Father’s Day took on new meaning for me this year, as I stood in a circle with my sons, listening to their father and the people who saved him talk about the day he died.
It was the second time that my husband Leonard met his angels, but he doesn’t remember the first encounter at all; in fact, he doesn’t remember the entire two weeks that preceded it. In assembling the group, Leonard and I hoped to piece together what had actually happened that day, to get to know the people who had saved him, to enable them to meet the man they saved, and to express our family’s undying gratitude.
We stood at the place where the event had occurred, on the same day of the week, at the same time of day, some nine months later. There, under a tree outside the Hebrew University’s Cossel Sports Center in Jerusalem, Leonard (known in Hebrew as Eliezer) had collapsed after playing a game of squash, gashing his head on his way down, gasping for breath, turning blue, and then not moving at all. He was not yet 60 years old and had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. His squash partner Bob, a professor of Talmud who usually defeats him, immediately phoned for help.
The first angel on the scene was Bashar Gosheh, a 27-year-old electrical technician who works at Hadassah medical school and serves as a lifeguard at the sports center once a week. On the day that Leonard’s heart stopped, Bashar was off duty and was swimming for exercise in the center’s indoor pool. Not feeling well, he stopped his workout early and happened to be looking out the window when he heard a commotion outside. In the plaza down below, he saw a man lying on a bench and clutching his throat. Bashar bolted from the building to see if he could help.
Very soon after, Bashar was joined by a second angel. Haya Subhi, a 29-year-old surgical nurse at Hadassah Hospital, had also come to the sports center to work out that day. Like Bashar, Haya wasn’t feeling well and stopped her exercise session early. As she hurried out of the building, she saw a crowd standing around a man who was blue and lying in a pool of blood. She pushed her way through the crowd, identified herself as a nurse, and immediately set to work, doing what she knows how to do in a hospital as part of a team. Except that this time she was alone, without any equipment, and outside under a tree.
Bashar ran to the lifeguard’s station and returned with a defibrillator. Together, he and Haya worked to save Leonard’s life. Bashar shocked Leonard’s heart repeatedly in order to restart it, while Haya did chest compressions between the shocks to keep blood flowing to Leonard’s brain and vital organs. After a few minutes, Leonard’s pulse returned briefly, just as first responders from United Hatzalah and Magen David Adom (MDA) arrived and took over, administering shocks repeatedly when Leonard’s heart stopped again. When Leonard was whisked away to the hospital in an ambulance, none of the people who had treated him had any idea if he was going to survive; when the ambulance team left the hospital, they didn’t either.
Five days and two stents later, Leonard woke up in the cardiac intensive care unit of Shaare Zedek hospital. When he began to talk, it became clear how successful the efforts of the people who had rushed to his aid had been.
During the time that Leonard was unconscious, all we knew was that he had been saved by a lifeguard and a nurse, but we had no idea who they were. Finding the lifeguard was easy. Leonard’s squash partner Bob and his wife Cory tracked him down through the sports center and returned with a name, a photograph, and basic information about Bashar, who was thrilled to hear that the resuscitation had been successful.
Finding the unidentified nurse, however, was harder. Bob reviewed the security footage at the sports center, hoping to recognize her. When that didn’t yield results, I shared the dashing photo of Bashar on Facebook, lauding him as a lifesaver and asking for help finding the nurse who had worked with him to save my husband’s life. Hundreds of shares later, our second angel had a name. It was Haya (pronounced Aya). The smile in her profile photo lit up our hearts.
Our social media search for Haya also introduced us to Kalanit Taub, a volunteer Hatzalah EMT who had been at the scene. Reaching out via Messenger, Kalanit explained that she and Ari Odzer, a trainee whom she was mentoring, had been next-in-line to do cardiac compressions, which are done in shifts of two minutes each because they are so tiring, but Leonard had been transferred to the ambulance just before their turn. Kalanit asked if she and Ari could come over when Leonard was strong enough for visitors. Several weeks later, they rang our doorbell, bearing flowers and a helium balloon. When Leonard opened the door, he discovered that his cardiac arrest had left him with a new superpower: he could make people cry just by looking at them and saying “hello.”
For Kalanit, seeing Leonard alive and well was especially gratifying because it came shortly after a particularly traumatic first-responder experience: the mass casualty event at Mount Meron. She was glad that her protégé Ari had the rare opportunity to meet someone who survived an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, since worldwide, some 93 percent of victims don’t. After meeting these two volunteers and marveling at their altruism, we knew we wanted to meet Leonard’s other rescuers in real life, when the time was right.
That time came sooner than we had anticipated. Some six weeks after his cardiac arrest, Leonard was on his way to a medical appointment at Hadassah hospital. As he walked down a busy hallway, his face covered with a COVID mask, a young woman walking towards him stopped in her tracks. “Can I ask you what your name is?” she asked politely. “I’m Eliezer Be’eri” Leonard replied, a bit quizzically. “I’m the nurse who resuscitated you at the sports center,” said Haya Subhi. Leonard was overwhelmed by emotion and stunned by the sheer coincidence that had brought their paths together. At a loss for words, he hugged Haya in the middle of the corridor, let the tears flow, and did the only thing that can be done in such circumstances… He took a selfie.
In the months following Leonard’s random encounter with Haya, his energies were directed at recuperating. Three months of eating healthily, sleeping well, and exercising regularly at home were followed by three months of daily treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, aimed at redressing the damage done to his memory from the lack of oxygen to his brain while his heart wasn’t working. Finally, Leonard was able to return to his work as a doctor at Alyn Pediatric Rehabilitation Hospital in Jerusalem, where he is the deputy director general and heads the respiratory rehabilitation department. His return was not something that could be taken for granted, since only about half of all people who survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest do so without significant neurological damage.
Seven months after it was taken, the selfie of Leonard and Haya went viral when Hadassah Hospital shared it on Facebook on International Nurses Day, along with Haya’s emotional account of her role in Leonard’s resuscitation. Leonard soon found himself dodging requests from television shows interested in filming a meeting between the saved doctor and the nurse. He turned down the offers, though, because he had yet to meet Bashar and had barely spoken to Haya. Leonard realized it was finally time to meet his rescuers — but not in front of television cameras. With Kalanit’s help, I set up a WhatsApp group through which I invited the Hatzalah and MDA first responders who had been at the scene to a gathering that would bring them together with Bashar, Haya, Leonard’s squash partner, and our family. I aptly named it “Hamalachim Shel Eliezer” — Leonard’s Angels.
When the day arrived, we assembled at the sports center, where Leonard’s angels introduced themselves to us and to each other, stood under the tree where Leonard had collapsed, and pieced together what had happened that day. As they spoke, we became aware of the many ways in which the cosmos had aligned so that Leonard could be saved. Nothing seemed to be able to explain why Bashar and Haya both weren’t feeling well that day and stopped their exercise early. Neither of them was meant to be there, but it somehow transpired that a person who knew where the defibrillator was and a surgical nurse who knew how to do cardiac massage were there when Leonard’s heart stopped. Both of them were necessary; without one or the other, Leonard would not have survived.
At the meetup, our eyes were opened to the existence of a sub-culture of paramedics, EMTs, EMRs, and trainees — people who will respond at the drop of a hat when notified of a medical emergency in their vicinity. We were amazed at the amount of goodness and giving that was assembled in one place.
It was there that we met Lidan Findling, a volunteer Hatzalah EMT who was the first to relieve Bashar and Haya of their resuscitation efforts, working with a Magen David Adom volunteer who arrived by motorcycle at about the same time. Lidan, who works in outdoor education, answers some 60 calls a month when paged, often at the expense of his family time and free time. On the day of Leonard’s cardiac arrest, he had come to Jerusalem from Netanya and was on his way to run an activity when he was notified that he was four minutes away from a medical emergency. Although he was in a foreign city and knew it would make him late for his professional commitment, he responded nonetheless. It was only the second time in Lidan’s life that he was late for work, but he felt it was worth it.
It was there that we met Amitai Hershkowitz, Achiad Goharyan, and Arbel Cohen, the MDA ambulance crew who treated Leonard and took him to the hospital. Amitai, the paramedic who led the team, told us that they had just dropped off a patient at a nearby hospital when Leonard’s call came in. Although their protocol mandates resting between calls, they asked to be dispatched to the sports center because it was so close. Their selfless request shaved off vital response time and also contributed to saving Leonard’s life. Arbel, who was just 17 years old at the time of the incident, came to the reunion with his mother, because he was on his way to his high school graduation and she was his driver. It was from them that we learned that volunteerism can be contagious, or perhaps genetic, as Arbel’s mother had recently completed training as a first responder, following in the footsteps of two of her sons.
After reconstructing the events, we adjourned from the circle under the tree to a circle of chairs on the sports center’s balcony. I opened by quoting the saying that saving a single person is equivalent to saving an entire world. I explained that we wanted to get to know the people who had saved Leonard and to give them an opportunity to learn about him and the many worlds that they saved, since Leonard touches many lives in his work as a doctor at Alyn. I briefly introduced our family and then dissolved in unexpected tears when I noted that it was Father’s Day, and that in saving Leonard, his angels had prevented our middle son Moshe, who had lost his biological parents when he was 11, from losing another father at 25.
Next, Leonard introduced himself to his angels, revealing to them the person behind the patient they had last seen lying unconscious on the plaza pavement. Leonard told them about his life, his work, his passions, and his family. The angels then took turns speaking about where they came from, their families, their jobs, their hobbies, and what being at this gathering meant to them. Bashar remembered asking himself why he had been chosen to be there at that specific time, and took away a lesson about the fragility of life and the importance of spending as much time with loved ones as possible. Amitai recalled the sense of responsibility he felt as a paramedic evacuating an unidentified person unaccompanied by family, and how relieved he was when Leonard’s brother arrived at the emergency room to be with him in his time of great need. Lidan especially valued the boost of motivation that comes from seeing a positive outcome, as volunteering as an EMT can often be dispiriting.
Kalanit, whom we had met before, was at the reunion as well, but this time, she was able to withstand Leonard’s superpower “hello.” Ari, the trainee who had accompanied her to our home, had just gotten married, and stopped by with his glowing bride on their way to a post-wedding “sheva brachot” dinner.
At the end of the discussion, Leonard thanked his angels, focusing on the moment in their lives when each of them had decided to become a first responder. He thanked them for having taken that decision, because ultimately, it had been a decision to save his life. Leonard then turned to Bashar and Haya, and thanked them for having recognized him as a fellow human being in desperate need of help and for having had the courage to do what the circumstances demanded. They didn’t turn away; they didn’t wait for someone else to do the hard, scary, work of taking someone’s life in your hands. Rather, they had the courage and the compassion to act.
As our meetup wound to a close, Leonard’s angels received tokens of our appreciation. In recognition of Bashar and Haya, we purchased two defibrillators, in acknowledgment of their heroism and in the hope that other lives might be saved in their merit. We chose defibrillators with audio instructions in Arabic, since the two good Samaritans who saved my kipa-wearing husband’s life (as you may have guessed from their names) speak Arabic as their first language. Rather than donate the defibrillators in their honor ourselves, we asked Haya and Bashar to each find a home for their defibrillator where they thought it would do the most good, whether in a mosque, school, or shopping center in their communities of Beit Safafa and Beit Hanina, or in the trunk of their car, so they would be equipped if they ever encounter an emergency.
Each defibrillator was inscribed in both Hebrew and Arabic with recognition of what they had done and the Mishnaic saying “whoever saves a person it is as if they have saved an entire world.” We gave the other first responders brightly colored cactuses, plants we thought would be easy to keep alive. But the biggest gift of all was the motivation that Leonard was able to give them to continue doing their emotionally and physically demanding work, in which they have fleeting encounters with people in need and often don’t know the outcome.
As we sat on the balcony of the sports center, we were surrounded by a humbling assortment of people who give of themselves in order to save others. Our group included an Arab nurse, an Arab electrical technician who works part-time as a lifeguard, religious and secular Jews, a paramedic who works full-time as a fourth-grade teacher, a 12th grader on his way to his high school graduation, a newlywed groom still celebrating his marriage with his bride, a professor of Talmud, women and men, volunteers and professionals, and the man they saved. It was the Israel we dream about but so rarely see — a place of goodness, giving, and caring that transcends national and cultural boundaries; a place where we are people first, before any of our other identities.
When I think about why Leonard’s angels were sent that day, it is clear to me that it was because he still has work to do for the ventilated children in his care and for the parents he advises. But perhaps Leonard’s angels were also sent so that I could tell their story. Maybe they were sent so that I could write about the religious Jewish doctor in Jerusalem whose life was saved by two Arab passersby, in order to counter prevalent stereotypes and assumptions in my society. Maybe they were sent so I could share with you the vision of the end of days that took place on the balcony of a sports center, where Jews and Arab shared their thoughts and feelings, bound together by their shared humanity and their esteem for the value of life.
Maybe Leonard’s angels were sent in order to increase awareness of the need for defibrillators in public places. Maybe they were sent so that I could tell you how important it is for people to learn how to do effective cardiac compressions, as a defibrillator alone may not be sufficient. Maybe Leonard’s angels were sent to inspire you with the spirit of volunteerism and encourage you or your children to take first aid courses and serve as emergency responders.
But for whatever reasons they were sent, today, on my husband’s first re-birthday, I am grateful for the gift of life that Leonard’s angels gave to him and to us, and hope that by telling you about them, I will intensify the ripples of light and love that emanate from their deed and color our world.
We would also like to acknowledge Orinon Jerbi and Matan Shamir, two first responders who were not able to attend our get-together. We hope to be able to meet them someday.