The already strong bonds between the Kew Gardens Hills Jewish community and Israel were strengthened on the evening of Sunday, September 19, at a special ceremony commemorating the lives of Sydell (Shaindy) and Israel (Zippy) Sipzner. The Sipzners, residents of Kew Gardens Hills for nearly 40 years and members of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, passed away within months of each other in 2019. The evening took place in the United Hatzalah of Israel Center on Yermiyahu Street, Yerushalayim. It featured the dedication of a fully equipped ambucycle in the Sipzners’ names by their children Howie and Reize Sipzner, both of whom grew up in Queens and now divide their time between Israel, Florida, and Lido Beach.
The attendees, who included family members and friends of the Sipzners, were introduced to the workings of United Hatzalah. The mission of this organization is to provide a rapid response to medical emergencies, thereby saving lives that would otherwise be lost. In most of America and Israel, the average response time of an ambulance to an emergency call often exceeds ten minutes. In the case of cardiac arrest or stroke, the balance between life and death depends on seconds, and irreversible organ damage occurs after three to five minutes.
Yael Perlman, our United Hatzalah representative, explained how this organization cuts down the response time to three minutes or less with an ultimate goal of 90 seconds. This goal is achieved by using state-of-the art GPS technology to communicate with victims, locate them, identify nearby EMTs who have been extensively trained by United Hatzalah, and who respond immediately on foot, by bicycle or by ambucycle. The ambucycle concept, invented by United Hatzalah Founder Eli Beer, is iconic of the organization, and is especially suited for aiding victims in crowded, traffic-clogged cities like Yerushalayim. Miss Perlman shared impressive statistics with the attendees, including the fact that United Hatzalah is staffed by 6,000 volunteers, who handle 1,800 phone requests every day and responds with EMTs who use 1,000 ambucycles to reach a three-minute average response time. Today the organization even has ambuboats, ATVs, and drones that they use to respond to medical emergencies in remote places in Israel.
The factual presentation was followed by a memorial dedication by Howie Sipzner. He described his parents as caring, concerned, and committed Modern Orthodox Jews who spared no effort or resource to give to their family and their community. Aunt Shaindy and Uncle Zippy were especially beloved because they were always there to help others celebrate a simchah or to provide support and consolation in times of need. They were generous and charitable, and cheered their family and friends with stories and jokes. He described them as the perfect role models for their sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and with some emotion articulated the void that was felt by the entire family on their passing. He and Reize, who offered her own moving description of her in-laws later in the evening, felt that the dedication of the Israel and Sydell Ambucycle was especially appropriate and would provide a legacy of helping save lives for years to come.
A surprise appearance by Eli Beer, the founder of Hatzalah, capped the evening. Eli who rushed back from Tel Aviv to participate in the dedication, held the audience spellbound with his description of his battle with COVID-19 and his brush with the Mal’ach HaMaves when he had to be put on a ventilator with a five-percent chance of survival. He expressed the depression he experienced when he finally awoke from an induced coma, five weeks later, to realize he had missed Pesach with his family. Wracked by guilt, weak, and disoriented, he felt he couldn’t return to Israel.
He then shared the following story. When the United Hatzalah family learned of his medical condition, the volunteers committed to do one extra act of chesed every day in addition to their normal emergency response activities. Mr. Beer learned that, on Erev Pesach, as he lay in an induced coma, breathing with the aid of the respirator, the United Hatzalah call center was contacted by a 90-year-old woman who was distraught because she didn’t have candles to light for Yom Tov. The word was circulated, and the nearest respondent was a Muslim EMT named Ibrahim who lived in Yaffo. Ibrahim immediately jumped on his ambucycle, sped to a store, bought a box of candles and a bouquet of flowers and in no time arrived at the woman’s apartment in Bat Yam. When she opened the door and saw Ibraham with his helmet and the candles and flowers, she broke down crying and shouted, “You saved my life, you saved my life.” After calming her, Ibrahim gently asked if he could watch her light, and he was startled to see her light 15 candles. When he asked her why she lit 15 candles, she told him that it was a long story, again thanked him for “saving my life and indicated that with Passover starting, she didn’t want to keep him. Ibrahim indicated he was a Muslim and that he didn’t observe Passover and was very curious about the 15 candles. She then showed him a number tattooed on her forearm and recounted that from the time she was a child she had always lit candles with her mother. Even after being deported to the concentration camp and separated from her mom, she found a way to light, and after being liberated and learning that all of her family had perished, she religiously lit 15 candles every week in their memory.
She then cried, “But this week I found myself without candles, and I knew it meant I would die if I couldn’t light.” She ended by looking him in the eye and telling a now-tearful Ibrahim, “So you really did save my life.” When he heard this story, Eli Beer himself was moved to tears and realized he had to go back to his family. He still wanted to make up for missing Passover. Therefore, to much fanfare in the Israeli press, he celebrated Pesach Sheini, resulting in two million additional Israelis learning about this mitzvah.
After Mr. Beer’s words, the friends and family of Howie and Reize Sipzner were treated to a ribbon-cutting along with their son Benny who is now serving in the IDF. A kinyan of the ambucycle was made passing its ownership to its permanent driver Nisan, a kollel student who lives in the Jewish Quarter (HaRova HaYehudi) of the Old City. Thanks to the life lessons taught by Zippy and Shaindy Sipzner to their children, the Rova will now be a safer place for its residents, and I am sure my aunt and uncle’s neshamos are having an aliyah.
Dr. Fred Naider is a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the City University of New York, who recently made aliyah with his wife Anita. Israel and Sydell Sipzner were the author’s uncle and aunt.
By Dr. Fred Naider