Race to save lives

Race to save lives

Undergrads raise funds for emergency response teams in Israel

Surrounding an ambucycle are, from left, Mark Gerson; Alex Goldberg; Aharon Watson; marketing professional Ben Pianko; United Hatzalah’s founder and president, Eli Beer, and Rabbi Erica Gerson, a Friends of United Hatzalah committee member.

Emergency response time is going to get even faster in Israel, thanks to a major infusion of funds raised through the efforts of Yeshiva University undergraduates Aharon Watson, 21, a Teaneck native, and Alex Goldberg, 21, from Riverdale, N.Y.

Their recent Race to Save Lives, a 5K run, resulted in $1 million for United Hatzalah of Israel, an independent, nonprofit, volunteer emergency medical services organization with 2,000 volunteer medics throughout Israel. The neighborhood-based volunteers aim to arrive on the scene within three minutes, providing care until teams from the Magen David Adom national emergency response organization can get there with an ambulance.

According to Felicia Saltzbart, executive director of the California-based Friends of United Hatzalah, the money raised by Race to Save Lives will go toward the purchase of ambucycles – medically equipped motorcycles that allow local medics to get to emergency incidents quickly.

“United Hatzalah needs to expand the existing fleet of 250 to at least 500 in order to meet the demands in heavily populated and dense cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,” she said. “These lifesaving vehicles, including all required medical equipment, maintenance, and insurance, cost $26,000 each.”

Saltzbart said that the response time of an ambucycle medic averages 90 seconds, and each vehicle in United Hatzalah’s fleet responds to approximately 40 calls per month. About one quarter of these are deemed critical lifesaving situations.

The first Race to Save Lives was in 2011 in Jerusalem, when Watson and Goldberg were in a gap-year yeshiva program.

“Alex and I decided to do a lot more than just learn in that year,” said Watson, whose family made aliyah in 2009. “We wanted to raise money and awareness for a charity group. We visited a few organizations and were blown away by what United Hatzalah does on a day-to-day basis and what they will do in the future. We fell in love with them.”

The friends coordinated a 5K fundraising run for the organization at Sacher Park in Jerusalem. It netted more than $250,000 through 500 runners, recruited from most of the men’s and women’s gap-year programs in Israel. “It was a huge success because we came up with the idea of having matching funds from private donors. It was not a classic youth charity event, where people give $18,” Watson said.

The following year, with the two founders in college in New York, three students in Israel managed the event with their guidance, and raised $300,000 through 600 runners.

“Since it was such a success again, we decided to repeat it a third time. And why not do it in New York?” Watson said.

They recruited NYU student Deanna Meyer of West Hempstead, N.Y., to help, along with many volunteers from metropolitan-area Jewish communities. Some 400 participants raised $1 million in a June 9 run on Roosevelt Island. Corporate sponsors, including Abeles & Heymann, Red Bull, NBA Tutoring, and Weatherproof Garment Company, provided refreshments and T-shirts.

Watson, a finance major, said that the return on investment is high because United Hatzalah has a $3.5 million annual budget and responds to about 200,000 calls every year. That works out to about $17 per incident.

One runner, Friends of United Hatzalah committee member Bert Cohen, who lives in the Virgin Islands, donated to a new United Hatzalah program called Ten Kavod, or Give Honor. Ten Kavod addresses the special medical needs of the at-risk elderly, and has a particular focus on Holocaust survivors. Volunteer medics go to people’s homes to monitor blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and medication compliance four times a month. “This has saved lives,” Watson said.

“In the future, we hope to expand the Race to Save Lives not only by raising more money but also by expanding to South Africa, where we have a lot of demand,” he added.

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