20 Jan CHEVRA HATZALAH OF N.Y. HIRES NEW CEO: EXCLUSIVE Q & A WITH THE NEW CEO OF HATZALAH, R’ YEHIEL KALISH
Name: Yechiel Moshe Ben Avraham Mendel
Family: Wife and 6 children.
One married, 3 in Eretz Yisrael, one in Baltimore, 9 year old at home.
Grew up in: Born in Philadelphia; grew up in New York, Cincinnati, Providence, and Chicago.
Currently lives in: Chicago and Far Rockaway.
Currently davens at: Baal Tefillah for the Yomim Noraim in Shaarei Tzedek for the past 20 years. On a typical Shabbos, I mostly daven there, but sometimes I have to be in different places for simchas or something else. In NY our family will again belong to the White Shul, the Agudah of Long Island and Rabbi Stein’s shul.
Yeshivas growing Up: Skokie Yeshiva for High school and Merkaz HaTorah in Talpiot for Bais Medresh, and then went back to Skokie/HTC for Smicha from Rabbi Morgenstern.
Years in Kollel: 2 years in Cincinnati Kollel
Years working for Agudah: I started in 2002 and stepped down in 2014
Job Title at Agudah: My last title was Vice President of Development and Relations. I held a few other titles over the years starting with Midwest Regional Director.
Years as a member of the General Assembly for the 16th District of the State of Illinois: 2 years. (I learned more about myself and the importance of public service in these 2 years than any other time in my life).
Name of Previous Hatzalah CEO: David Cohen. I don’t believe there was anyone after David Cohen, z’l, officially. David stepped down in 2015.
Current Number of Hatzalah members in New York: About 1500
Current New York Hatzalah budget: High
Favorite Mesechta: Rosh Hashanah
Favorite MLB player growing up: We have to go with both Mike Shmidt and Pete Rose. I can’t choose one. I have more Rose paraphernalia, probably because he broke the record on my birthday. There were a couple of things with Rose. Pete Rose moved from Philadelphia to Cincinnati the same year I did and then he broke the hits record on my birthday so that solidified him. Even though Schmidt was the greatest Phillie of all time.
After conducting a comprehensive, nationwide search for a new chief executive officer, the board of Chevra Hatazlah of New York, the largest volunteer ambulance corps in the United States, has hired Rabbi Yehiel Kalish. “Yehiel’s energy and enthusiasm are contagious,” said Mr. Zelig Gitelis, a member of the executive board of Chevra Hatzalah New York, which serves the city’s five boroughs, Nassau County, and other areas upstate. “With his highly professional background and experience, he is uniquely qualified to maximize and build upon the tremendous accomplishments of the organization. Before serving as a member of the General Assembly for the 16th District of Illinois for the last two years, Rabbi Kalish logged 12 years of experience as the vice president for development and state regulations at Agudath Israel. Rabbi Kalish has also served as the CEO for the S4 Group, which is a consulting firm used by the U.S. government and businesses. “Our search for a CEO focused on two key priorities,” said Mr. Isaac Stern, another Chevra Hatzalah executive board member. “We wanted a CEO with strong, proven leadership qualities, and someone who shares the organization’s passion for service to others.” Last week Ari Hirsch/Jewish Vues had the privilege to interview Rabbi Yehiel Kalish.
Mazel Tov on your new position as CEO of Chevra Hatzalah of New York. Can you please tell everyone how you came to be the new CEO?
There was an article written in Mishpacha magazine in the Succos edition by a gentleman named Binyamin Rose who has been the political reporter for Mishpacha for over a decade. For many years I would color for Binyamin. He lives in Eretz Yisroel and he’ll call me to make sure he has the pulse correct on what he felt was going on in the US and we’d talk it out. A vast majority of the time my name was not mentioned in any of the news articles. As my political career was coming to an end, he thought it would be nice for the Mishpacha readership to learn more about me, so he wrote a very nice article. One of the individuals involved in the search for the new Hatzolah CEO, which has been going on for a number of years, saw the article and reached out to me. At that point, I checked in with Naftali Solomon who’s been involved with Hatzolah for 25-30 years, Rabbi Yaakov Bender, one of the founders of Hatzolah and who’s very close to our family, and Chazkel Bennet from Brooklyn. Those are three individuals who I trusted very much and who were involved in Hatzolah to see if they thought it would be a good fit. After getting hadracha from them, we started the interview process. I found further hadracha from my Rabbeim and Reb Chaim Dovid Zweibel in terms of moving forward and what this means for me and for Klal Yisroel. Rav Chaim Dovid has been a Rebbe of mine ever since I started with the Agudah. Boruch Hashem I did well with the interview process and we’re now moving forward.
Please tell everyone a little bit about yourself.
I have always been involved in communal work, really since I was nine years old and I was elected Vice President for my area’s NCSY. I’ve always been involved in fundraising, which is definitely helpful if you want to be involved in politics. I always wanted to work for Agudas Yisroel. Since I was a young child my mother used to receive mailings from Rav Moshe Sherer and I would read those and consume every word of what Rabbi Sherer was sending out to the public and I wanted to work for the Agudah. Rabbi Shmuel Bloom who was the executive Vice President for Agudas Yisroel in 2001 came to Cincinnati for Shabbos and we met and he said if you’re ever looking for an opportunity to work at the Agudah, give me a call, and I did. Rabbi Bloom directed me and pushed me toward government and toward developing my fundraising skills. With hadracha from the Telzer Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Avrohom Chaim Levin and the daily involvement of R’ Shmuel Bloom, a little bit of talent and clear siyata d’shmaya, we succeeded tremendously. We grew the organization from one office and a $5000 donation to 8 offices and cash flowing at $3 million dollars annually. We moved to the next step in terms of really developing the government relations of the Agudah where we were testifying and involved in advocacy in 28 states. It was awesome!
After 10-12 years of that, it was time for me to seek a new adventure and start my own consulting firm. Then the opportunity came, after the consulting firm was doing well, to make a change where I could serve the public to a much greater degree as a state legislator and we grabbed it. Boruch Hashem our team accomplished great things for the community. What one Rep can do is amazing.
You are now the new CEO of Hatzalah of all of New York. Is that correct? Which branches of Hatzolah are under your auspices?
There’s a Chevra Hatzolah, or the central management, or mothership, and then each community manages their own day to day operations. The central management is responsible for licensing, insurance, audits, government relations, and making sure that the communication systems and all of the different operations are doing well. Each of the larger areas have coordinators who are responsible for interfacing with the Chevra. Avi Wertzberger, who was brought in by my predecessor David Cohen, is currently the executive director. Avi and I will share this responsibility with Avi continuing to manage day to day operations. Avi is an amazing askan and Hatzalah member, who is also a real leader in the Williamsburg community. My goal over the next few months is to work with the area coordinators from the five boroughs and to understand what their needs are that are not being met. For example, there’s no secret that we have to update our communication devices, and do a better job at our call centers. We need to ensure that there’s proper communication between someone calling Hatzolah and the individual going out to that person. So that’s on us at Chevra to accomplish more in the different areas.
How many Hatzalahs are there in New York? 16.
Where is your office based out of? The corner of McDonald Avenue and 47th Street in Brooklyn.
Are you a current member of Hatzalah? No.
What is the primary focus of your job? Fund raising, upgrading equipment or something else? The primary role that I have is to make sure Hatzolah is what everybody believes it is. Meaning, when someone calls Hatzolah, a volunteer who knows what they are doing will show up within 2 minutes of the call to save a life. Everything that goes into that is my responsibility. That might mean, for example, that we need money to upgrade our equipment or our antennas or our vehicles, etc. Everything that goes into Hatzolah fulfilling its mission is the responsibility of Chevra Hatzalah.
What will your working relationships be with coordinators? I will love those guys. Whatever they need, I will be there to serve them. I’m a service leader by nature so that’s how I expect to work with these coordinators. I need to listen and understand that they know better than I do as it relates to the actual delivery of care and service. I will use my skills and knowledge of structures within non-profit organizations and government to make it work. Everything is Hatzolah means; answering the call. It doesn’t just mean answering the call for someone who needs oxygen, which is why Hatzolah was founded 50 years ago. It means answering the call for whatever it is that needs to be called, so we need to be ready for those calls. So that’s what I hope to do over the next few months to a year.
Who do you think is the main person that has influenced your career? Rav Avrohom Chaim Levin, zt”l the Telzer Rosh HaYeshiva, z”l had the greatest impact on me in terms of my development as an askan and R’ Dovid Schnell kept me focused on the family, while R’ Yanky Feiler has been there to hold my hand every step of the way.
What do you do to relax, recharge, or simply have fun? Torah and CrossFit. I learn and I work out.
For many years now, Hatzalah has had a friendly softball game with the NYPD. Are you a good ball player? Not as good as my son, Shua. Shua is really good. I can hit the ball pretty hard. They put me in left field because I’m pretty slow, but hit for power, so left field or first base. I’m probably good enough to be put in the game, but they would be smart to let me sub out with my son.
Is there something else that we did not discuss that you would like to mention to Jewish Vues readers? It’s very hard to get to know someone through what other people write about them. There’s a lot written about me but I encourage individuals who want to know more about me to reach out. I’m always available.