28 Apr Heroes in the Air! Q&A With the Founders of Hatzolah Air
Since the start of Covid-19, Hatzolah Air has been very busy helping Klal Yisrael in many different ways. With the amount of people suffering from this disease, Hatzolah Air had the foresight to create a triage center in Yeshiva Shor Yoshuv right after Purim. They have also been helping to bring niftarim to Eretz Yisrael for burial. This past weekend, Hatzolah Air took a few minutes out of their busy schedule to speak with Ari Hirsch from The Jewish Vues about what they’ve been up to lately.
HATZOLAH AIR FOUNDERS:
ELI ROWE is the founder and CEO of Womba, a company that aggregates health data for the insurance industry. He is a pivotal member of Queens Hatzolah and founded its Paramedic Division in the early ’90s, He is a licensed commercial pilot, flying people in need for over twenty years. Given our community’s phenomenal growth and commensurate needs, it became clear that a more formal, organized emergency air service was needed. That’s how Eli, along with his friends and Hatzolah colleagues Gilles (Yaakov) Gade, Ron Levy Esq., and Dr. Avishai Neuman became the founders of Hatzolah Air, an ambitious new initiative to provide free urgent and emergent air transport for people in their most challenging moments.
AVISHAI NEUMAN, an MD who met Eli through Queens Hatzolah about twenty four years ago, took an interest in medicine back when he was a talmid at MTA and Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim. He worked as a service unit during his teenage years for Hatzolah, stocking ambulances and generally helping out where he could. While learning at Yeshivat Hakotel in Eretz Yisrael, Dr. Neuman spent summers volunteering with Magen David Adom and later attended medical school in Tel Aviv at the Sackler School of Medicine. Avishai did his residency in anesthesiology at SUNY Downstate, and today he serves as the medical director of Centurion Anesthesia. He never broke the connection with Hatzolah though; since 2007, as a physician, he holds a “REMAC” position — a doctor who takes medical control of the situation and assigns field orders to paramedics. Although he only became an EMT just a few short years ago, the third partner in the Hatzolah Air initiative, GILLES (YAAKOV) GADE, is an important part of the team. He’s already accompanied Eli on many medical missions, such as flying patients to and from various states around the US and to Eretz Yisrael, as well as having coordinated the aerial search mission for Rabbi Reuven Bauman a”h. In 2014, he and Eli flew to Israel during the Operation Protective Edge-Gaza war in order to help replace the scarcity of medics in Jerusalem. Originally from Marseilles, Gilles came to New York when he took a job at Bear Sterns in 1991. Today he’s the CEO of Cross River Bank, and although his Hatzolah involvement often takes him away from his family — usually not for more than a day at a time — he says his wife is understanding and his children are proud. His involvement in Hatzolah is more recent than that of his airborne colleagues. “I always wanted to join Hatzolah, but I knew it would be a big-time commitment, and I never felt I had the time,” he admits. Today, though, he sees it differently. Referring to himself and his partners, all of whom are highly successful, he comments, “I believe that in our businesses, we do well because we do good.”
RON LEVY ESQ. is an attorney and former partner of an AM250 law firm, with over 20+ years of business and legal experience representing investors, companies and banks in a broad range of M&A, Securities and Real Estate transactions. He has served on the ABCNY Ethics Committee and Aviation committee and has lectured on Securities law matters. Mr. Levy is also a seasoned commercial pilot and FAA certificates Flight Instructor and has assisted on dayanus matters for the Rabinical Court of New York (R. Eliyahu Benchaim).
How many years has Hatzolah Air been going on for?
Hatzolah Air is the Aviation Division for Hatzolah branches around the world, that was formed approximately two years ago, although the directors have been doing flights for over twenty years. We started with our first plane this past year in the New York area and we’re adding planes over the next 24-36 months, in South America, London, Israel, Miami, Chicago, New York, and LA.
Is it needed that much?
It’s needed for many different types of urgent missions including transfers, transplants, niftarim, organs, etc.
With everything going on with COVID-19, how often are you taking niftarim to Eretz Yisrael from America? Unfortunately, we just got back from the airport. We sent another plane out about two hours ago. As an example, we had flights to Israel Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday this past week. So we had four flights last week and already had another one this week. Over the last seven days, we’ve had five flights to Israel, however at times we have done more.
How many niftarim can Hatzolah Air take in a plane at once? We typically take one to four in one flight. Eight is our absolute max. We typically don’t fly with less than two.
Is transporting niftarim something that you charge for?
Hatzolah Air flights are always free. Flights to Israel with niftarim go on a special chartered flight coordinated and managed by Hatzolah Air and the cost is shared amongst the niftarim’s families. One of the nice things we do is to make sure that frum people from chevra kadishas, from frum organizations, and Hatzolah Air load the niftarim on and off the planes. We are the only ones touching the aaron at all times. Additionally, Hatzolah Air makes sure there is always a yiddishe pilot or crew member that acts as the shomer for all flights with niftarim on the plane. The cost is shared between the amount of niftarim that are on the plane. Sometimes, when we have three or four niftarim that are on the plane, or even two that say they want to fly, sometimes we take what’s called a chesed shel emes, somebody who can’t pay. Either Hatzolah Air pays for it or the others on the plane have already paid for it and they go for free. Occasionally it works out that way. Obviously, during this time period of COVID-19, there are different needs that people have than during the usual times. Typically, we transfer sick and injured patients, people who need a transplant, or we do inter-facility transfers. We also sometimes transport people that need to make a levayah or transport a niftar locally in the United States. Hatzolah Air never charged once; every single flight was free.
Please tell us a little bit about the triage you set up at Sh’or Yoshuv.
Around Purim time, when more and more people were getting sick, we realized that there were going to be more patients than the hospitals could handle. We realized that potentially the hospitals would potentially become overwhelmed and would not be able to take additional patients. Our idea was to create a staging triage in New York so that if it came to the point that the hospitals couldn’t take additional patients, instead of tying up our resources and ambulances, we would have a facility where we could stage and triage where local medics and doctors could volunteer to treat people for two hours, two days, or two weeks; whatever was needed. Our expectation was that local volunteers would simultaneously make phone calls to find out when hospitals had beds available so we could transfer patients out as quickly as possible.
How many patients are there right now?
We never actually hit that catastrophic environment, as you know. The hospitals in New York City peaked at around 20,000 patients and they never got to the point of closing their doors. Baruch Hashem, New York has been down trending since last week. We never opened into a full-scale 24-hour environment. Sh’or Yoshuv did open as a COVID treatment triage and testing center under Northwell/LIJ and it’s open from 10 AM- 7 PM with at least one Northwell doctor there at all times. We get between 20-30 patients a day, on average now, that we treat there. But the whole idea is that if, chas v’shalom it does resurge, we have 384 beds in Sh’or Yoshuv that we can treat patients on.
How did you come to Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv out of all places?
Sh’or Yoshuv generously opened their doors to help the community during Hurricane Sandy. They have a fully magnificent, encapsulated campus with lots of parking and a big fence around it. Six13 Guard provides 24 hour security on site, ensuring the safety of all personnel and equipment in this ideal yeshiva conversion that is one level and easily accessed. There’s lots of parking and there’s easy access from 878. We looked at multiple options and this was the best option.
Who funded this whole thing?
I’m sure it cost a lot of money to set this all up. It was funded by local donors that amazingly put the necessary money together in one evening. The generosity and willingness to fund this project was only possible through the willingness of the Far Rockaway/Five Towns community to be directly involved with all aspects of the set up.
When you say “we,” do you mean Eli, Ron, Avishai, and Yaakov?
Not at all. We represent the Hatzolah Air project, however, there was so much more done by others. Morris Wolfson and his generous friends have stood firmly behind every aspect of the project. Moshe Rubin from Sh’or Yoshuv, with the blessings of the Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Jaeger shlita, has been literally working 23 ½ hours every day together with the Hatzolah Air team to handle everything needed to make this a success. The facility is under the auspices of Northwell Health/ LIJ Hospital. Moshe Halon handled the equipment and supplies. Ari Neugarten, a Boro Park Hatzolah member, has been on site every day dealing with all the on-site logistics. Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender of Achiezer has been a tremendous help and there have literally been dozens of people who deserve a huge thank you for their tireless involvement for the success of this project.
I know Eli started the paramedics of Queens Hatzolah in the early 1990’s. Which division of Hatzolah are you all apart of?
We are all members of Hatzolah Air & Yaakov & Eli are also members of Queens Hatzolah & Avishai is now apart of the Far Rockaway/5 Towns Hatzolah.
On behalf of Klal Yisrael, I want to wish all of Hatzolah Air and its volunteers a big Yasher Koach & a big thank you for all the work you do! You should have continued health and may Klal Yisrael need your services less and less.