By Carl Zebrowski
October 7 was a devastating day in Israel. But there was hope. Emergency medical services, tested beyond their limit, answered hundreds and hundreds of urgent calls for help. The first responders of United Hatzalah, volunteers who even pay to gas up their own emergency vehicles, rushed everywhere, rescuing and evacuating Hamas’s victims.
“The reason we were successful was because we were prepared,” Eli Beer, founder of United Hatzalah, told an audience in the JCC Kline Auditorium on December 17. That preparation, he said, was thanks to the ongoing efforts of nonprofit organizations that raise funds regularly for it—both before and after tragedy strikes. That includes the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, which has donated specially equipped motorcycle ambulances known as ambucycles to United Hatzalah and sponsored Beer’s live appearance via Zoom.
U.S. Rep. Susan Wild was in the audience to hear Beer. “I am here today because I think that it's important for every elected official and, frankly, every member of the public to be present every time the stories of October 7 are told,” she said. “If we don’t all bear witness to October 7, everyone is going to forget what started this war and why this war started and the horrors of October 7. People already don’t remember what happened.”
This day’s stories of October 7 began with the United Hatzalah command center in Jerusalem waking Beer up at 6:45 a.m. The center was getting call after call reporting direct missile hits. “Then we were taking phone calls from mothers and fathers begging us to come save their children because terrorists were knocking down their doors,” he said. “We’d actually hear the guns shooting.”
Many first-response volunteers were off work that day for the holiday of Simchat Torah. The command center scrambled to get people in. It was chaos. Orders to responders were simple and direct, Beer said: “Just grab and ambulance and go down south.”
The magnitude of the attack was much bigger than anyone thought at the time. “We’re talking 2,900 terrorists,” he said. Two United Hatzalah responders were ambushed and killed as they helped treat wounded Israelis.
Led by volunteers or not, widespread, massive responses like this cost a lot of money. “This is a situation that affects us all,” said Israel Zighelboim, cochair along with his wife, Valeska, of the Federation’s Israel Emergency Fund, which counts United Hatzalah among its beneficiaries. “If this doesn’t shed light on that, nothing will.”
He pointed out that most of the people in the audience understood the devastation that happened and the needs it created among the Israeli population. The attendees were already donating to the emergency fund. But there were still things they could do to extend their efforts to help with the relocation of Israelis in areas attacked, food and clothing, rebuilding of homes and infrastructure, and medical and mental health needs.
“Talk to five of your friends who you know care,” Zighelboim said. “Please encourage them to really give generously and talk to others as well. Our financial support is more important than ever.”
Beer told the audience that the first volunteer ambushed by Hamas was an Arab. He was a paramedic on standby to provide medical care as needed at the music festival Hamas raided along the border. He ran over to an injured girl to stop her bleeding. He told her not to worry. “I’m not leaving you alone,” Beer said he told the girl. Terrorists found him a few minutes later and brutally killed him.
The second volunteer killed had Israeli Defense Forces combat training. He was armed when he arrived on the scene and saw attackers. He started shooting. “He killed many of the terrorists who were coming toward him,” Beer said, “but unfortunately he was killed.”
Beer then recounted the widespread story of the twin babies found alone but alive inside a home. “We were trying to figure out what to do with them,” he said. “They were crying the whole day.”
The backstory became clear in time. “The terrorists killed the parents and left the babies alive,” Beer said. “They weren’t helping them. They kept them as live bait. The terrorists were waiting outside, and they killed 15 people trying to get to the babies.” But the babies did survive. “That was one of the miracles of that day.”
By the end of it all, United Hatzalah had treated over 2,000 people. That was in addition to the usual calls, heart attacks and strokes and other everyday emergencies that don’t just go away. “If someone is choking,” Beer said, “we can’t say, ‘Sorry, we have a war, so we can’t help you.”
Beer ended his talk by emphasizing that Israel and Jewish people around the world need to stay strong together. “We can’t save lives if we’re not united,” he said. “Look at you, getting together today on a Sunday morning to support Israel.” This sort of thing needs to continue, including the fundraising that makes it possible for organizations like United Hatzalah to provide its services and that aids Israelis affected by the war in making it through their current difficulties and getting back on their feet when the time comes.
Learn more about the Federation’s Israel Emergency Fund and make a donation at www.jewishlehighvalley.org/swords-of-iron. One hundred percent of donations goes directly to Israel.