October 16, 2019

The Woman Who Saves Lives in Israel From Los Angeles

Carolyn Kangavari

When Carolyn Kangavari was 13 and visiting the senior home where she regularly volunteered, one of the residents started having difficulty breathing. Kangavari immediately called 911 and a short time later, paramedics arrived. Fortunately, the woman ended up being OK.

Today, after earning a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California, Kangavari still is involved in critical life-saving work, as the new Los Angeles executive director of Friends of United Hatzalah, the largest volunteer-based medical service in Israel.

Founded in 2006 by Israel native Eli Beer, the organization has more than 6,000 volunteers who respond to nearly a quarter of a million calls each year throughout the country, often bridging the time between an emergency and the ambulance arrival. All volunteers are trained and certified emergency medical technicians, paramedics or physicians, and are as diverse as the population of Israel: women, men, Jews, Christians, Arabs, Druze and Bedouins. They treat anyone and everyone. Because of their numbers and use of motorized ambucycles, their average response time is three minutes
or less.

“It’s like the Uber of saving lives,” Kangavari said of the free service. 

For Kangavari, the daughter of Persian Jews who fled Iran in the early 1980s, whom she characterizes as “very giving people,” the job is a calling. 

“For me, there’s nothing bigger than saving lives in Israel,” she said. “Even the first time I went there as a little girl, as soon as we landed, it felt like home.”

Kangavari, who belongs to Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills as well as the Sephardic Temple in Westwood, has relatives in Israel. However, it’s her years at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, and YULA Girls High School — where she vividly recalls singing “Hatikvah” every day — that contribute to her abiding love for the country and its people.

“Securing our ancestral homeland is the best social work I can do,” she said. “It’s important to give Israelis a sense of security and comfort by building its infrastructure. After all, they live in greater hardship than we do here, and we can never forget that they are fighting the fight to preserve our history and our dignity.”

The community aspect of United Hatzalah was compelling to Kangavari. “What’s so beautiful is it brings all these people together for one mission: to save lives,” she said. In addition, “communities feel stronger because they know they have volunteers close to them. They feel more resilient, more powerful.”

Kangavari recognizes that Angelenos have many wonderful and worthwhile organizations to support. She recently helped lead a Birthright trip to Israel and she regularly volunteers to pack and deliver food for Tomchei LA. But she is confident United Hatzalah is a cause that will speak to Angelenos.

One of her goals in the coming weeks and months is to “spread as much awareness as possible.” To that end, she will be speaking at synagogues and to student groups, attending parlor meetings at private homes, and connecting with existing supporters in the Los Angeles area. A fundraising gala is tentatively scheduled for late February 2020.

“This is such a dream for me,” Kangavari said of her new role and mission. “The real heroes are the people protecting Israel — saving lives every day. I feel like this is the least I can do. To be able to be part of that is so special to me.”