Surrounded by the Jewish Children’s Museum, the popular Hasidic-based store Judaica World of Crown Heights, and the Albany Bake Shop (which caters all kosher food), there’s no doubt you will come to the hypothesis that you are in Crown Heights. Straight off the 3 train stop at Kingston Avenue, the first sight of 770 Eastern Parkway, known as the Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters, quickly gains any visitor’s attention.
With the steady presence of two to three colorful emergency medical trucks that quietly lay along the side streets of the synagogue every day, many first-timers guess that an incident of grandeur details may have occurred; some assume some of the ambulance workers simply live on the street; and a few of the neighborhood (such as myself) anticipate another unexpected parade or celebration is readily to occur—all of which are incorrect.
If you were to take the inquisitive time to thoroughly survey the truck, you will find that it is neither an EMS, nor Ambulance truck at all—though, similar. Instead, it reads “Haltzalah,” which translates as “rescue” or “relief” in Hebrew. Modeled after the original Hatzolah of Israel, it’s affectionately referred to as Chevra Hotzalah, which loosely translates to “Company of Rescuers.”
It’s origins in Crown Heights dates back to a Friday afternoon in 1976 in which a prominent member of the Jewish community passed away. His death (due to a heart attack) is believed to be a result of the inefficient time-lapse that took place from the time of the emergency call to the time of EMS’s arrival, in which he had been pronounced DOA.
The community then took the initiative to no longer rely on others– the proposed and enacted step that next took place was the purchase of an ambulance crew for Crown Heights—only.
With the great benefits that the Hatzalah Ambulance bring– such as being 100% free, operating by volunteer licensed paramedics, and having their patients welcomed into the newly renovated emergency space in the Kings County Hospital– they have also been the center of continuous tensions and controversy within this neighborhood due to some inconsistencies.
Although Crown Heights is known as a Jewish community, 2007 statistics declare 70% of the 150,000 residents of Crown Heights to be of Caribbean decent, 10% of American, 8% of Jewish, and 2% of Asian and Hispanic.
Although the Hatzalah Ambulance sounds in theory to be a great source for all, in practice, its greatest failure is its appeal and accessibility to all residents of the community. In contrast to Flatbush’s Hatzalah Ambulance, which openly caters strictly to the Jewish community, Crown Heights claim a different stance. On their official website, http://www.hatzalah.ch, they mechanically describe their volunteer work as one being done “without regard to race, religion or ethnic background of the individual in need.”
Many Caribbean/African-Americans differ to this statement, claiming the evident contradictions of the 1991 riots. The anger that erupted within this community sprouted from the volcanic event that left Gavin Cato, (a 7 year old Guyanese boy), stuck under the car of Yosef Lifsh (a 22 year old Jew), after the Hatzalah Ambulance arrived only to take Yosef; leaving both Gavin (to his death) and the accompanying victim (who survived) to wait for EMS.