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A day in the night of a Hatzolah volunteer

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Community

It’s 17:20 on Tuesday, and I have just finished a full day’s work as an attorney. My volunteer Hatzolah shift starts at 18:00. In spite of wanting to rush home and catch an early dinner with my family, a luxury I haven’t afforded myself over the past few busy weeks, I decide to fetch an ambulance early before my shift starts.

While running through my pre-shift checks, a call comes through on the radio, someone is suffering from chest pain. Although I’m not yet on shift, the full-time teams are caught up with other emergency calls (after fielding back-to-back calls throughout the day), and I immediately respond to the call.

The patient is having a heart attack and urgently needs to go to hospital. After the call, I manage to get home just in time to put my kids to bed and get something to eat. I pray for a quiet night. Unfortunately, my prayers go unanswered.

The next call comes in. There is a COVID-19-positive patient who needs to go to hospital. My partner and I meet up and don full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) – a protective suit, N95 mask, face shield, and a double pair of gloves. We assess the patient although it is exceptionally difficult with all our gear. My glasses/face shield mist up, the hood of the protective suit makes it difficult to hear the patient talking behind her mask, while the patient struggles to hear me through my mask. We take the patient to the hospital, alone, as the rest of the patient’s family are isolating.

From the outside, the hospital is deceptively quiet. We unload our patient, and walk into the emergency room, only to be stopped abruptly in our tracks. The casualty is complete chaos. The nurse demands: “Why are you here? What’s wrong with your patient?” We tell her that we have a COVID-19-positive patient. “Go wait in your ambulance. We have no beds, and there are other patients waiting outside for a bed.”

I ask the nurse, who appears totally exhausted, how long she believes the wait will be. She says we can expect about an hour’s wait, and then adds that she would like a short break at some point to grab something to eat (it’s almost 23:00). Out of her pocket, she pulls a piece of paper with handwritten notes showing how many beds are available in the entire hospital.

She crosses some numbers off and says, “There are only two beds left.” I glance over at the rescue room. There are four patients lying in beds hooked up to oxygen tanks, desperately waiting to be admitted.

I head back outside to the ambulance where my partner is monitoring our patient. She, too, is breathing through an oxygen apparatus in our ambulance. We are still kitted out in full PPE, and the discomfort of the mask cutting into the bridge of my nose only worsens, but we cannot risk getting exposed and exposing our families.

The hour mark passes slowly, yet there are still no beds. Waiting outside, I chat with a medic from another ambulance service in the same predicament. He tells me that he’s tired. He has brought his patient from Soweto, as there were no available beds at any of the other hospitals. “I’m starting to think that this job isn’t worth the money,” he shares with me.

Another hour drags by. A sobbing woman exits the hospital. Clearly, she has lost a loved one but cannot be with the deceased or her family.

A doctor walks out of the Emergency Room. He hardly has time for a quick smoke. We speak briefly, and he explains how much worse this wave has been compared to the last two. “Young and old are dying, and we still don’t know enough about the virus,” he points out.

Finally, two and half hours later, we are called in and told that they can accept our patient. We complete the handover and wish our patient well. However, we aren’t done yet. We head back to base to properly remove our PPE and decontaminate the ambulance. It’s a huge relief to remove the protective equipment as I can once again hear and see properly, notwithstanding the marks that remain on my face.

Eventually, we head home to try and get some sleep, although it’s never easy falling asleep after servicing a call. Slowly my eyes close, only to be disturbed by yet another “high-risk call” shortly thereafter. And so it goes, the cycle restarts as I start to don my PPE gear once again.

It’s already 07:00 by the time we get back to base after the call. The sun is out, and we still haven’t had a chance to sleep. We finish off our paperwork, and head home, physically and emotionally drained. The full-time team takes over for the day, facing the same fate almost every single day. I have to return to my regular job, give my clients the best possible service, and be the best father to my kids and the best husband to my wife, all while shutting out the horrors I was exposed to over the past 12 hours.

These are difficult times and they carry a heavy weight, but it’s imperative that I don’t allow it to have a negative impact on my life. At the end of the day, life goes on, but not for everyone.

Take your safety into your own hands. Stay home! Put off your social arrangements for the next few weeks. Believe it or not, one can get COVID-19 from extended family members and close friends (and it’s happening at an alarming rate). Wear a mask, keep a social distance, sanitise/wash your hands, and avoid going out unnecessarily.

  • Yosef Shishler is an attorney who specialises in family law. He is a police reservist, who also volunteers as a medic for Hatzolah.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Tanya Silverman

    Jul 1, 2021 at 12:17 pm

    The doctor went outside for a quick smoke break? Talk about cognitive dissonance!

  2. Batya Glezer

    Jul 1, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    Thanks for this article. I hope this gets the message across to take the situation very seriously.

  3. Hilton Loewenstein

    Jul 1, 2021 at 12:58 pm

    A huge Yasher Koach to Yosef and everyone at Hatzolah! We are indebted to you all forever.

  4. Dianne Michel

    Jul 1, 2021 at 5:56 pm

    Thanks to all the Hatzolah Doctors and volunteers. There are not enough words. We are a truly blessed community to have you angels. Dianne Michel

  5. Pam

    Jul 4, 2021 at 9:06 am

    G-d bless and stay safe. One day this horror story will be over, the sun will come out, we will be able to walk around without masks and uncertainty and fear will be something of the past. Thank you for your selfless deeds.

  6. Michael Martin Furman

    Jul 5, 2021 at 11:26 am

    Kol Hakavod,Yoseph or may I call you Tzaddik as in my eyes you are one reading your article makes one realize what true volunteering is all about. May Hashem bless you and all yours.
    I am 75 and have volunteered all my in Israeli Border police and also the Traffic Police and know how getting home, showering having a sandwich no sleep but off to work.

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Community

Communal organisations help make Rosh Hashanah special

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With Rosh Hashanah upon us, communal organisations are hard-pressed to make sure that every community member is looked after, but the number of people needing help has spiked since the onset of the pandemic.

The Chevrah Kadisha – which looks after the lion’s share of those in need – has recorded a 35% increase in the amount of financial assistance that it gives families towards living costs. In the Western Cape, Jewish Community Services Cape Town (JCS) recipients have increased more than 100%.

The Jewish Women’s Benevolent Society (JWBS) has also noticed an increase in the number of people in need over the past few years. “With COVID-19, it’s especially hard,” said Maureen Disler, the co-chairperson of the organisation which has survived for more than 127 years. “People have lost their jobs, and some people ask for food vouchers. They haven’t got enough to feed their children.”

The Chevrah Kadisha gives special yom tov meals to the 850 elderly and physically or mentally challenged people living in its residential facilities. However, its wider reach extends to nearly 11 000 people, helping them with living costs, food, healthcare, education, accommodation, and social services throughout the year.

“The Chev is unique in the sheer volume of people it helps, the duration of time that it helps them for, and the diverse range of its activities from cradle to grave,” said Saul Tomson, the chief executive of the largest Jewish welfare organisation on the African continent.

The organisation distributes R5 million every month to families in the community, totalling R60 million for the year. This is a significant increase from pre-COVID-19 times. It’s also involved in education, with nearly R1 million a month going towards 279 children in Jewish schools and remedial schools, as well as 130 university students who are being educated through the Chev’s interest-free student-loan programme.

“Particularly now leading up to Rosh Hashanah, a lot of assistance is being distributed through our COVID-19 emergency release fund,” Tomson said.

Smaller organisations like Yad Aharon & Michael have also been inundated with new requests over the past two years.

“Whereas the number of families who receive weekly food parcels from us stands at about 700, families who aren’t in a position to provide festive meals for Rosh Hashanah through to Sukkot apply for food parcels, which we gladly provide, thereby increasing the number of parcels packed by anything between 20 to 30 plentiful yom tov hampers,” said Alice Friedman, the chief executive of the organisation founded more than 23 years ago.

Ingrid Koor, the chairperson of the Union of Jewish Women (UJW), which assists just more than 100 people over Rosh Hashanah, said, “There are many more people in need as many families have emigrated, leaving elderly people. The economic downturn and COVID-19 have made things more difficult. With, unfortunately, many more elderly passing, our numbers have remained the same for a few years.”

The UJW’s flagship project, Kosher Mobile Meals (KMM), will supply festive cooked kosher Rosh Hashanah meals, plus honey for a hopefully sweeter year. “We will also distribute yom tom joy parcels supplied by the HOD [Hebrew Order of David] consisting of treats and non-perishable food to recipients,” said Koor. “KMM distributes kosher cooked meals to those Jewish elderly over 75 who are unable to cook for themselves.”

For Rosh Hashanah, Yad Aharon & Michael is handing out double portions of seasonal fruit, apples and vegetables, supplemented by meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Its dry goods hampers include honey, grape juice, challahs, and honey cakes in addition to all the basic requirements needed to prepare yom tov meals and usher in a happy and sweet new year.

“I’m confident our families won’t need to shop for extra food for two days of yom tov,” said Friedman. “Our aim is to enable them to enjoy plentiful meals free from worry and anxiety. This is made possible by the community’s renowned generosity.”

JWBS is giving money to its recipients to sweeten their Rosh Hashanah. It also recently gave out activity packs. “People are lonely and isolated, so we’ve given them each an activity pack. They really look forward to it,” said Disler.

This Rosh Hashanah, the JCS’s hampers include round challot, ready-made vegetable soup, roast chicken, pumpkin pie, vegetables, salads, and strawberries.

“Of course, we add in the apples, honey, grape juice, and candles,” said Lauren Cohn, the chairperson of the JCS Tikvah Foodbank Committee. “In addition, we include a Tupperware container filled with teiglach, meringues, dried fruit, and Sparkles. Every food hamper has a special Rosh Hashanah card handmade by children in our local Jewish schools. These food hampers are well thought out, meticulously planned, and beautifully presented with the love, dignity, and respect that we all deserve.”

The JCS is raising funds through the Rosh Hashanah Appeal, which entails sending out e-cards on behalf of the Tikvah Foodbank’s donors. The organisation also relies on volunteers.

“Our Rosh Hashanah and Pesach [fundraising] campaigns are the biggest,” said Friedman. “We have a Rosh Hashanah campaign running at the moment. It’s widely posted on social media, advertised on street poles in suburbs known to be frequented by the Jewish community, and in the SA Jewish Report. We’re also selling beautiful yom tov gifts at various points in Joburg, which is a successful initiative.”

The JWBS phones people to ask for donations as COVID-19 restrictions prevent it from running traditional functions such as theatre shows and golf tournaments.

Since many of the UJW’s recipients don’t have family nearby or the funds to pay for their meals, KMM is run mostly on donations. “We launched a fundraising campaign on social media and via our databases to raise money,” said Koor. “We also phoned people to ask for donations.”

Although the UJW’s principal need is donations, it also needs volunteers to chat to its isolated elderly when it’s safer to do so. “KMM recipients are more isolated since COVID-19,” said Koor. “We used to host elderly people to a Wednesday lunch at our UJW house. These people are sorely missing the social interaction.”

Asked what advice she has for those wanting to help others on Rosh Hashanah, Friedman said, “Teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah are the three elements which Hashem takes into account when finalising our verdict for the coming year. I’m fully cognisant that everybody is financially stretched, but helping those in our midst who cannot celebrate Rosh Hashanah and the chaggim without our assistance is a communal responsibility. Treating the needy with sensitivity, kindness, and empathy underpins Yad Aharon’s brand of chesed, and addressing the harsh reality of hunger and destitution in our midst forms an integral part of our mission.”

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Community

Hudaco-ORT helps disabled entrepreneurs

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ORT South Africa hosted a ceremony on 12 August for 10 entrepreneurs who it assisted to obtained SETA qualifications to help them start their own businesses.

The potential and existing entrepreneurs were assisted by Hudaco-ORT to obtain National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level 2 new venture creation qualifications, assisting them to start and grow their business ventures.

Hudaco-ORT helps people with disabilities by facilitating their completion of the NQF level 2 qualifications, which equips them to capitalise on opportunities. The beneficiaries received their Sector Education Training Authority (SETA) certificates at the ceremony.

“We often unintentionally consume ourselves with what’s considered the norm rather than focusing on our own uniqueness,” Hudaco-ORT said. “People with disabilities are the epitome of uniqueness, forming a vital part of society and reminding us to value our own strengths and weaknesses.”

Said, beneficiary Mncedisi Bengu, “It was a surprise. I was fairly happy and shocked at the same time. I didn’t think I would be successful. My teacher, Sarah Malape, gave me an experience that I had never had in my life. She taught me to respect myself and other people, and to be myself.”

On receiving his certificate, he said, “I’m excited. At my home, they gonna [sic] be happy for me, and say, ‘Wow you did it.’”

Said another beneficiary, Sthembile Gumede, “I’m so happy, and my grandmother is happy for me. I wish I learnt more because I like books.”

ORT SA wishes all the beneficiaries of the Hudaco-ORT Project well in their future endeavours, and is grateful to Hudaco for partnering with it to make a difference in people’s lives.

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Rabbi and craftsman perfect the art of charity

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Two people from two different backgrounds – Rabbi David Masinter and artist Leonard Nyathi – have come together with the goals of teaching, educating, uplifting, and spreading the message about the need for charity around the globe.

Masinter, the rabbi of Chabad House in Johannesburg and the founder of the fundraiser Miracle Drive, was looking for a good craftsman who could also teach in the most destitute areas.

He came across Nyathi, a master craftsman whose business struggled before Miracle Drive recognised his talents and commissioned custom artworks.

Masinter told Nyathi, “Let’s identify the artists, bring them together, train them, and I will buy in a whole bunch.”

Encouraged, Nyathi started working with Masinter. “We worked as a team, an unusual team,” says Masinter. “The only thing we have in common is that we both like to teach.”

They started hiring and training underprivileged people. “We normally hire street kids and people with disabilities,” says Nyathi. “We also give training to people that don’t have an education. The rabbi and I decided to employ people so that they could make a living.”

Masinter says they found underprivileged artists in the most remote areas, and improved their skills. “When you find a skill within a person, you improve not only that skill but every other aspect as well,” he says.

Nyathi and the other artists are turning Jewish objects into what Masinter calls “African art”. All the artworks are handcrafted and hand painted – from ceramic mezuzah cases and ceramic dreidels to ceramic arks and a set of three ceramic grating plates (meat, parev, and dairy). It can all be purchased on the online Gallery of Goodness and Kindness, set up due to COVID-19. According to Masinter, they also “have a whole bunch” of non-Jewish products.

“The gallery online is only the beginning,” says Masinter. “We are building a proper gallery like the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art – a proper beautiful online gallery to promote South African art, underprivileged and other artists, one that can bring a smile to people’s faces.”

Asked if they have a marketing and sales strategy, Masinter says, “A hundred percent. That’s why this thing is going global. We also doing displays in different shopping centres, and we are taking it overseas.”

Nyathi is thankful for Masinter’s help. Now, he and the other artists can afford to pay their rent and support their families. “If it wasn’t for Shabbat, we were going to close this business,” Nyathi says.

When people praise his artwork, Nyathi says he feels “over the moon” and “recognised” in his heart.

Asked where the funding comes from for the materials, Masinter says, “Where required, I will do the funding, but the idea is to make it self-sustainable. This thing is global. We have already got orders from overseas. We are changing our world for good. Everyone should be energised by this. We can do much more.”

Masinter believes every Jew is obligated to uplift the spiritual and material welfare not only of every Jew, but also non-Jews as well.

“Therefore, we cannot live as South Africans only focusing on Jewish things when we have a fortune of programmes, from kids programmes to teenage programmes, to senior-citizen feeding programmes. We have to worry about everybody. You can’t live in a country where millions of people are living in squalor and say, ‘It’s not our problem’. The way to [help] is through job creation, and this project is helping with that. We have 21 libraries in the city in underprivileged areas. We have the whole learning programme for primary school children. We have a job-creation programme, and now during COVID-19, we went into this programme, which is self-explanatory. A rabbi and an artist have come together to turn the world upside down for good, with one thing in common, a passion for art and education.”

Masinter’s charitable work is based on two philosophies, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” and “You don’t have to stay down, you can uplift everybody.”

Asked how long he has been doing his charitable work, he says, “I’m a Chabad rabbi. Every Chabad rabbi does charitable work. We don’t talk about the past. It’s about what we could be doing. You must energise people to copy what we are doing. We can’t sit here with millions of people living in squalor. We should all be asking what are we doing to assist welfare in this country, Jewish and non-Jewish.”•            The Gallery of Goodness and Kindness can be found at: https://www.chabadsouthafrica.org/templates/articlecco

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