The Legendary Hatzalah Volunteers of Crown Heights

You see them every day of the week – including Shabbos and Yom Tov, and at all times of the day and night; dashing out of their homes, shops and shuls in order to perform acts of chesed (good deeds). They interrupt participation in joyous family simchas (celebrations) and even when davening (praying) to Hashem (G-d) during the most serious days of the Jewish calendar (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), in order to try and save the life of another human being. In many cases, they do not even know who that person is.

They are the selfless volunteer members of the Hatzalah of Crown Heights, who for the past thirty have responded immediately during the coldest days of the winter or the hottest days of the summer, to desperate calls for help to dozens of various types of medical emergencies. Every year, the ‘chevra’ (members) of Hatzalah of Crown Heights respond to more than 10,000 pleas for help that run the gamut of painful but non-life threatening injuries to terrifying heart attacks and strokes, in which a quick response time can mean the difference between a chance at continued life or a devastating tragedy for family members.

The individuals who join Hatzalah are screened to make sure that they are responsible members of the community. After being chosen, they are put through a thorough training program that includes dozens of hours of classes and self-study of medical first aid texts. Members must undergo special New York State certified exams and only those who pass with high marks are allowed to join Hatzalah. They make a commitment to devote dozens, if not hundreds of hours over the course of a year to respond to anxious calls for help. And they do so for free, without any thought of payment.

Although, the organization was established by members of the Crown Heights Jewish community, the volunteer members respond to medical emergencies to any member of the neighborhood, without regard to race, religion or ethnic background of the individual in need. Many non-Jews have come to respect the professional skills of Hatzalah volunteers and are quick to call the group when a medical emergency occurs. Hatzalah unlike the city 911 emergency medical technical teams, does not charge for its services. That is perhaps one reason why many people who lack adequate health insurance or have limited budgets, prefer to call Hatzalah first.

Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands of people who are walking on the streets of Brooklyn and elsewhere only because of the timely response that they received from volunteers of Hatzalah to life-threatening medical emergencies that they suffered while in Crown Heights. One of the reasons the group is able to respond to emergencies so quickly is the fact that they live and work in the community. This enables the dedicated members of Hatzalah to reach any point in the community within moments of the call for help being sent out over special radios by the group dispatcher.

Indeed for the dozens of Crown Heights Hatzalah volunteers, their commitment to serve is almost a religious mission. In Judaism, there is a strong emphasis of Tikun Haolam – repairing the world. What better way than to help save a human life. Indeed, the Mishna declares, “One who saves a single life, it is as if he had saved an entire universe.” These words truly characterize the attitudes of Hatzalah members who take pride also in fulfilling the Torah dictum of “Veahavta lireacha kimocha/love your fellow man like yourself.” Unlike many moral ethicalists who merely mouth pious statements, the volunteers of Hatzalah make a living demonstration of their service to both G-d and fellow man, often at the expense of precious time with their spouses and children.

That these dozens of selfless community members devote countless hours throughout the years to assisting and saving the lives of others is one of the greatest mitzvahs that we are privileged to see. But, this incredible miracle cannot exist without the financial support of the people in the community who have an appreciation for the great chesed service that Hatzalah volunteers perform on a routine basis. The cost of maintaining and insuring the ambulances and other life-saving medical equipment routinely utilized over the course of a year by Hatzalah members runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Unlike the official 911 E.M.S. crews and service that benefit from both city and state funding, the Crown Heights Division of Hatzalah is totally dependent on caring people like you to make generous tax-deductible donations. For your convenience, such contributions can also be made on all major credit cards, thereby allowing you to gain the advantage of also earning bonus points and frequent flyer miles.

Why should you make a donation? Because, not only is it a major mitzvah in the Torah and the decent thing to do (proving your love for your fellow man who was made in the image of G-d), but also it is something that the Lubavitcher Rebbe strongly supported.

Unlike the Hatzalah organizations of other prominent Jewish communities in the Metropolitan New York area, Crown Heights is a smaller community that does not have the services of full-time professional fundraisers. Therefore, your help is so very desperately needed. Remember, what goes around, comes around, and with your much needed help, Hatzalah of Crown Heights will still be able to be around to respond to the thousands of frantic pleas for help that may come in this coming year.

Please take the time to carefully reflect upon this great mitzvah and then kindly send a generous tax-deductible donation that will bring you benefits not only in this world, but also in Olam Haba (the World to Come).

For donations, please click here.