Hatzalah begins in Dallas bearing N95 masks
Photo: Courtesy Baruch Shawel/Hatzalah of Dallas
“Of course we hope we’re not needed, but we’ll be ready if we are,” said Baruch Shawel, founder of the Dallas chapter of Hatzalah, a volunteer emergency support team.  “During this medical crisis, and all times, my neighbor or yours, we don’t know when someone will be in need.” (left to right) Rabbi Menachem Ziemba, Cara Mendelsohn, Baruch Shawel, Dr. Ronna Miller and Michele Trinka, MSN, RN at a CPR-certification class in February.

Emergency corps is crisis ready

By Deb Silverthorn

The Hebrew word Baruch translates to “blessing,” and Dallas native Baruch Shawel is just that.  Founder of Dallas’ Hatzalah program, a volunteer medical support corps and
501(c)(3), Shawel has prepared for crises — but for one-at-a time.  As COVID-19 makes its way through the community, medical resources are limited.

“We want to be a 24/7 year-round first responder organization.  We hope we’re not needed but the reality is that resources aren’t always available, or as close, as your neighbor,” said Shawel.  “If we can save lives, that is what we as Jews, as humans, are called to do.”

Hatzalah, which means rescue, began in 1968 when a Williamsburg, New York resident had a heart attack at home.  A call was made to the city emergency medical ambulance service but, by the time it arrived, he’d passed away.   

Friends and family turned tragedy into a mitzvah by purchasing an ambulance. Community members, with emergency medical service training, began providing help in emergent cases where city services were not able to respond immediately. Now, there are chapters worldwide.

Shawel, a graduate of Akiba and Yavneh academies, studied at Ohr Sameach in Israel and was first certified by Magen David Adom as an EMT in 2009.  He returned to New York, earned an accounting degree at Touro College, became certified as a New York EMT and joined, then served, Hatzalah there for five years. 

Since Shawel and his wife Tzippy and their children moved to Dallas in 2018, he’s become certified as a paramedic and devoted to establishing the local Hatzalah chapter. 

“This is a tight community and to know that, at 3 o’clock in the morning, you can help a neighbor, is incredible,” he said.  “9-1-1 should always be the first course of action, and then us.  We don’t, at this time, transport but we can be there from the start and provide support until an ambulance arrives.”

Watching his community manage through the current coronavirus crisis, Shawel personally purchased 100, difficult to come by, N-95 masks.

“We have 100 masks and we’re giving them out to those who are 65 and older, with preexisting conditions and to front-line responders, at the greatest risk,” said Shawel, hoping community members who can, will donate to the procurement of more masks.  “Hatzalah chapters are able to purchase them at cost and, for as long as I can find and afford them, we’ll continue.” 

Dr. Larry Shafron says “though Hatzalah has had some challenges with the City of Dallas, if its members can respond more quickly, and save lives, they will.”

Shafron, Shawel and fellow board members Rabbi Dr. Ian Neeland and Rabbi Menachem Ziemba are building their team, hoping to add volunteers at each day school, congregation and organization, prepared and able to respond. 

“Most major Jewish communities around the world have an emergency response team and, as Dallas’ community has grown, so has our responsibility,” said Shafron.  “Baruch is dedicated.  This is his priority.”

“We hope we’re not needed, but we’ll be ready,” said Shawel, his car prepared with a medical jump bag that has oxygen, trauma and first-aid kits, a glucometer, glucose tourniquet and a defibrillator. In the future, with support, such kits will be provided to other volunteers.

Before the coronavirus, the Dallas Hatzalah chapter was leading CPR-certification classes. They are slated to resume after the crisis has passed, broadening the numbers of those able to react in an emergency.

Dallas City Council Member Cara Mendelsohn took a class taught by UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Dr. Ronna Miller and Michele Trinka, MSN, RN an assistant clinical professor at Texas Woman’s University and a clinical educator at Children’s Health.

“Baruch is doing a great job and I hope the group will expand. CPR training has changed since I was certified, years ago, but I believe now I could perform CPR until an ambulance arrived.  The message is clear. The first four minutes are the most critical,” said Mendelsohn.  “Hatzalah is preparing neighbors to help each other. I love the mission of teaching people how to help in critical moments.”

Shawel went to Israel last year to participate in a Hatzalah training program with volunteers from around the world.  Led by members of the Israel Defense Forces and Magen David Adom, nearly 400 prospective lifesavers returned home prepared.

“During this medical crisis, and always, my neighbor or yours, we don’t know when someone will be in need,” said Shawel. “We’re all brothers and sisters.  Whoever saves a life it’s as if they saved the world.”

For more information on reaching Hatzalah in an emergency, or to volunteer or make a donation, email HatzalahOfDallas@gmail.com

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