Friday, December 03, 2021

There is a troubling issue brewing in Teaneck and I fear that most people are unaware, but shouldn’t be, and those in the know are tiptoeing around a delicate matter, trying to vacillate over the true problems it will raise.

I am talking about Hatzalah coming to Teaneck, and I only speak of Teaneck because I am not familiar with other towns and the ambulance and response situation.

Let me start with my history and knowledge, just to assert my familiarity. I was born, grew up and lived on the Lower East Side, and Hatzalah grew and became a mainstay since I was three years old. In fact, I knew its president and its leaders; its members were and are friends of mine. One of my longest-standing clients has been and still is a Hatzalah member who runs a large, respected medical service. It had ably saved and served family members, friends and neighbors and I always understood and cherished what it means to us and what it does for a community. It is a group that brings immense pride to Jewish communities, as it is often feted with praise from community and political leaders, clergy of all faiths and anyone in a community, no matter who they are, for incredible response time and world-class medical service and transport.

So why am I writing this? When my family and I moved to Teaneck in 2012 I was shocked that Hatzalah wasn’t here. What I didn’t know then was that we have the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corp. There is no confused comparison. TVAC and Hatzalah both do what I learned to respect about a dedicated volunteer medical team, and they both are sources of pride for the communities where they serve. That Hatzalah is organized and run exclusively by Jewish community members often inspires awe—the essence of giving back to your community and the mitzvot of saving lives and helping people, many who often may not be able to, or cannot, return the kindness.

TVAC is different in one way. It is a full-community group. It was established to bring needed emergency care and transportation, and, like Hatzalah, is made up of volunteers. TVAC, though, represents the diversity of Teaneck. Yet, when Eric Orgen, its president, wrote to this paper last week (“A Letter From TVAC” November 18, 2021), he cautiously wrote of response time and availability. He said that TVAC is equipped to send ambulances with the appropriate responders “24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year… In the event of a high-priority call, off-duty members, who live in all quadrants of our town, are requested to respond directly to a scene as they may be closer than the responding ambulance.” That is terrific, and the people who are advocating for Hatzalah would demonstrate remarkable figures and statistics too. Jewish people who recently moved to Teaneck from the city or other neighborhoods that have active Hatzalah might feel it is important to have familiarity and might not know what is at stake. Response time and stellar service are not the salient points, but it is being used to avoid the real issue at hand.

Teaneck is a big community and we have various populations living among us, and everyone here has benefited from and is served well by TVAC. As we know, we have growing political divides here, we have differences of faith and needs depending on which quadrant of the town we live in. Among us all in Teaneck as a whole we have people and families with profoundly different financial standings, schooling and educational needs, employment statuses, social and religious needs and requirements, and much of these issues have, more of as late, put some circles at communicative and political odds with our neighbors. Right or wrong, this isn’t the letter to debate what they are or why, nor how to fix it.

One of the issues we all come together on is the usefulness and effectiveness of TVAC for everybody. Bring in Hatzalah, and we have a big problem. Many members of TVAC are part of our Jewish community and they have learned to work hand in hand with people of every other faith here. Then we will divide loyalties, possibly pull members away from TVAC toward Hatzalah, weaken its fundraising and staffing and the abilities of TVAC to deliver to everyone. This can make Jews seem as separatists from their broader town, and that is exactly what it will do, and hence cause even more strife in a place and at a time we should be looking to find commonality and come together on the issues that are simpler. This is that simpler issue.

My impression for the drive to install Hatzalah in Teaneck is that there are those who were active in the areas they once lived, felt part of the brotherhood, and miss the association and the satisfying volunteerism, and they may feel that TVAC is already a society in and of itself. They want their old familiarity back. That isn’t a reason to begin the destruction of one of the truly excellent whole-community services we have here. I would urge anyone who wants to be part of Teaneck Hatzalah to become part of TVAC and become part of something big. They can save the same lives, patch the same wounds, feel the same satisfaction of service, and return to the important work they were doing before, while pooling financial and personnel resources for the existing TVAC.

Hatzalah serves where EMS response time isn’t as sharp as is needed. We don’t have that issue here. TVAC does not necessitate more volunteer competition from an all-Jewish EMS group. It is excellent and serves everyone effectively. Teaneck needs, and we all benefit from, the harmony TVAC brings.

Juda Engelmayer

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