Witnesses to tragedy


Emergency care doctors who have experienced some of the greatest tragedies in American history, from 9/11 to the Sandy Hook shooting, gathered in Los Angeles on Oct. 28 for a symposium organized by the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem (ACSZ). 

The event also featured an Israeli emergency room doctor discussing what it’s like to work in a country where suicide bombers strike regularly and emergency rooms fill up quickly with victims.

The event, titled “Preparedness for Mass Casualty Events,”  took place at the Luxe Hotel on Sunset Boulevard and commemorated the 10th yahrzeit of Dr. David Applebaum, an American-born physician living in Israel who died in a suicide bomb attack on Sept. 9, 2003, in Jerusalem. Applebaum was the much-beloved former director of the emergency room at Shaare Zedek, and on the night of his death, he was out for a walk with his daughter, who also died in this attack, which took place on the eve of her wedding day. 

Applebaum himself often treated victims of terrorism and was often among first responders on the scene of bombings.

The event also featured Applebaum’s son, Yitzchak Applebaum.

Headquartered in New York, ACSZ supports the 1,000-bed Shaare Zedek Medical Center in central Jerusalem, and the L.A. event aimed to highlight the hospital’s achievements, which include operating Jerusalem’s leading maternity hospital and educating the uninformed about emergency medicine. And it also showed that even doctors, known for their cool-headedness in the face of death, aren’t removed from the human element when tragedy strikes. 

Emotions ran high when Dr. William Begg, EMS director of Danbury Hospital in Connecticut and one of the evening’s presenters, described in detail the horror he felt when responding to the scene of the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, an incident that took the lives of 20 young schoolchildren and six adults. 

Also present was Dr. Ofer Merin, deputy director general of Shaare Zedek, who led an Israel Defense Forces field hospital immediately following the earthquake in Haiti and more recently has been helping to oversee a full field hospital on the Israel-Syrian border helping Syrians injured in their country’s war; Dr. Richard Wolfe, who works in the department of emergency medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, instrumental in caring for the wounded after the Boston Marathon bombing; and Dr. Joel Geiderman, professor of emergency medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. 

Dr. Peter Rosen, a senior lecturer in medicine at Harvard Medical School who is known as the “father of emergency medicine,” moderated a panel made up of the doctors, and Shlomo Melmed, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s dean of medical faculty, served as the master of ceremonies. Israeli consul general in Los Angeles David Siegel also spoke.

The event drew more than 200 attendees, including Applebaum’s widow, Debra, and actor Jon Voight, who opted at the last minute to deliver brief remarks expressing his longtime support for Israel. Voight’s decision met with the approval of Paul Jeser, regional director of ACSZ, who gladly obliged the Hollywood star’s request. 

Lights out (and sirens off) for Hatzolah?


In March 2011, Hatzolah of Los Angeles, the Orthodox Jewish volunteer emergency response corps, celebrated its 10th anniversary in this city. The celebratory dinner offered a chance for the group to thank some of its supporters, and the hundreds who attended — including elected officials and high-ranking civil servants — heard stories of Hatzolah volunteers saving lives, in part by arriving on the scenes of emergencies within minutes of being called. 

The principal honoree that evening was California Highway Patrol (CHP) Commissioner Joseph A. Farrow. The state agency had given Hatzolah a permit to operate the lights and sirens on its vehicles when responding to emergencies, a practice known as responding “Code 3.”

Left unmentioned that evening was the fact that Hatzolah lacked any authorization from the City of Los Angeles to operate its ambulances, or to respond Code 3. Three times in the three years leading up to that public event, the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) had informed the group, in writing, that its basic model violated two separate sections of L.A. County law. 

Absent those permits, Hatzolah never stopped working, responding to emergency calls and, in some cases, acting as liaison between members of the Jewish community and mostly non-Jewish first responders. Last summer, the group helped rescue two individuals — in one instance working with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies to find a person just minutes before what would have almost certainly been a successful suicide. 

But starting in 2011, and for more than a full year, all of Hatzolah’s vehicles were off the streets; two years after the celebration, its three fully equipped ambulances still sit idle. 

Its approximately 80 EMTs still respond to emergencies — mostly using their own, private cars and obeying traffic signals even when en route to an emergency, but occasionally using one of Hatzalah’s four SUVs with the lights and sirens running. But no matter what they’re driving, the EMTs are operating in a manner whose legality is uncertain. 

“The current status is ‘hot potato,’ ” Hatzolah spokesman David Bacall said of his organization. “That’s the best way that I can describe it.”

Hatzolah, Hebrew for rescue, got its start in Los Angeles in 2001. Its volunteers operate in three neighborhoods of the city with dense populations of Orthodox Jews, although most Angelenos are hardly aware of the group’s existence, a sharp contrast to chapters in and around New York City that are far better established. 

On the East Coast, the presence of volunteer ambulance corps is quite common, particularly in smaller towns. Hatzolah’s first chapter was established in Brooklyn in the 1970s; Bacall, a financial adviser originally from New Jersey, had served as a volunteer with a number of different 911-related volunteer corps before moving to Los Angeles with his family four years ago. 

In California, however, EMS services are provided primarily by local professionalized fire departments, which maintain exclusive claims to being the sole 911 responders in their particular regions. In the city of Los Angeles, the exclusive responder to emergency calls is the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD); in unincorporated sections of Los Angeles County, the county fire department has that privilege. 

Under current county law, Hatzolah is prohibited from responding to emergencies, even when the calls come in over the group’s dedicated hotline. In its letters, the DOT has informed the group that to obtain a permit, Hatzolah would first have to agree not to respond to emergencies. 

Furthermore, because Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency (LACEMS) also determines the sums charged by all private ambulances in the county, Hatzolah would be prohibited from providing transport to hospitals free of charge.

In both respects, Hatzolah could be seen as a threat to the LAFD — threatening the agency’s claim to exclusivity in the city and chipping away at the department’s main source of revenue, the fees paid by patients and their insurance companies for transport.

In fact, Hatzolah responds to about 500 emergencies each year, and Bacall argues that its relative size wouldn’t adversely affect the LAFD’s bottom line in a significant way. In general, Bacall said, Hatzolah’s aim is to support and supplement the work of the LAFD. 

“We’ve trained with them in the past,” Bacall said. “The boots on the ground, we have a really good rapport with 80 or 90 percent of them.”

The representatives from United Firefighters of Los Angeles City (UFLAC) are a different story, however. 

About five years ago, Hatzolah attempted to get a bill passed in Sacramento that would have specifically allowed the group to respond to emergency calls, using lights and sirens. Then UFLAC President Pat McOsker showed up at the California State Legislature’s transportation committee and argued against the bill, which stopped it in its tracks. 

“It seems like that’s the most complicated issue for them, and there are regulations that get in the way at every level,” said Paul Koretz, who introduced the legislation when he was in the Assembly. 

Koretz, a member of the Los Angeles City Council since 2009, represents some of the parts of the city where Hatzolah operates, and he maintains his strong support for the organization. 

Under current county law, Hatzolah is prohibited from responding to emergencies, even when the calls come in over the group’s dedicated hotline. In its letters, the DOT has informed the group that to obtain a permit, Hatzolah would first have to agree not to respond to emergencies.

In July 2011, Koretz convened a meeting with representatives of the LAFD, DOT, LACEMS and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), hoping that the agencies could find a way to work together to allow Hatzolah to respond to emergencies. 

The meeting was “somewhat tense,” Koretz recalled, and the responses of the different agencies were “bureaucratic.” 

“It sounded like some of their requirements might even conflict with each other,” Koretz said in an interview recently. “I was hoping that some of the people in these positions would try to make it work; but I couldn’t tell whether they were finding a way to make it work or trying to find a way to not make it work.”

Perhaps as a result of the bureaucratic challenges and the union’s opposition, Hatzolah has shown itself willing to act first and ask questions later. 

The group, for instance, received a “cease-and-desist” letter from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s office in 2011, telling the responders to stop driving Code 3. Earlier this year, on the advice of attorneys, Hatzolah wrote back to Beck informing him that they would resume use of lights and sirens on their four SUVs, in certain cases. Hatzolah leaders met with Beck last month to discuss the matter, Bacall said. 

As for Hatzolah’s three ambulances, the group has submitted an application to LACEMS, but has not brought itself into compliance with the relevant laws. Instead, Bacall said, Hatzolah is hoping that some branch of government — perhaps the state legislature — will provide it with an exemption that would allow Hatzolah to continue responding to emergencies on a volunteer basis. 

Los Angeles’ newly elected mayor and city attorney are almost sure to face questions about whether or how Hatzolah will be allowed to operate in L.A. 

A spokesman for Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti’s transition team did not respond by press time to a request for comment. Former Assemblyman Mike Feuer attended the Hatzolah 10th anniversary dinner two years ago, and a spokesman said Feuer would address the matter once he takes office as city attorney. 

“As with a myriad of issues, he will carefully evaluate each side and receive a full briefing from city attorney staff and make a decision,” spokesman Rob Wilcox said. “Right now, he is City Attorney-elect, and he is focused on his transition.”

Egyptian protesters defy curfew, attack police stations


Egyptian protesters defied a nighttime curfew in restive towns along the Suez Canal, attacking police stations and ignoring emergency rule imposed by Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to end days of clashes that have killed at least 52 people.

At least two men died in overnight fighting in the canal city of Port Said in the latest outbreak of violence unleashed last week on the eve of the anniversary of the 2011 revolt that brought down autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Political opponents spurned a call by Morsi for talks on Monday to try to end the violence.

Instead, huge crowds of protesters took to the streets in Cairo, Alexandria and in the three Suez Canal cities – Port Said, Ismailia and Suez – where Morsi imposed emergency rule and a curfew on Sunday.

“Down, down with Mohamed Morsi! Down, down with the state of emergency!” crowds shouted in Ismailia. In Cairo, flames lit up the night sky as protesters set police vehicles ablaze.

In Port Said, men attacked police stations after dark. A security source said some police and troops were injured. A medical source said two men were killed and 12 injured in the clashes, including 10 with gunshot wounds.

“The people want to bring down the regime,” crowds chanted in Alexandria. “Leave means go, and don't say no!”

The demonstrators accuse Mubarak's successor Morsi of betraying the two-year-old revolution. Morsi and his supporters accuse the protesters of seeking to overthrow Egypt's first ever democratically elected leader through undemocratic means.

Since Mubarak was toppled, Islamists have won two referendums, two parliamentary elections and a presidential vote. But that legitimacy has been challenged by an opposition that accuses Morsi of imposing a new form of authoritarianism, and punctuated by repeated waves of unrest that have prevented a return to stability in the most populous Arab state.

WEST UNNERVED

The army has already been deployed in Port Said and Suez and the government agreed a measure to let soldiers arrest civilians as part of the state of emergency.

The instability unnerves Western capitals, where officials worry about the direction of powerful regional player that has a peace deal with Israel. The United States condemned the bloodshed and called on Egyptian leaders to make clear violence is not acceptable. ID:nW1E8MD01C].

In Cairo on Monday, police fired volleys of teargas at stone-throwing protesters near Tahrir Square, cauldron of the anti-Mubarak uprising. Demonstrators stormed into the downtown Semiramis Intercontinental hotel and burned two police vehicles.

A 46-year-old bystander was killed by a gunshot early on Monday, a security source said. It was not clear who fired.

“We want to bring down the regime and end the state that is run by the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Ibrahim Eissa, a 26-year-old cook, protecting his face from teargas wafting towards him.

The political unrest in the Suez Canal cities has been exacerbated by street violence linked to death penalties imposed on soccer supporters convicted of involvement in stadium rioting in Port Said a year ago.

Morsi's invitation to opponents to hold a national dialogue with Islamists on Monday was spurned by the main opposition National Salvation Front coalition, which rejected the offer as “cosmetic and not substantive”.

The only liberal politician who attended, Ayman Nour, told Egypt's al-Hayat channel after the meeting ended late on Monday that attendees agreed to meet again in a week.

He said Morsi had promised to look at changes to the constitution requested by the opposition but did not consider the opposition's request for a government of national unity.

The president announced the emergency measures on television on Sunday: “The protection of the nation is the responsibility of everyone. We will confront any threat to its security with force and firmness within the remit of the law,” Morsi said.

His demeanor in the address infuriated his opponents, not least when he wagged a finger at the camera.

Some activists said Morsi's measures to try to impose control on the turbulent streets could backfire.

“Martial law, state of emergency and army arrests of civilians are not a solution to the crisis,” said Ahmed Maher of the April 6 movement that helped galvanize the 2011 uprising. “All this will do is further provoke the youth. The solution has to be a political one that addresses the roots of the problem.”

Additional reporting by Edmund Blair and Yasmine Saleh in Cairo and Abdelrahman Youssef in Alexandria; Writing by Edmund Blair, Yasmine Saleh and Peter Graff

Israel’s fast, free and innovative way to save lives


Minutes after the words “fainting in Mamilla Mall” appeared on his pager, paramedic Arie Jaffe was defibrillating the heart of a man lying on the floor of a Jerusalem pedestrian mall.

The patient, a man in his early 60s who had been walking through the popular Jerusalem site with his grandson, was in cardiac arrest. A nurse passing by had begun life-saving procedures, but handed off to Jaffe and his partner as soon as the pair of first responders from United Hatzalah of Israel arrived at the scene. They were lucky this time — by the time an ambulance came, the patient had a steady heartbeat and was ready to be transported to a local hospital.

Jaffe is one of a vast corps of Hatzalah’s volunteer first responders throughout Israel —Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, students and professionals. Both men and women, they live and work among the population, so whoever is nearest to the scene of a call can respond. The average response time for the organization for which Jaffe volunteers is about three minutes; Hatzalah is striving for just 90 seconds.

Shortening the time between a call for assistance, the broadcast by a dispatcher and the medics’ arrival can make the difference between life and death, and Israelis’ history of suffering terrorist attacks has brought that home as much as anywhere in the world. So while Israel’s military prowess and contributions to the high-tech world are already well known, Hatzalah’s humanitarian melding of volunteerism and health-care expertise may well be its next greatest badge of courage. Applying the classic Israeli combination of technical expertise, ingenuity and doggedness, United Hatzalah of Israel is now providing an emergency response system that regularly saves lives — and is already attracting attention around the world.

The 23-year-old organization is the creation of Eli Beer, 39, a native of Jerusalem, born on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War to American-born parents who immigrated to Israel in 1969. Beer said he believes spending his first month in a bomb shelter shaped the course of his life. At just 5, “I saw the first bus ever to blow up in Jerusalem — on a Friday. … It had a tremendous impact on me, as six people were killed before my own eyes, and many kids from my school were injured,” he said.

Even as a child, all Beer wanted to do was save lives, and he remembers being frustrated that there was not a better system than waiting precious minutes for an ambulance to arrive. As a teenager, he signed up to become one of Israel’s thousands of emergency medical volunteers. Soon after receiving Magen David Adom (MDA) training, he said, he was the first to arrive in response to a call for help one day, finding a 7-year-old boy choking on a hot dog. He describes a macabre scene of bystanders trying to help by picking the boy up by his feet and splashing him with water. “It wasn’t that those present didn’t want to help,” Beer said. “No one knew what to do.”

By the time a doctor arrived, there was nothing to do but to pronounce the boy dead. That was mid-1989. By the end of the year, inspired by the New York-based Hatzalah, which Beer knew of through his parents, who were then living in America, he founded United Hatzalah of Israel, wholly independent of the American version, despite the similar name. Israeli volunteers, Beer pointed out, are accustomed to dealing with the aftermath of missile strikes and terror attacks, while the Americans (there is also a very active Hatzolah organization in Los Angeles) tend to respond to calls about physical ailments, mostly within the Jewish community, traveling by ambulance rather than the ambucycle Hatzalah volunteers often use in Israel. Hatzalah’s job in Israel is to prepare patients to be transported, and the ambulances belong primarily to MDA, Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service.

What Beer launched in Jerusalem in 1989 with 20 volunteers running to calls on foot now boasts 1,800 first responders nationwide, ranging in age from 21 to a 78-year old woman who lives on a small kibbutz and responds to emergencies 24/7. Hatzalah’s first-response system has become so successful that Beer is now helping to replicate the organization in other countries, including training volunteers in Panama, Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil.

In Brazil, Beer’s group assisted with the opening of United Hatzalah, creating protocols of training, guidance and equipment. Hatzalah gave the Brazilians its Life Compass technology, which guides medics to people all over the country.

For all this,  Beer received a Young Global Leader award last year for his work with United Hatzalah, presented by Jordanian Queen Rania at the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF). He also received the Presidential Award for Volunteerism from Israeli President Shimon Peres. He has spoken about social entrepreneurialism at conferences in Morocco in 2010, and Davos in 2012, presenting United Hatzalah as a model for other countries to emulate. Recently, his vision and leadership skills were recognized by the WEF, which led to a scholarship to attend a WEF-sponsored management program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

To train and supply each of Hatzalah’s medics can cost upward of $5,000, and as much as $7,500 for those who are provided with defibrillators. An ambucycle costs $26,000, including the helmet, siren, medical gear, license and insurance. Despite the pressure of fundraising for an organization with an annual budget in excess of $5 million — 90 percent of which comes from charitable donations and 10 percent from the government and municipalities to support the cost of local training — Beer said he believes Hatzalah remains the only emergency medical service in Israel that does not charge for any of its services. The majority of donations come from Batya — Friends of United Hatzalah in the United States (including a recently opened Los Angeles branch) – as well as from Canada, the U.K. and France. Israelis donate 30 percent. 

Many believe that Hatzalah is simply a Charedi enterprise.  Indeed, Beer, himself an Orthodox Jew, sees Hatzalah as a model for training Charedi men, whose employment lags far behind their non-religious counterparts. In Israel, ending the Charedi exemption from army service and integrating of Charedim into the workplace has taken center stage — in mass rallies on the streets of Tel Aviv, in a notable Supreme Court ruling and in government debates. Beer also sees United Hatzalah as a prototype for addressing Charedi national service: “We initiated a program four years ago through which Charedim could satisfy the requirement of army duty or national service as a citizen volunteer with United Hatzalah,” he said.

I called Nissim Hassett to talk about his national service with United Hatzalah, which he did at the same time he was studying law. Now 32 and married, Hasset spoke only two hours after the birth of a son. For him, Hatzalah was the answer, he said. “The main reason I joined is because I wanted to save lives, but as a yeshiva student, I couldn’t go on to work unless I joined the army first. But the army itself isn’t suitable for the ultra-Orthodox for many reasons, including [being given time for] prayers,” Hassett said.

While living in the area of Jerusalem known as “the seam” — where east and west meet, an area that between 1948 and 1967 was a no-man’s land separating Israel and Jordan — he would regularly go on calls for Hatzalah into East Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Wadi Joz, his unambiguous appearance as a Charedi Jew notwithstanding. Today, Hassett works as an intern in a Tel-Aviv law firm. By year’s end, he will take the bar exam.

Beer said more than 60 Charedi volunteers have completed their national service obligation with United Hatzalah and have then gone on to find jobs. But Beer stresses that Hatzalah, in fact, also offers a remarkable picture of cooperation among the nation’s disparate communities. In Jerusalem, for example, most Hatzalah volunteers come from the Charedi community, but secular Jews and Israeli Arabs participate as well. In Eilat, Ra’anana and elsewhere in the country, most of the volunteers are Orthodox.

For example, Murad Alian, 39, an Israeli Arab, first met Beer 22 years ago, when they trained together in the MDA medic course. Today, Alian considers himself a close friend of Beer, saying he is proud of the volunteers who work for United Hatzalah.

“Some of our volunteers work in the Old City [of Jerusalem],” he told The Media Line. “If we have a CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation call] we — Arabs, Charedi and secular Jews — meet each other in the house of a patient. We work in harmony, in a wonderful way, to do all the treatments together.”

Hatzalah’s ambucyles offer some advantages, too. For an Israeli ambulance to enter certain neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, it must wait to be accompanied by a military escort before it can travel to the site of the call for help. This often means it takes extra time to arrive. Meanwhile, United Hatzalah volunteers are able to respond more quickly traveling by private car or ambucycle.

Alian said that more than 80 Israeli Arabs currently volunteer for United Hatzalah, and another 30 are training to be first responders. By day, he works at Hadassah University Hospital — Ein Kerem, doing medical translations between Hebrew and Arabic.

“All our blood is red,” he remarked. “We paramedics have trained in courses together; have been at numerous scenes with multiple bus explosions. We meet up for coffee after work, and our families have visited each other.”

Beer said it’s not uncommon for one volunteer responding to a call — rushing from his synagogue to the scene of a car accident on a highway — to meet up with a second medic who ran from his mosque — with the two arriving simultaneously.

“Within minutes,” Beer said, “the two first responders, both wearing the same Hatzalah uniform, are working side by side on patients. It’s a scene more Israelis need to see.” Asked whether having men and women first responders work together has ever caused awkwardness at the scene of a call, Beer emphatically replied, “Never happens.” Currently, however, only about 50 women work in United Hatzalah, he said, because so many calls come “at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, and a woman can often find herself on a call where someone has died, and she would find herself all alone.”

U.S.-bound plane makes emergency landing at Ben Gurion


A plane bound for the United States made an emergency landing at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport after smoke was detected in the rear of the plane.

The Continental Airlines Boeing 777 had taken off from Ben Gurion at noon, but it returned a half-hour later after pilots told air traffic control that there was smoke in the plane’s rear kitchen.

Some 280 passengers were on the flight bound for Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

Forty-five ambulances met the airplane on the runway but were not needed.

The flight returned to the air about three hours following a thorough inspection, according to The Aviation Herald. The smoke is believed to have come from an oven in the aft galley. It was originally reported that the smoke was coming from the baggage compartment.

American Red Cross Seeks Image Rehab


Howard Parmet is on a mission.

Parmet, community outreach consultant for the American Red Cross (ARC) of Greater Los Angeles, wants to build bridges to a Jewish community that has largely shunned the organization because of a belief that it is anti-Israeli at best and anti-Semitic at worst. Parmet wants to rehabilitate the organization’s image, dispel misperceptions and recruit legions of local Jewish volunteers.

He has his work cut out for him.

For more than 50 years, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the ARC’s parent, has excluded Israel from the world body while counting among its members Iran, Syria and other countries considered by many as state sponsors of terror.

The low esteem in which many local Jews hold the International Red Cross has colored their perception of the ARC, even though it has proven far more friendly to Israel. Because of those suspicions, Parmet said, the L.A. Red Cross has only a handful of Jewish volunteers, attracts little Jewish financial support and has but a single Jew on its 39-member board. Few, if any, Southland synagogues, Jewish day schools or Jewish community centers have made themselves available to the Red Cross as shelters in the event of an emergency.

Parmet, who worked in Jewish organizations for 32 years before accepting the newly created Jewish outreach position, aims to change all that. The former executive director for the American Red Magen David for Israel (ARMDI), Pacific Southwest region — the fundraising wing of the Magen David Adom, (MDA) Israel’s emergency response and disaster service — said his first order of business was to dispel “misinformation” about the ARC. Toward that end, Parmet has run a series of ads in the Jewish media, including The Journal, to underscore ARC’s close ties with MDA.

“You may have heard otherwise, but during the period when the Jewish community makes a point of examining relationships, the American Red Cross of Greater Los Angeles wants you to know the facts about our relationship,” a full-page ad that ran in The Journal in Sept. 17 said. “…We wanted you to know that we are the best friend the Magen David Adom has.”

Indeed, the ARC unilaterally recognized MDA as a Red Cross sister society in 1989. A year later, the ARC established the national Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center, which has documented the fates of 9,000 missing Jews and reunited more than 1,200 family members. The ARC has also withheld $25 million in administrative dues since 1999 to the International Red Cross to protest the world body’s continued exclusion of MDA.

“The American Red Cross should not be punished. It does great work in the United States and is the MDA’s greatest champion in the international forum,” said Susan Heller Pinto, director for Middle East and International Affairs for the Anti-Defamation League in New York. “Still, there are a lot of misperceptions out there…. We won’t be satisfied until the MDA becomes a full-member of the International Red Cross.”

In his six months on the job, Parmet has assembled a committee of prominent Jews to improve the local Red Cross’ standing in the community. The group, which includes Rabbis Harvey Fields and Robert Gan, president of the Board of Rabbis, holds its first meeting Oct. 27. Eventually, Parmet said he envisions local temples and Jewish organizations offering the community CPR, first-aid classes and other training in their facilities, as well as opening them up to the public in emergencies such as fires and earthquakes.

Eric Book, a member of the local Red Cross’ new Jewish committee, said he thought Parmet could succeed where others have failed. Book, a past regional president of ARMDI who worked alongside Parmet for several years, said his former colleague had the expertise, knowledge and ties to the local community to rehabilitate the U.S. Red Cross’ image and garner Jewish support.

Book said Parmet proved himself an able executive at ARMDI, winning kudos for his creativity and effectiveness. He said Parmet helped put together golf tournaments at El Caballero Country Club that raised thousands for ARMDI; he produced a cable television program that promoted awareness about the organization, and Parmet helped win approval to place a MDA ambulance at the Zimmer Children’s Museum to educate young people about MDA’s importance.

In his first five years at ARMDI, Parmet said he helped boost fundraising by 400 percent. Over his 14-year tenure, he said he developed a broad range of relationships with Jewish philanthropists, synagogues and Jewish day schools, ties he hopes to leverage in his new position with the local Red Cross.

Parmet will need all the help he can muster to rehabilitate the L.A.-agency, even if its attitude toward MDA is far more enlightened than its parent’s.

During World War II, the International Red Cross failed to rescue or assist Jews in Nazi concentration camps, although the organization knew of the atrocities, experts said. The international body has barred Israel’s admittance on the grounds that the MDA uses a religious symbol, a red Shield of David, as its official emblem, even though the Red Cross employs the cross and Islamic crescent. Like the United Nations, the International Red Cross has attacked Israel, most recently for the construction of its security barrier, while remaining largely silent about suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks on the Jewish state.

Despite the negative view many Jews have about the International Red Cross, Parmet said he thought his work would make a difference for the local chapter of the American Red Cross.

“This is a slow process of building a relationship and developing trust and spreading information,” Parmet said. “It’s going to take a significant amount of time, but it’s going to be done.”

Hatzolah Expands Emergency Service


After midnight one Sunday last December, Motty Stock found his wife, Freda, unconscious on the bedroom floor. He picked up two phones and simultaneously called 911 and Hatzolah, an all-volunteer emergency first-response service.

While Stock was still on the phone giving information to 911, two Hatzolah volunteers bounded up the stairs to his Hancock Park home and began working on the 28-year-old woman, who was having a seizure and choking on vomit.

By the time the ambulance arrived 15 minutes after the initial call, Hatzolah volunteers had Freda Stock stabilized. They transferred her to the care of paramedics, got a babysitter for the three children so Motty Stock could ride along in the ambulance and sent someone to Ralphs to buy formula for the 4-week-old baby.

“They saved her life,” Stock said. “It is impossible for me to describe what they did for us. It’s invaluable.”

Now, thousands more will have access to the life-saving skills of Hatzolah, which last month expanded its 3-year-old pilot program in Hancock Park to Valley Village and the Pico-Robertson area.

“Over the past three years, we have perfected ourselves in the sense that we are better equipped to meet the immediate needs of the emergency,” said Zvika Brenner, president of Hatzolah Los Angeles. “Working together with local paramedics, we now know what they expect of us when they show up; we know what kind of information to obtain in order to make a seamless transfer of patient care when they arrive.”

Aside from its near daily responses to medical emergencies, in the last three years Hatzolah in the Beverly-Fairfax-La Brea area has helped the Los Angeles Police Department capture a serial rapist, responded to a plane crash in the Fairfax neighborhood and has helped find five missing persons. At the request of city and county officials, some volunteers are training to respond to mass casualty incidents, such as earthquakes or terrorist attacks.

City and county fire and law enforcement departments, as well as local politicians, have praised Hatzolah’s ability to become an integral part of Los Angeles’ emergency response system.

Fifty new volunteers have been certified as county emergency medical technicians (EMTs) in the heavily Orthodox Valley Village and Pico-Robertson areas.

Hatzolah, Hebrew for rescue, does not have its own ambulances and does not replace calling 911. Rather, it acts as a bridge in the critical first minutes of an emergency until paramedics arrive.

The average ambulance response time in Los Angeles is six to 10 minutes. Hatzolah’s average response time is 90 seconds, since all volunteers work and live in the areas they serve and constantly wear radios and have easy access to equipment.

“In an emergency, six to 10 minutes is an eternity,” said Azriel Aharon, a coordinator and volunteer EMT for the Pico-Robertson area. “Even if we only beat [the ambulance] by two minutes, that can be the difference between life and death.”

Hatzolah volunteers are equipped with defibrillators, oxygen tanks and trauma kits.

They train for 120 hours to receive EMT status and are able to perform everything from basic first aid to life-saving procedures, such as tracheotomies. They also learn how to secure an accident scene and gather the pertinent information to transfer care to the medical and emergency professionals when they arrive. Volunteers take additional classes in city and county protocol, and do ride-alongs with county ambulances.

The volunteers are all Shabbat-observant married males, as per the original 1972 Hatzolah New York charter, which also provides guidelines for halachic liberties that can be taken to save life or limb.

Hatzolah in Hancock Park, with about 35 volunteers, has received an average of a call a day. Tripling its area of coverage has necessitated improving the two-way radio system and equipping two more garages with supplies for restocking.

Hatzolah is currently training more dispatchers — mostly women — who take around-the-clock shifts of several hours to answer a dedicated Hatzolah line in their homes.

Hatzolah will respond to anyone who calls, but its publicity is done through synagogues and schools in the areas it serves.

Startup costs for Hatzolah in the Pico-Robertson area, which has about 40 volunteers, was about $150,000 and in the Valley was about $30,000 for 18 volunteers. Citywide, it will cost about $120,000 a year to maintain, with all of the money raised through private donations.

Yossi Manila is forever thankful to Hatzolah volunteers who rushed to his house late on a Friday afternoon after his 2-year-old daughter swallowed a dozen chewable Benadryls (Poison Control informed him that up to 20 chewables wasn’t harmful).

“When your daughter is lying unconscious in your arms, and you can’t figure out what to do, you just feel extremely helpless and extremely hopeless,” Manila said. “Hatzolah came, and they were extremely professional and extremely comforting.”

For emergencies, call 911, then (800) 933-6460. For
nonemergencies, call (310) 841-2328 or visit www.hatzolah.org .

Contributing Editor Tom Tugend contributed to this article.

Mixing Science and Politics Brews Hate


It’s bad enough that Israeli doctors are spending their
lives in emergency rooms treating Jewish and Arab victims of suicide bombers. What really makes them heartsick these days,
however, is that they also have to fend off mindless attacks from their scientific
colleagues, particularly in Europe.

We arrived at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, where some
2,000 victims have been treated during the current intifada, less than 24 hours
after a particularly horrific bus bombing in Jerusalem. Hours earlier, teams of
Jewish-Arab doctors had done what they’ve done for the past two years: jumped
into action to save the lives of the critically injured.

On Israeli television the night before, the father of the
homicidal bomber bragged that he was proud of his son who had attacked a
busload of schoolchildren and senior citizens. On the day we arrived, that same
father suffered chest pains, and was brought to Hadassah. He was seen by the
same doctors who were still treating the victims of his son’s madness.

The humanitarian approach to medicine of our colleagues in Israel
stands in stark contrast to actions recently taken by our European colleagues.
In Britain and Norway, countries we Americans generally feel are kindred to our
way of life, university professors and scientific researchers have recently
refused to share research information with Israel’s academics and physicians
because they oppose Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians.

The head of Hadassah Medical Center’s Goldyne Savad Gene
Therapy Institute, Dr. Eitan Galun, an Israeli Jew, has been engaged in
research to cure a blood disease prevalent in the Palestinian community. He
recently requested assistance from a Norwegian scientist and was refused.

“Due to the present situation in the Middle East, I will not
deliver any material to an Israelitic (sic) university,” she responded by
e-mail. By her actions, which confuse science with politics, the Palestinian
population will needlessly continue to suffer from a disease that could be
cured through scientific cooperation.

Also recently, two Israeli academics were dismissed from the
boards of scholarly linguistics journals. The first, Miriam Shlesinger, a
senior lecturer in translation studies at Bar-Ilan University, was removed from
the editorial board of the Translator: Studies in Intercultural Communication.

The second, Gideon Toury, a professor at Tel Aviv
University’s School of Cultural Studies, was dismissed from the international
advisory board of Translation Studies Abstracts. Mona Baker, a University of Manchester
academic, who has circulated a petition calling for a moratorium on grants and
contracts with research institutions in Israel, owns both publications.

These examples dramatically demonstrate an unacceptable
breakdown in the international norms of intellectual freedom and collaboration.

Our colleagues in Israel do not mix science and politics,
and our colleagues in Europe, likewise, should know better than to do so. Using
Israel’s political situation as a reason to withhold collaborative information
is a smoke screen. Moreover it is a symptom of that chronic European disease,
anti-Semitism, which now hides behind anti-Israel rhetoric. Israel is
criticized for human rights violations as it tries to protect its citizens.

Yet it is the only country in the Middle East with a free
press, an independent judiciary and all its citizens, both men and women,
whether Jew, Muslim or Christian, have the right to vote.

It’s high time for the courageous and intellectually honest
among our European colleagues to make a stand against their region’s particular
brand of bigotry. It is past time for doctors and scientists to first heal
themselves and then immunize Europe against this centuries-old scourge. The
medical community in Israel truly reflects the words of the prophet Malachi
2:10: “Have we not one father hath not one God created us, wherefore shall we
deal treacherously with each other. Profaning the covenant of our fathers.”

Its time for our colleagues in Europe to recognize this and
act accordingly. Â


Dr. Benjamin Sachs is the Harold H. Rosenfield professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproduction biology at the Harvard Medical School. He recently led a medical mission to Israel sponsored by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston and the Hadassah Medical Organization and Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

Fearing Fear


My husband, Larry, and I had been training, or so I thought, for the Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day, a 60-mile walk in from Santa Barbara to Malibu last October.

But now I realize that we were really training for a grave new world — for when an act of God, or more likely an act of godlessness, blindsides Los Angeles, shutting down our streets and transportation systems.

"I always wondered, if I could walk the 11 miles home from work in an emergency," Larry said before Sept. 11." Ñow I know I can," he says.

And now I know I can walk to my sons’ schools, the farthest being 13 miles away.

Worse, I know I might have to.

For on Sept. 11, with the force of a 767 hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center, reality slammed into our lives, forever destroying our concept of invincibility.

And so, with a Californian’s knee-jerk reaction to any crisis, I replenish the emergency backpacks with radios, batteries, work gloves, flashlights, flares, power bars, water and walking shoes. And I buy a longer-life battery for my cell phone.

But in truth, I don’t know how to prepare — or for what. I can only guess that the next attack will be unforeseen, unfathomable and deadly. And I wonder if I should be lining up my family for smallpox vaccinations or stockpiling gas masks, guns and canned goods — or merely praying.

As a mother, I have worked to create a risk-free world for my four sons, now ages 10, 12, 14 and 18. I have put them in car seats, seatbelts and helmets. I have removed alar from their apple juice, drawstrings from their sweatshirt hoods and second-hand smoke from their environments. I have taught them not to talk to strangers or pick up guns. And I have electronically tethered them with cell phones and pagers.

As a Jew, I have merely been following the danger-avoidance dictates of my religion. "One should guard oneself against all things that are dangerous, because ‘regulations concerning health and life are made more stringent than ritual laws,’ " the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, states.

Ironically, I also worry that I’m overprotecting my kids, doing them a disservice by destroying their sense of self-confidence. And I worry that I’m not concentrating enough on my sons’ emotional needs. My rabbi, Zachary Shapiro, associate rabbi at Los Angeles’ University Synagogue, tells me, "We need to give children constant reassurance that they’re in a safe place when they’re with us."

He recommends, especially for younger kids, a nighttime ritual that includes prayers such as the Shema and the "Hashkiveinu," a prayer for peace that includes the words, "Shield us and remove from us foe, pestilence, sword, famine and sorrow."

For the older kids, the rabbi advocates tzedakah activities, such as organizing a clothing drive, giving blood or collecting donations. This is in keeping with Judaism’s teaching, "Justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20).

Meanwhile, as a parent, I take solace in the fact that the terrorist attacks, as well as most crises and disasters, are much scarier to me than to my sons. I have a greater ability to comprehend the seriousness, as well as the long-term ramifications. Or perhaps I’ve succumbed to "phobophobia," the fear of fear itself.

Also, I take solace in the fact that statistics are on my side. Yes, Rabbi Harold Kushner has indelibly and eloquently taught us that "bad things happen to good people." But they happen rarely and atypically.

But most of all, I take solace in the fact that anytime and anywhere, thanks to my training for the Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day, I can grab my emergency backpack and walk to fetch my sons.

Economic Emergency


On top of being in a military state of emergency for over a year, Israel is now in an “economic state of emergency” as well, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced last week. He was about the last person in the country to say the words out loud.

The arrival of Israel’s economic crisis was something like the NASDAQ crash of last year — everybody knew it was coming, they just didn’t know when. The scales began falling from Israelis’ eyes last week when the economic growth figures for the third quarter of the year came in — 2.8 percent in the red, the second straight quarter of economic contraction. Bad, bad news.

It’s no mystery what’s caused the recession. The NASDAQ crash hobbled Israel’s high-tech sector, the turbo jet of the economy. Then the intifada came along and devastated the tourism industry, at the same time burdening the State with the cost of fighting a new, mass-scale guerrilla war. The intifada, combined with the burgeoning world economic slump, chased foreign investment away. All this comes against the background of a construction industry that’s been in the doldrums now for five years. The economy was hit so hard in so many places, that the ripple effect has touched virtually everyone in the country. Then came Sept. 11, and there was nothing much left to do except wait for the bleak statistics to confirm the consensus expectations. In a country where the prime minister and the political echelon get blamed for the weather, it’s no surprise that Israelis are blaming the bad economy on Sharon. A poll in Yediot Aharonot last weekend found 73 percent of the public gave the prime minister a failing grade on economic performance.

The problem is that emerging from this recession is probably out of the hands of the prime minister and the rest of the government. It wasn’t government economic policy that crashed the NASDAQ, or started the intifada, or chased away tourists and foreign investors. These are objective conditions that drained the Israeli economy of billions upon billions of dollars; government policy, be it liberal or conservative, can’t replace it.

And while it is no mystery how Israel got into this fix, it is a total mystery how and when Israel will get out of it. The upshot is that lean times are coming. People are going to have to learn to make do with less. But nobody — not government, not business, not labor, and certainly not a special interest like the ultra-Orthodox community — is ready for that. Start with the government. Cutting public services and benefits alienates voters, so for Finance Minister Silvan Shalom, who has his eye on the prime ministership, it’s business as usual.

He’s drawn up a budget for next year based on the notion that the government will have greatly increased tax revenues, which will come as a result of a 4 percent economic growth. Nobody believes Israel’s economy will grow by anything close to that figure, but cutting back expectations would mean cutting back spending, which Shalom is loath to do. So, while government leaders may talk of an economic emergency, they’re spending as if the country’s on easy street.

As for labor, social security workers have been striking for weeks, joined by university professors, and now the firefighters. Public sector strikes are as Israeli as falafel, and no economic state of emergency is going to change that. With unemployment rising and government aid about to decrease, social solidarity is being battered, which is a mighty dangerous thing when terror threatens everyone and the army is fully engaged. Yet manufacturers aren’t willing to hold off on firings; in fact they want a tax cut and a promise that the minimum wage will not go up.

“Industry is the engine of the economy. The country depends on the taxes that industry pays,” said Oded Tyrah, head of Israel’s Manufacturers Association, arguing the industrialists’ demands. He seemed to forget that regular working people pay most of the taxes, and that businesspeople are not a higher order of being who deserve financial breaks when everyone else is hurting.

But probably the greatest anomaly of this military and economic state of emergency is that the sector of the Israeli population that, by and large, neither works nor serves in the army — the ultra-Orthodox — continues to demand more welfare. They threaten to bolt Sharon’s government if they do not win passage of a bill that would sharply increase government aid to families with five or more children — a law tailored for ultra-Orthodox needs.

The good news is that Israel is fundamentally a middle-class society; a deep recession will hurt, but will not drive the country into poverty. The restaurants and theaters remain full, one out of every five Israelis still travels abroad each year. Even while three-quarters of Israelis rated Sharon’s economic management poor, two-thirds rated their own personal economic situation as good. The bottom third, however, stand to get considerably poorer in the near future. This will put a severe social strain on the country; advocates in the poor towns of the Negev and Galilee warn of an “intifada” of the unemployed. If that happens, maybe then Israeli decision-makers will understand the meaning of an economic state of emergency.

Mobilizing Local Efforts


Barely three hours after the massive acts of terrorism began unspooling inthe East on Sept. 11, officials at the Jewish Federation of Greater LosAngeles representing an array of affiliated departments, agencies andpartners assembled to discuss emergency strategies to help those affectedby the rapidly unfolding events.

An impromptu meeting of high level executives of the Jewish Federation andits network of beneficiary agencies and departments was convened earlyTuesday morning at the 11th floor executive offices of the Federation’sWilshire Boulevard headquarters "to go over with all the agencies how todisseminate the information to the community," said Michele Kleinert,speaking for The Federation. "The primary focus and concern is our staffand community."

John Fishel, the Jewish Federation’s president, met with a group thatincluded William Bernstein, Financial Resource Development executive vicepresident; Mark Diamond, Board of Rabbis of Southern California executivevice president; Nina Lieberman Giladi, Jewish Community Centers of GreaterLos Angeles’ (JCCGLA) executive vice president; Bureau of Jewish Education(BJE)’s Gil Graff, director, and David Ackerman, director of educationalservices; Paul Castro, Jewish Family Service executive director; and theJewish Community Relations Committee’s Michael Hirschfeld, executivedirector, and Elaine Albert, assistant director.

The members regrouped at 3 that afternoon to touch base on efforts tocoordinate various services, such as blood drives and psychological andspiritual counseling, and organize resources at agencies, day schools andcommunity centers. Many synagogues also scheduled community vigils by day’send.

"Everybody was here; people were concerned," Fishel said. "They were helpfulon thinking through the issues. Everyone feels how fortunate it didn’t occurin L.A., but our service system is ready to go."

Except for key internal staff, the 6505 Wilshire Blvd. building, on theadvice of law enforcement and fire department officials, was closed for theday. Federation officials said this constituted a general suggestion formajor buildings in the city and was not because of its Jewish link. Themajority of the Federation’s 400 hundred employees were sent home Sept. 11,and returned to work Sept. 12.

"Right now, the community is trying to bring its available resourcestogether," Graff said. "The BJE is in the process of contacting its schoolsto advise them of the availability of the Jewish Family Service and otheragencies that can provide support."

Ackerman cited the need for "curricular support; how do you curricularize atragedy such as this?"

On Wed., Sept. 12, the Federation convened a meeting of top local lawenforcement officials, rabbis and other Jewish institutional leaders todiscuss security surrounding the upcoming High Holy Days (see story, page12). In the afternoon, the interfaith Council of Religious Leaders met at6505 Wilshire. The Council includes Board of Rabbi executive directorDiamond, Rabbi Alan Henkin of Union of American Hebrew Congregations, theRev. Samuel Chetti of American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles, Bishop MaryAnn Swenson of United Methodist Church, and American Orthodox Church DioceseVatche Housepian, among others.

"We are meeting to express our sorrow, our sadness, our shock and ouroutrage as the religious leaders of the major faith communities," Diamondtold The Journal. "We condemn the perpetrators of these horrific crimes andlend our support to President Bush and elected officials to bring thoseresponsible for these terrorist attacks to justice. As religious leaders,our thoughts and prayers go out to victims, families, and all those whoselives were shattered, as of yesterday."

The Board of Rabbis leader called on "all the citizens of Los Angeles tojoin together in prayer, reflection and solidarity. We want our community tojoin us in turning away from dangerous rhetoric and hateful stereotypes andturn toward the tasks that face our nation in this dark hour."In the meantime, the Federation’s parent organization, United JewishCommunities (UJC), announced it was cancelling the Sept. 23 New Yorksolidarity rally for Israel.

At press time, with very few victims identified and little informationavailable, it was too early for The Federation to help Angelenos withspecific connections to victims at the sites of destruction or aboard theL.A.-bound planes involved. But Federation officials said they will be readyto assist when this inevitable grim task arrives in the coming days.

"There’s no information at this point," Fishel said. "So it will probably bewithin 24 to 48 hours before we have clarity."

For now, Federation officials were as stunned and saddened as the rest ofus, and reacting as parents and community members, speaking from the heart."I have a teenager she’s very scared this morning," Fishel said."This is a terrible tragedy for the United States of America," Bernsteinsaid.

Emergency Meeting


Experts from Turkey, Uzbekistan and Los Angeles converged in Tel Aviv last month to trade disaster response strategies with Israelis. United by a shared history of disasters — natural and man-made — specialists in the forefront of emergency care attended the week-long International Seminar on Emergency Situations — organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The event was held at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.

Indeed, many emergency care workers believe that Los Angeles — perhaps the most accident prone city since Pompeii with fires, floods, riots, shootings and earthquakes — could always use some pointers on disaster preparedness and response.

“The Israelis really know how to get people back on their feet and into society,” said Ellis Stanley, Director of Los Angeles’ Emergency Preparedness Division and conference participant. He added that Angelenos should note the manner in which Israeli civilians become “part of a response” to an emergency, i.e., the way they are trained from childhood to deal with the potential for disaster and identify potential bombs in unattended bags and packages.

City officials from Tel Aviv shared the methods they employed during the 1991 Gulf War when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles into Tel Aviv.

Israelis expressed interest in adopting a post-disaster trauma program developed by Yanki Yazgan, head of the Psychiatry Department at Turkey’s University of Marmara, to help children cope with catastrophe through artistic expression. At the conference, Yazgan told his fellow specialists that in the wake of the August quake that claimed 17,000 lives in the Izmit region, more than half of the surviving children suffered from some type of trauma.

The conference also included a tour of Ichilov Hospital’s facilities, equipped for gas attacks — an emergency situation in which Israeli expertise is unparalleled.

Said Prof. Natti Laor, director of Tel Aviv Mental Health Center, “In Israel, we are very good at being altruistic and creative. But goodwill is not enough. We must internalize our experiences into the legal system and have standards like we do for chlorine or cholesterol.”

Among the delegates who traveled to Tel Aviv for the conference:

*From Los Angeles — Bil Butler and Constance Perett, Office of Emergency Management, County of Los Angeles; Commander Mark Leap, L.A.P.D.; Deputy Chief John Callahan, L.A.F.D.; and Fredi Rembaum, Overseas Director, Jewish Federation of Los Angeles.

*From Washington, D.C. — Dr. George Buck, consultant to the Federal Government and the City of Los Angeles; and Cindy Larson, Department of Justice, Office of Victim Assistance.

Mideast


Israeli

rescue

crews

are

heroes

to

Kenyans

 

‘Saving Lives Is Just Something That’s in Our Blood’

By Eric Silver, Mideast Correspondent

Gil Wiener, the husky soldier who dragged out the first survivor of the Nairobi bombing to be saved by the Israeli dog squad last weekend, is a 29-year-old architecture student working his way through college as a lifeguard at the Hebrew University swimming pool in Jerusalem.

Like him, most of the 170 skilled officers and men who flew to the Kenyan capital within 24 hours of the explosion that wrecked the U.S. Embassy are reservists. They are recruited from all branches of the armed forces during the last year of their three-year compulsory service and trained on simulated disaster sites. Back in civilian life, the volunteers are annually called up for one week of intensive refresher courses. A permanent-alert staff is primed to mobilize them at short notice.

“My men are not the strongest soldiers in the army,” the commander of their training base, Maj. Ronen Greenberg, said this week, “but they have to be pretty strong — and they have to have a talent for technology. They must know how to handle sophisticated equipment, and how to fix it quickly if it malfunctions during an emergency.”

They are taught patience and extreme caution. Gil Wiener and his team kept their Kenyan survivor talking for six hours before they got him out of his steel-and-concrete trap. Their commander insisted that they work only from the side and above. Although the man had an almost severed leg and head injuries, rushing the operation might have brought tons of rubble down on rescued and rescuers.

The emergency unit was established during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon after an explosion demolished an army administrative block in the port city of Tyre, killing 89 soldiers and secret service agents. Since then, it has seen service at home and on humanitarian missions on three continents.

It rescued Israeli civilians from Tel Aviv flats hit by Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War. In the mid and late 1980s, it joined the hunt for survivors of massive earthquakes in Mexico and Armenia and flew in food, tents and medical supplies. In 1994, the unit extricated dead and wounded from the four-story Israeli Embassy building blown up by Islamic fanatics in Buenos Aires. The army also sent a medical-aid team, protected by 270 infantrymen, to Rwanda during the 1994 civil war, and firefighting helicopters to help put out a huge blaze at a Turkish arms factory in 1997.

Defense Ministry officials in Tel Aviv hailed the Nairobi mission as a debt of honor. Kenya joined most African states in cutting diplomatic relations with Israel after it invaded Egypt, a fellow African country, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. But Kenya maintained close economic links with the Jewish state. Hundreds of Israeli specialists worked on industrial and agricultural development projects there. Kenyan managers and technicians studied in Israel.

In July 1976, Kenya secretly allowed Israeli transport planes to refuel in Nairobi after their epic rescue of hijacked airline passengers from neighboring Entebbe. Ehud Barak, now leader of the Labor opposition, commanded the Nairobi backup group.

Some of the team sent back to the Kenyan capital this weekend are veterans of the Buenos Aires and Armenian operations. They are among the least flamboyant of Israeli soldiers. They expect to bring out more dead than alive. It is a sobering thought.

When the Nairobi crowd lauded Gil Wiener on Saturday night, he remonstrated: “I’m no hero.” Another rescuer said: “Saving lives is just something that’s in our blood.” During that first rescue, the survivor, Sammy Ngana, was suffering so much pain that he begged the Israelis to let him die. “I’m a doctor,” said Lt. Nahum Nesher, one of the team. “I won’t let you die.”

The men do their job, with no time for sentiment. Greenberg, the chief instructor, confided that during 10 years as a rescuer, he experienced only one “happy ending.” He located an elderly woman trapped in a Tel Aviv flat shattered by one of Saddam’s Scuds. “While we were trying to get her out,” he said, “I asked her about other people who might still be in the building. A year later, she spotted me at an army exhibition. She remembered every question, word for word. I hadn’t even recognized her.”

 

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