On Monday night, March 8, at 9:30 p.m., four United Hatzalah volunteers were participating in an advanced EMT training class. Three of them were Jewish men: Alon Goldenberg, Yoni Butbul, and Israel Yaakov Avitan—and one, Sanaa Mahameed, a religious Muslim woman. During the class all four EMTs’ emergency communication devices began to ring in unison, alerting them to a nearby medical emergency. An 80-year-old resident of the northern town of Ram-On suddenly lost consciousness while parking his car.
Pedestrians walking by had spotted the man and alerted his family as one stranger called United Hatzalah’s Dispatch and Command Center. The team of EMTs rushed together to the location, along with the instructing paramedic.
Three minutes later the team arrived at the scene to find a family member attempting CPR while being guided on the phone by dispatch center staff. The man had been pulled out of the car and laid on the street.
The team of first responders quickly took over the CPR effort. A few moments later a doctor who lived in the neighborhood arrived to assist. The doctor administered adrenaline, and Mahameed attached a defibrillator, which advised a sock. After one shock, together with assisted ventilation and chest compressions, the man’s pulse suddenly returned.
Still unconscious, the man was taken to the hospital in a mobile intensive care ambulance, and the team returned to their training session.
“You will not see many religious Muslim women out responding to emergencies,” says Mahameed. “However, despite the common misconception that men and women, Jewish and Muslim, cannot work together, I’ve never felt safer in the company of my peers and fellow EMTs than I do working with other volunteers from United Hatzalah. When I or my fellow first responders are responding to medical emergencies, we don’t see race, religion, or gender, we see an emergency and a person who needs help. By focusing on our common goal of helping others, it is easy to put the politics aside and even build bonds of friendship with one another, and that is what happens in this organization.”
Raphael Poch is the international media spokesperson for United Hatzalah, Israel’s national volunteer EMS organization.