| On your Mark |

Meet… Dr. Gina Kirsch of Keren Yosef/Safety Israel

This year, we opened the Janet and Stephen Kirsch Safety Center, the first of its kind in Israel, and possibly in the world

When she’s not working as an alternative medicine practitioner in Ramat Beit Shemesh, she’s developing and expanding the safety initiatives of the organization she heads: Keren Yosef/Safety Israel



MY mother, Devora Mainzer a”h, founded Keren Yosef in 1998 and named it after my late father. When my father had needed urgent medical care, some months after they made aliyah from England in 1997, it typically took an ambulance forty-five minutes to reach him because at the time, there was only one MADA ambulance servicing the entire Beit Shemesh area. Hatzalah Beit Shemesh was in its formative stages and Ichud Hatzalah had not yet been founded. My parents of course found this very disturbing and wanted to do something about it.

Unfortunately, my father passed away from a heart condition only a year after their Aliyah, but my mother had a vision — to improve emergency medical care for everyone — and she started working on founding Keren Yosef as soon as she got up from sitting shivah.

Keren Yosef raised funds and donated advanced life-saving equipment to first responders and emergency medical personnel in Bet Shemesh and arranged training for many new volunteers. Within several months, a change could be seen and soon the average emergency response time decreased to four minutes. She partnered with emergency service providers and local community and chesed organizations and began to donate medical equipment to yishuvim throughout the country.

Thanks to generous supporters, Keren Yosef was able to donate a multi-casualty mobile emergency unit, a mobile emergency response control room for the fire and rescue services, as well as four ambulettes providing three runs a day transporting patients and their families between Bet Shemesh and the Jerusalem hospitals. We also donated defibrillators to shuls, communal buildings, and tourist sites including the Kotel, M’earas HaMachpelah, the Churva Shul, and Kever Rashbi. Hundreds of members of the public have also been trained in Keren Yosef's CPR and first aid courses.

My mother showed just how much every Oleh Chadash can contribute in Israel. Her basic Ivrit didn't hold her back — she could always get her message through. She was a people person and got along with every one of every age, background, hashkafah, or religious level. It didn’t matter who you were, she just cared about you. Sadly, she passed away in 2005 just six years after starting Keren Yosef. Although she left very big shoes to fill, I knew I had follow on the path of my dear mother and do my best to carry on her incredible work and legacy. It just seemed natural — and so I found myself chairperson of Keren Yosef.

Preventative Measures

My mother was overwhelmed by the number of serious accidents and requests for equipment to treat the casualties, often young children; burns from hot water, poisoning from cleaning materials, falls, house-fires, drowning, choking, etc. She told me that “we can, we must, prevent these accidents and all the terrible and unnecessary suffering they cause.” We thus established “safety month” in Bet Shemesh, bicycle and road safety projects, an annual Purim anti-fire-cracker campaign, “fire prevention week” during the run-up to Lag B’Omer, and the sale of home safety accessories at discounted prices.

I receive phone calls and messages from all over the country telling of lives saved thanks to our programs, training, and equipment. One small example is of a child who bought a 40-shekel Keren Yosef smoke alarm when we ran a program in his school. One night soon afterward a fire broke out in his home, the alarm woke up his family, whose lives were all saved baruch Hashem.


Safety Awareness Center

Most people consider their homes to be the safest place for their children.  But the tragic reality is that every three minutes, a child in Israel is sent to the Emergency Room for a preventable accident that happens at home or close to home. That’s why we’ve set up the most exciting and innovative “Safety Israel” organization with the vision of creating a culture of safety in Israel.

Several months ago, we opened the Janet and Stephen Kirsch Safety Center, the first of its kind in Israel, and possibly in the world. This mobile center contains life-sized home and garden settings that are assembled and dismantled as they move from one school and neighborhood to the next, which teach children and families basic rules of safety. In the half a year that the mobile center has been open, we’ve already had over 5,000 visitors.

Inside the center are life-like scenarios of dangers that could be lurking in each room of any home. For example, in the kitchen a Shabbos urn sits precariously close to the edge of the kitchen counter, a towel lies abandoned on top of a toaster, knives and matches are within easy reach, medication sits on the table next to the cereal and coffee, and cleaning agents are stored under the sink. Outdoors, too, in the giant yard there are snakes, lit barbecues, gardening tools, and broken and dangerous yard toys are all waiting to be discovered.

Guided by a team of dynamic instructors, the children identify the dangers and learn in a fun, interactive and empowering way how to make their own houses and yards hazard-free and child friendly and how to act in the case of an emergency.

The entire program is adapted to be age appropriate for the group. For example, in the medical room, where children are taught basic first aid strategies, the younger ages practice bandaging a friendly-looking teddy bear while older groups learn what to do in the case of a burn, bleeding, or choking. One mother reported that a week before a visit to our mobile center, one participant had seen her brother bleeding and she fainted from fright. After a short session in our first aid station, she learned not to panic at the sight of blood.

In the ‘call for help’ room, the children learn whom to call in case of emergencies and build up their confidence as they practice making those calls on the phone. At the end of the program, each child is given a pack including a fridge magnet with emergency numbers, guidelines for parents and a checklist for the whole family to go through their home and make sure its as safe and hazard free as can be.

Encouraged by the overwhelming popularity and success of our mobile center, we are b’ezras Hashem about to open Israel’s first permanent safety center which includes all the features of the mobile center as well as new stations dealing with road and bicycle safety. Due to the reality of the war in Israel, the new center includes a special safe zone station (mamad/miklat). The children practice getting to the zone safely when the siren sounds, and learn how to participate in making it hazard-free for infants, toddlers, and young children.


The Impact

The positive feedback we have received from children and their parents and stories of the difference the program has already made are astounding – and the word is spreading. Shortly after launching the program, we brought the mobile center to a school of 250 children in Beit Shemesh. A 12-year-old student came home and told his mother that “now I really know how to look after my younger siblings, make our house safe for all the family, and how to help if something happens.” His mother is the vice-principal of a girls’ school in Kiryat Malachi. She was impressed by the way her son was empowered and given so much confidence and felt she had to bring the project to her school. She did, and the mayor of Kiryat Malachi visited and decided on the spot that this was a must for all the town’s elementary schools!

The stories I’ve heard are many and varied. I received an emotional phone call from a special needs’ teacher. Through her tears she told me that she had just visited the center with her students. Some of the girls hadn’t yet spoken and hardly participated in school even though it was six months into the year – the tour of the center literally brought these same girls alive, and they opened up, enthusiastically talking and joining in fully.
The Mishnah says that when someone saves a life it is as if they have saved the whole world. Baruch Hashem, Keren Yosef has saved many lives by providing medical equipment, vehicles and training. And now, by bringing our safety centers around the country, we will G-d willing save many children and their families from serious injury and worse. We’re hoping the centers will get all over Israel and be replicated in other countries as well.


Does it take a toll on thinking of the worst-case scenarios and ways to prevent them?

Almost every day there are stories in the news about accidents in the home which could have been prevented. Its so saddening thinking about these and wishing we could have done more to stop them. But I’m comforted and tremendously encouraged, energized, and driven by Keren Yosef/Safety Israel’s successes so far, bsiyata d’Shmaya. I truly believe that with national and communal support, b’ezras Hahem, we can reach families throughout the country, spread the message of safety as a way of life and have an incredible impact on the lives and wellbeing of every adult and child in Israel.


What message do you want to give to parents?

The biggest mistake parents make is lack of awareness of home safety for the children of different ages and stages. Many hazards can be found in almost any home as part of normal family life (for example, water left in a bucket after washing the floor or the tub after a bath), and awareness of the hazards and taking simple action can save lives. Most injuries can be prevented by taking the right safety measures, therefore parents together with their families have the biggest role when it comes to saving lives; even more than the EMTs, paramedics, or doctors — safety and prevention are key!


You can find out more about Keren Yosef and Safety Israel by visiting www.kerenyosef.com

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 870)

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