her daughter Gali, who nearly drowned one summer – an inspiring story of seeing the hand of Hashem right before their eyes. She believes the miracle her family experienced was in the merit of her husband being a member of Queens Hatzolah. At the time, Mr. Aminoff was a member for nearly 20 years going on many Hatzolah calls. She feels that “Hashem gave us a paid-in-full stamp by miraculously bringing our Gali back to life.”
She concluded with a story that she will always remember. When she was in labor with one of her children, the Hatzolah radio alerted for a woman in labor in the area. “I told him, don’t worry about me; go! I am here in the hospital. I will be okay. In the back of my mind, I thought, may this great mitzvah be a merit for me to experience an easy labor. There is no mitzvah that you do for Hatzalah that does not come back to you.” With the grace of Hashem, that was the easiest labor she had. During the rest of her pregnancies, she prayed that her husband would get a Hatzalah call while she was in labor so that she would have an easy labor again.
In closing, aside from the many other lessons we can derive from our hidden heroes, we can learn that one who supports Hatzalah can see the fruits of their labor in this world as well.
By Susie Garber