The daughter began to cry. “She said the Shema?” she asked incredulously
The families were spending a few days during bein hazmanim in the north of Israel, where they’d rented a group of cottages in the small moshav of Safsufa.
It was Friday afternoon, and everyone was beginning their last-minute preparations for Shabbos, the children spending a few minutes in the pool before bathing and getting dressed.
Suddenly, the radios of three of the family members, two men and a woman, came to life. All three are among the 6,000 selfless volunteers who make up the wonderful organization known as Ichud Hatzalah (United Hatzalah), founded by Eli Beer.
Therefore, when the orange phone-like GPS devices crackled to life, the three volunteers interrupted their vacation, donned their distinctive orange vests, and ran to the closest car to respond to the emergency call.
The call was from Jish, a small town of 3,000 — 65% Catholic and 35% Muslim. There are no Jews in Jish. However, that is irrelevant to United Hatzalah volunteers, as its services are available to all regardless of race, religion, or nationality.
The trio of volunteer medics followed their GPS coordinates into Jish and onto the grounds of a Catholic nursing home.
The nurses — all nuns or sisters — were very grateful to see the Jewish volunteers arrive, quickly explained that a rare Jewish patient needed immediate help, and directed them to the bed of an elderly woman in cardiac arrest.
The Ichud members immediately began CPR. However, the patient was deteriorating quickly. As the two men tried desperately to keep her alive, the female Ichud member, recognizing the urgency, leaned over and looked into the older woman’s eyes.
“Geveret, tagidi, ‘Shema Yisrael.’ ”
With tears running down the cheeks of both women, they recited Shema together. The elderly woman then closed her eyes and said no more.
The medics recorded the time of death and prepared to leave. The nuns thanked the Jewish volunteers and admitted that they would have given the Jewish woman Christian last rites if the three of them had not arrived.
Suddenly, just as the Ichud Hatzalah crew were exiting, a woman breathlessly ran into the room, clearly the elderly woman’s daughter. Seeing the somber look on the faces of the Ichud members, she realized her mother had passed away.
Seeing the pain of the bereaved woman, the female Hatzalah member approached her. “Thankfully, I was able to say Shema with your mother before she passed,” she told the woman. “She was so happy that she had the opportunity to leave This World with Shema Yisrael on her lips.”
The daughter began to cry. “She said the Shema?” she asked incredulously, choking out her words.
The female medic said, “Yes, she did. Is that surprising?”
“My mother was an old-fashioned dyed-in-the-wool Labor Zionist,” the daughter replied. “She insisted on being in a nondenominational nursing home and had nothing ever to do with Yiddishkeit. When I became a baalas teshuvah, my mother told me, ‘I am so upset that you left the true Zionist path, that I will never say Shema, even on my death bed!’ And now I arrive here on the day of her passing and find out that you, a shaliach from Hashem, succeeded in having my mother leave This World with Shema on her lips! I’ve davened for this for the last twenty years. I can never thank you enough.”
When I heard this story, I, too, was brought to tears. Yet my tears were not just for the story itself. My tears were also personal tears of joy.
The two male medics were my sons Meir and Tuvia.
The female medic who said Shema was my daughter-in-law Nechama.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 881)
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