When several teenagers felt faint in the summer heat at a festive event for 2,500 campers and staffers on Israel summer programs sponsored by NCSY, the youth movement of the Orthodox Union, 22 of their fellow campers rushed to their rescue.
These campers were wearing the orange vests of United Hatzalah, a nationwide voluntary first-response network.
They were the first participants in a new NCSY camp option dubbed Rescue Israel, which gave them the opportunity to train as certified medical responders and take part in activities with UH volunteers over the course of the summer.
“The idea is to see Israel through the eyes of those who keep it safe,” the camp director, Moshe Zharnest of Fair Lawn said. Mr. Zharnest, 31, has been volunteering with the Fair Lawn Volunteer Ambulance Corps since he was 16 and now is on its board of trustees. Last year, friends in the NCSY administration asked him if he would be interested in leading the first cohort of Rescue Israel. After discussing the offer with his wife, Orit, and his employer, Centers Health Care, he accepted the challenge.
The four-week camp began with 60 hours of training — in English — at UH headquarters in Jerusalem, followed by a mass casualty drill to test the students’ newly learned emergency medical services skills. Other NCSY campers played the injured victims in the guided simulation.
“They had to stay focused and remember their training, and they did a great job,” Mr. Zharnest said.
Working in pairs, Rescue Israel campers rode three six-hour shifts on UH ambulances, along with experienced drivers and emergency medical technicians. They also got a field demonstration by the UH search-and-rescue unit — complete with rappelling and ATVing — and went out on Lake Kinneret — the Sea of Galilee — in a UH patrol boat, ready to assist swimmers in distress.
Mr. Zharnest could see that the 22 participants, who came from across North America and included yeshiva and pluralistic Jewish day school students as well as public-school students, “caught the EMS bug,” as he put it, and are eager to continue using their lifesaving skills at home.
Talking to the Jewish Standard from the Ein Gedi Youth Hostel near the Dead Sea, four Rescue Israel participants from our readership area sounded enthused about their summer experience.
“When I get back I want to join the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps,” Eliana Oshinsky of Teaneck, 16, a student at Ma’ayanot, said. “I’m very interested in going into the medical field, and I’m a certified lifeguard, so the CPR and first aid part of it really intrigued me. It was a great experience.”
Avigail Schiff of Teaneck, 17, a student at the Bruriah High School for Girls, also hopes to go into a medical career. She said that she got a lot out of the program. “I’ve grown emotionally and spiritually, and gained leadership qualities and skills in working in a team,” she said. “United Hatzalah made it clear to us that we’re now part of the family and if we come back for a gap year we can finish the coursework to become full EMTs.”
For Shaya Murad of Bergenfield, 17, the highlight of the program was tubing, snorkeling, and scuba diving in Eilat. The Kushner student said he found out about the camp from his father, who was a paramedic in Queens for 20 years.
“He wanted to introduce me to this type of career, and this was a good start,” Shaya said. “I loved being on the ambulance. The camp was a great experience. The holiness, the touring, everything.… there are no words to describe it.”
Although all four are members of NCSY, only Sam Kolber of Spring Valley, 17, came to the program with EMS experience. “I’m involved in the youth corps of our local ambulance corps, Spring Hill,” he said. “One of the advisers on this program is in the adult corps of Spring Hill, and she was the one who told me about it.”
The Yeshiva University High School for Boys student said that on one of his UH shifts he helped to splint the broken arm of a five-year-old boy before the ambulance took the child to the hospital. The American teenagers did not have to be fluent in Hebrew to help out because the EMTs in charge were bilingual.
“The EMTs on the crew were communicating directly with the patients and told us what to do,” Sam said, adding that he had great admiration for UH’s goal of responding to every call within a minute and 30 seconds.
Mr. Zharnest, who was accompanied by his wife and their three young children for the first half of the monthlong program, said the Rescue Israel itinerary was planned to combine EMS and recreational activities. “Next year we’ll probably add even more United Hatzalah flavor to the program,” he said.
“It was a new way to instill a love of Israel. These kids really feel part of the United Hatzalah family and I hope they’ll volunteer when they come back here for their gap year after high school,” he said.