The Israel Rescue Coalition (IRC) and United Hatzalah (UH) Search and Rescue team that departed Israel on Saturday night landed in Atlanta early Sunday morning. The team stocked up on supplies to bring to battered Florida but was grounded due to severe tornado warnings that affected the area of Atlanta and southern Georgia all throughout Sunday. Not wanting to lose any time that could be spent helping Florida evacuees, the team headed to the Beth Jacob synagogue of Toco Hills where the congregation and synagogue itself were providing food and shelter for some 1,500 Irma evacuees.
The Orthodox Synagogue of Beth Jacob and its congregation housed and fed the evacuees, who traveled north to escape the devastation of Hurricane Irma. As reported by Fox5 News in Atlanta, Rabbi Adam Stein of Beth Jacob Synagogue said, “This has been a very difficult time, but also a beautiful time; one in which communities have come together.”
Dr. Shula Wittenstein, a member of the IRC and UH team who is working as an EMS responder as well as a member of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response team, spoke about why the team felt it was important that they stop to help the evacuees in Atlanta.
“We know what it’s like living in a country with a lot of terror, where we feel the impact every day. This is a different type of experience and challenge but it still involves a certain amount of tragedy and loss for many people. We want to reach out to these people in any way we can and help them immediately in the best and most professional way possible. It is pretty obvious that we have a big job to do here and I hope that we will be able to help as many people as we can. ”
Dr. Wittenstein is a psychologist who volunteers with United Hatzalah in Israel by providing psychological and emotional stabilization and first aid to people who need it in the immediate aftermath of traumatic situations.
“It’s amazing to see people from different backgrounds coming together to help out. For me, this is certainly coming out of my comfort zone. In Israel, we are used to helping individuals, even a lot of individuals in mass casualty incidents, but here we are seeing entire communities lose everything they had in one moment. It is a very difficult thing to go through,” said Wittenstein, who has suffered a fire that destroyed her home and lived through the death of her brother. She said that what helped her get through both of those experiences were “people who expressed their caring from the heart.”
“There is nothing that helps as much as someone who comes along just to comfort you. I never underestimate any sort of outreach or intervention as long as it comes from the heart and is done in a professional, humble and respectful manner,” Wittenstein added.
“Our goals are threefold," Wittenstein said of the mission. "First, there is the search and rescue aspect of the mission. Then the medical team comes to treat anyone who needs immediate medical attention that hasn’t been found or seen to by local EMS teams. Then we have the Psychotrauma Unit, which is what I am a part of, whose volunteers help people to cope psychologically and emotionally with the loss and tragedy that they have experienced. We are a cohesive group working under a single operational commanding officer, and we are going to give everything we’ve got to do what United Hatzalah does best—help people in any way we can.”
After the team got to work assisting evacuees in the synagogue and waited out the tornado warnings, they continued on to Savannah to spend the night. On Monday morning the team assisted residents of a retirement facility that had lost power before continuing to make their way to Florida.
The team consists of eight Israeli team members and another two members from the U.S. Of the Israeli contingent, four members are part of Israel’s Search and Rescue Units, three are EMS trained members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit and one is a trained EMT.
The two U.S. members, who are also certified EMTs, will be assisting residents and running team logistics on the ground. The organization has a U.S. office that is dedicating almost all of its resources to providing logistical support and organizing community assistance.
The IRC and UH invite people from the community to get in touch with the teams should they feel they need assistance by contacting the U.S. based team members at firstname.lastname@example.org
Those interested in supporting the rescue efforts are invited to click here.