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Eight Minutes of Terror: A Heroic Tale From Har Nof

Teaneck–It was the early morning of November 18, when Akiva Pollack was off duty and on the way to his Daf Yomi shiur. He’s a senior paramedic with Magen David Adom (MDA) who found himself on the scene of the tragic terrorist attack at the Kehilat Bnei Torah shul in Har Nof. He told his story to the crowd at the Young Israel of Teaneck.

“My co-worker and I just met and were on our way to learn when he said a call had just came through seconds prior indicating some sort of an emergency at the shul. We happened to be right there so we walked in. I immediately saw a man several yards away wearing his tallit and laying on the floor in a pool of blood. He thought he was shot but I told him, ‘no, you’re not shot you’ve been cut.’ They (the terrorists) heard me and immediately began shooting at us.”

Moments after arriving at the shul the unsuspecting paramedics were assaulted by heavy gunfire with only a split second to determine how dangerous the situation was. Pollack and his colleague scrambled back to save their own lives. “They kept shooting at us, I heard a scream when my friend slipped on the blood trying to get away. He broke his ankle. They kept shooting at him but they were missing. I ran back and dragged him away,” said Pollack. “The pictures you saw with the smeared streaks of blood [in the hallway] came from me dragging his body.”

Off-duty, unarmed and exposed to the enemy, they were defenseless and without medical equipment. “I knew we had to get away from that spot. There were so many twists and turns, openings, and doors, but we had to move. We had no idea what was going on, and no one else did either. I had my cell phone pinned to my ear, talking to dispatch the entire time telling them everything as it was going on. It all happened so fast–the whole thing lasted about eight minutes,” said Pollack.

Police arrived on the scene minutes after the two-man MDA team and immediately engaged the terror assassins in a deadly shootout resulting in the untimely death of Israeli Druze policeman Master Sergeant Zidan Sif and the execution of the two cold-blooded killers.

“This is not my religion, there is no justification this is not what the world wants to see. It is such a tragedy,” said former Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin to the crowd after Pollack told his story. Hameeduddin, the first Muslim American mayor elected in Bergen County, is heading to Israel for the first time in January, “I am looking forward to going and building bridges in Israel.”

Their terrorists’ choice of weapons, the timing, the location and the premeditated cruel violence used against innocent, unsuspecting victims branded this vicious attack one of the most barbaric and difficult to comprehend in almost a decade of relative quiet.

In his bone chilling account, Pollack describes the fateful seconds that ultimately ended police officer Sif’s life, “He (the second terrorist) came flying out like in a movie, landing on his side in front of the officer, yelling, ‘Alla hu Akbar’ as he open fired on officer Sif.”

The victims of the bloody massacre Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, Rabbi Kalman Levine, Rabbi Moshe Twersky and Aryeh Kupinsky left behind grieving widows, 26 children and scores of family and friends. According to Israeli news reports, their senseless deaths have been celebrated in Arab quarters by Israeli Arabs, dancing in the streets, lauding the heinous murderers as heroes and praising the savage atrocities.

Ironically, however, when they or any member of their clan is in need of medical attention they call on Magen David Adom, Israel’s official disaster response, ambulance and blood services agency. “No matter where you are in Israel, no matter who you are… In times of war or peace, if you are religious or secular, Jewish, Christian or Arab dial ‘101’ and MDA will send a highly trained medical paramedic to you,” said Gary Perl the Northeast Regional Director of American Friends of MagenDavid Adom, (AFMDA).

“We go where we must to save a life, even the Gazan border. Once we went on a call in an Arab neighborhood, while I was treating the mother, the son entered the home and slammed my head down, so I had to reach for my gun,” Pollack told a stunned audience.

Magen David Adom is world renowned and sought out by many countries to teach agencies and municipalities 21st century emergency response methods. The demand to learn these groundbreaking methods of dealing with mass casualties took a MDA team to Massachusetts prior to the Boston Marathon bombing, which proved to be invaluable.

The MDA training and new procedures employed during the crisis significantly aided first responders in achieving greater public safety for Bostonians on that fateful day. During Operation Protective Edge they responded to calls from mortar attacks to births to traffic accidents. Yet in the wake of Operation Protective Edge, MDA is facing its own unpreparedness. More than 5,000 terrorist’s rockets rained down on the country, reaching further into Israel than ever before. The contemporary blood center built in the late 1980’s is home to 97% of Israel’s blood supply and 100% of the IDF’s.

As danger escalated on every border, including threats to Ben Gurion Airport, an alarming unthinkable new risk surfaced. Located in Tel Aviv, the blood center faced an unforeseen vulnerability. In one night, the entire center had to be moved into a 400 square foot bomb shelter, equipment, refrigeration, blood units–everything had to be evacuated. In response to these longer-range missiles AFMDA has launched a new capital campaign to build a brand new underground facility for the vital protection of the critical blood supply. “We have the location identified, the plans are made we just need the money,” said Eillene Leistner, Chief Development Officer at AFMDA.

MDA, while regulated by the government, is not a government agency and relies heavily on donations and support from AFMDA which raises about $35 million of the $100 million dollar operating budget.

In honor of his father-in-law Rabbi Joseph Feinstein’s 25th yartzeit, Teaneck Deputy Mayor Elie Y. Katz and his wife Esther have launched a Bergen County campaign to raise $100,000 to purchase a new life support ambulance and they’re more than halfway there. “During the 50 day war MDA spent an extra $2 million more per day to service all the emergencies. That’s in addition to the actual budget,” Katz told JLBC.

MDA has a fleet of more than 1,000 ambulances and nearly 200 medical emergency Medicycles as well as Mobile Intensive Care Units and specialized vehicles. “Ambulances have a lifespan of about 8-10 years and they need to be upgraded and stocked with cutting-edge lifesaving equipment. We are so proud to be a part of this community effort, which also includes yeshiva day schools, and programs to educate the children and helping them understand how we can all help save lives,” said Katz.

“My father passed away young but he made a huge impact. One of the many things he did was organize blood drives for Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. He was buried in Israel and what better way to honor his memory than by helping an organization that manages the nation’s blood supply,” said Esther Katz.

For info and to donate to the blood center www.afmda.org; for the community sponsored ambulance campaign www.berdendonate.com.

By Elyse Hansford

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