Summer is heating up and so is vacation season. Time to pack the car and head to the beach or the mountains. Most likely you’ll have a pleasant journey, perhaps marred by a few pockets of slow traffic or rain. But if you’re traveling in New Jersey, and have a medical emergency, Hatzalah Statewide (http://hatzalahstatewide.org) can help. Save the hotline number in your contacts: 201-613-1111.
Hatzalah is a Jewish network of volunteer EMTs, paramedics and physicians who provide emergency medical services throughout the world. But the service is limited to helping people when they are in participating communities. Dr. Nathan Zemel, founder of Hatzalah of Newark, became concerned that Hatzalah only covered a small portion of New Jersey, and there could be 30 miles between towns with a Hatzalah presence. He came up with a solution: Hatzalah Statewide, for medical emergencies in areas without a local Hatzalah.
The Hatzalah Statewide system consists of over 200 volunteers who agree to be on call, all of whom are members of other Hatzalah chapters in New Jersey, Monsey and New York City. Members include rabbis, teachers, doctors, business owners, real estate agents and sales people—anyone who travels regularly throughout the state. Since all volunteers are Hatzalah members in their own communities, they have been properly trained and vetted.
A person in distress should call 911 first and then either call their local Hatzalah, who will contact the Statewide dispatcher, or call the hotline directly. When a call comes into the dispatcher, he’ll put out an alert. If there is a Hatzalah Statewide volunteer nearby, he will take the call and respond to the emergency. Hatzalah Statewide volunteers are first responders but do not transport: They are equipped with defibrillators, oxygen and all the equipment necessary to stabilize a person and provide a measure of comfort until a 911 responder arrives and transports the person to a hospital when necessary.
Zemel implemented the system by meeting with other Hatzalah agencies and discussing ideas about how to assist travelers throughout the state, without stepping on anyone’s toes. “We all want to work together to help Klal Yisroel,” he said.
Zemel brought in several “outstanding, dedicated individuals” to create Hatzalah Statewide: There are rabbinical and executive boards, dispatch and operations coordinators. Moshe Spillman, who passed away in 2018, was the “driving force” behind the development of the communication system. Zemel also recruited Simcha Shain of Lakewood, whom he credits with creating a dedicated paramedic unit within Lakewood Hatzalah—the first and only one of its kind—to be the operations coordinator. Through trial and error, they designed a system that links all 200 Hatzalah Statewide members together with a radio system and an app that everyone can download on their phones. “It doesn’t matter where someone is,” said Shain, “the cellular and WiFi systems work everywhere. Over Pesach there were 30 calls and our 24/7/365 volunteers were able to respond.” Shain is working with other Hatzalah groups to form networks capable of helping travelers wherever they are, including one from New York to Montreal and Toronto.
Shain has been involved with Hatzalah since childhood; his father was a founding member of Lakewood Hatzalah. From the time he was 9 years old, Simcha knew he wanted to be a Hatzalah member when he grew up. His day job relates to his volunteer work: He is a paramedic who runs an air ambulance service that transports patients all over the world. Of course, if a call comes in and he is a thousand miles away, his dispatchers will find someone closer.
Dr. Zemel came to Hatzalah from personal experience. His mother was ill for several years. Although he cared for her, there were times he was unavailable and Hatzalah provided help. “From that moment on, I was a believer in Hatzalah,” he said.
Hatzalah Statewide is privately funded; there are no paid members and no costs for the people they serve. “Our goal is to be a link to anyone traveling anywhere who needs help,” said Zemel. “Call 911 first; then call us.”
For more information, please visit www.hatzalahstatewide.org.
By Bracha Schwartz