When the siren sounds

Raphael Poch and his ambucycle

I am a religious Orthodox Jew. I live in Efrat, but I grew up in Toronto, where I went to religious schools. I always had a Zionist streak — everyone knew, even back in high school, that I would be the first one from my grade to make aliyah. And I did. I came to Israel for my gap year and never looked back. 

As I settled into life in Israel, I started asking myself how I could help in the project of building up the Jewish state and its people, without having to go settle on a hilltop in southern Judea and raise chickens in my backyard? (No joke, I have a friend who does exactly that and is very satisfied with it. But that’s not for me.) 

Everyone who has made aliyah and managed to stay in Israel for the long haul finds their own answer to these questions. 

For me, it came when I joined United Hatzalah and began seeing a part of Israel that isn’t talked about anywhere. The human side — the side where bad things happen and good people, regardless of religion, nationality, gender, or background, drop everything to help. 

In Israel, just as in any other country, people get hurt, injured, fall off buildings, get into fights, get trapped in fires, get into car accidents, get sick, get very sick, and need help. Yes, there are the occasional terror attacks and acts of violence, but the majority of medical emergencies happen in Israel the same way they do everywhere else. Someone has to be there to help when they do. 

I remember the time when a groom sliced his foot wide open while trying to shatter the glass under his wedding huppah. Or the time I treated a man who suffered from a human bite on his head that he received in a bar fight. I remember the time I helped deliver my neighbour’s baby, and when I responded to the terror attack that killed another neighbour. I also remember when I performed CPR on an older Palestinian man who we were unable to save and the look of utter loss on his son’s face when the man’s death was pronounced. I remember how I gave the son a hug and told him that we had done everything we could to save his father and that I shared in his anguish. I also remember the thanks I got from him. 

Being a United Hatzalah volunteer has revolutionized my life personally and professionally. When we go on family outings, my medical kit and defibrillator take up a large portion of the trunk, and they need to be placed in a specific way to make sure they are accessible even when we have all of our luggage and food packed in there. I sleep with my phone on and leave it in a different room so that I’ll awake to the sound of the emergency notification (but my wife and children, especially the toddler, hopefully won’t). I keep a pair of shoes by the door facing outward that I can slip on easily should I need to run out in the middle of the night. My belt is heavier, weighed down by an extra phone, which serves as my emergency communications device, and an Epipen (even though I am only allergic to pollen). 

Living this lifestyle keeps me active and alert far more than I used to be. It is also incredibly fulfilling, a sentiment echoed whenever I chat with fellow volunteers about the different emergencies we’ve responded to. It could be a religious Muslim woman, the first in her city to drive an ambucycle, or a Hasidic man who pulled an 80-year-old drowning victim out of a mikveh – the same words always come to mind: “There is no feeling like saving the life of another person.”

When I ask myself every night before I go to bed how have I made Israel a better place, I am happy that on most days I have an answer. Even if I didn’t save a life that day. Even if the only medical emergency I attended was to help an old man who had fallen down and needed help getting back up, or assisting an old woman with a nosebleed, I know that I am bringing someone else comfort — someone who, like me, has chosen to live in Israel and is trying to make this country their home as well. 

Raphael Poch is a volunteer and the international media spokesperson for United Hatzalah of Israel.