Jonny and Gina Kirsch, residents of Beit Shemesh and safety enthusiasts, have done it again! They recently inaugurated the Janet and Stephen Kirsch Safety Center, the first of its kind in Israel, and possibly in the world. This mobile center, operated by “Safety Israel,” contains home and garden settings that are erected and dismantled as they move from one school and neighborhood to the next throughout the country, teaching children basic rules of safety. The center aims to teach children to navigate everyday hazards in familiar and comfortable places by simulating real dangers in a safe learning environment.
Most people consider their homes to be the safest place for their children. But the tragic reality is that every three minutes, a child in Israel is sent to the Emergency Room for an accident that happens at home or close to home that could have been prevented. Safety Israel’s vision is to create a culture of safety in Israel. Its programs are meant to empower children with an awareness of their environment and provide them with the tools needed to avoid dangers and prevent accidents. They also train children in how to act in the case of an emergency.
I went to visit the center at its first location here in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Upon entering the center, I was immediately struck by the bright colors and cheerful décor, so inviting for young children and adults alike. Gina warmly welcomed me and gave me a private tour of the organization’s latest project.
The center displays realistic, life-sized models of a kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and bathroom, similar to Ikea style but emphasizing the dangerous objects one would typically find in those rooms. A Shabbos urn and electric kettle sit precariously close to the edge of the kitchen counter. A towel lies abandoned on top of a toaster. Matches are within easy reach. Medication sits on the table next to the cereal and coffee. Cleaning agents are stored under the sink. Serving bowls on the coffee table in the living room are filled with small foods that children can easily choke on. The cords used to bind the curtains hang loosely in the living room, and can similarly present a strangulation hazard. The bathtub is filled with water, causing a drowning hazard.
There is a plan to put in a shaking room earthquake simulator and a smoke house-fire simulator to prepare children for these scenarios, G-d forbid.
Children are taught basic first aid in the medical room with the props of fake blood, bandages, and a teddy bear. In the “call for help” room, the children learn whom to call in case of emergencies and practice making those calls on the phone.
In the multiple garden scenes, insects, snakes, lit barbecues, and gardening tools can be found peppered throughout grassy areas, fake fish ponds, and waterfalls. The children are also introduced to concepts of environmental weather hazards as well as “Stranger Danger,” to be wary of strangers who present as friendly but who can possibly hurt them.
While I spoke with Gina, a class of children came in to visit the center. The class was split into small groups, and an instructor was assigned to accompany each group and engage them in an interactive presentation at each station. The catchy jingle and its memorable safety messages signaled when it was time to move stations. I noticed that the children were totally engrossed and enthusiastically participated in each and every one.
Truth be told, this is not the Kirsch’s first safety initiative in the community. It all began twenty-five years ago when Gina’s parents, Yosef and Devora Mainzer, came on aliyah from England at the respective ages of eighty and seventy. Yosef came with a known heart condition, and at the time, there was only one ambulance in all of Beit Shemesh. It would typically take forty-five minutes for the ambulance to respond to a call. Unfortunately, Yosef passed away one year later. Following his death, Doris decided to raise money to equip first responders in his memory… and so Keren Yosef was born.
The organization donated advanced life-saving equipment to the local Magen David Adom and Hatzala organizations in Beit Shemesh, and within a few months, a change could be seen. Average emergency response time decreased to four minutes. Keren Yosef extended its help to first responders and began to donate medical equipment to yishuvim throughout the country. Keren Yosef defibrillators have been donated to shuls, communal buildings, and tourist sites including the Kotel, M’earat HaMachpela, the Churva, and Kever Rashbi.
Hundreds of members of the public have been trained in Keren Yosef’s CPR and first aid courses. They run bicycle and road safety projects, the annual Purim anti-fire-cracker campaign, and “fire prevention week” during the run-up to Lag BaOmer.
Gina recounts how she gets phone calls and messages from all over the country telling her of lives saved thanks to Keren Yosef programs, training, and equipment. She also personally knows several residents of the Beit Shemesh/Ramat Beit Shemesh community whose lives were saved due to the interventions of Keren Yosef.
A class in the school my son attended raised money for one of Keren Yosef’s initiatives by studying Mishnayos by heart. Yonatan*, a fourth grader, bought a smoke detector at the thank you ceremony that was held at the school. Two weeks later, Yonatan’s mother Sara* and her new baby were home resting. At first, when the smoke detector went off, waking her up, Sara assumed it was a malfunction. But when it sounded a second time, she went to check and found that her kitchen was on fire.
A local mother of small children felt she had no time to take a CPR course. Eventually, she was persuaded to take the course. Shortly afterward, her son Ariel* choked on a marshmallow. Baruch Hashem, she knew exactly what to do.
Liat* and her friends were at the bus stop outside their school. Until just a week earlier they would stand in the road waiting for the bus, but now things were different. The girls had attended a Keren-Yosef-sponsored safety event and after hearing all about road safety strategies, signed up on a “Chatima LeChaim” charter, which included an undertaking to stay on the pavement at bus stops. So that day, as the bus approached, they all stood their ground, avoiding the temptation to push forward and spill onto the road. The bus reached the stop and the driver applied his brakes, but instead of stopping, the bus skidded and lurched forward to where, just a week before, Liat and her friends had been standing.
Gina talks about the achievements of Keren Yosef and the new mobile safety center almost from the perspective of an enthusiastic observer from the sidelines. She continuously thanks Hashem and praises the work of Keren Yosef’s dedicated staff and volunteers. But the sky’s the limit for the Kirsches, as they’re always looking to do more. They are hoping to one day open a campus-style permanent safety center offering more programs such as those for youth and parents on the dangers of drugs, smoking, alcohol, and the internet, as well as classes in CPR and self-defense.
The Mishna teaches us that when someone saves just one life, it’s as if he saved the entire world. The Kirsches have already saved many worlds. And with their commitment to their mission and with the help of Hashem, they will make each and every one of those worlds a safer place in which to live.