As a Hatzalah dispatcher, I’m trained to answer the phone whenever it rings, and it rings day or night, rain or shine, whenever someone in our coverage area here in Miami-Dade calls for help. I’m trained to answer any call after not more than a ring or two, and when I’m on dispatch overnight, I’ve been trained to sleep in a specific position, with the phone in a precise location within arm’s reach, along with my radio and smartphone. My first reaction, no matter the time of day or night, the very first words out of my mouth, are always the same – “what is the address of your emergency?” Where are you so I can send help? It doesn’t even matter all that much to me what the emergency is, as we field calls ranging from “my stomach hurts” to “my baby’s fever won’t go down” to “my husband isn’t breathing.” They’re all important to the caller, no matter the cause, and therefore important to me. Sometimes callers are calm, other times they are so emotional they are difficult to understand. But my reaction, both in tone and affect, is always the same.
Sometimes, we receive non-emergency calls, usually wrong numbers. With that in mind, you can imagine how disturbed I was a few weeks ago. It started when I received a really strange call from my Rav, Rabbi Ephraim Eliyahu Shapiro. Because Rabbi Shapiro doesn’t use a smartphone or the internet, I often have the opportunity to provide him with flight status, an Uber, or some other minutiae that the internet provides convenient access to. But as far as requests go, this one was, well, different.
Rabbi Shapiro asked me to check social media for any comments posted regarding a Shuvu charity campaign that had been held the night before. He wouldn’t provide any specifics, and asked me to just let him know what I found. I opened up Chrome, headed to Facebook and Twitter, then did a Google search, and found some comments about wayward robocalls in the middle of the night with a North Miami caller-ID phone number. My spidey sense triggered, I had a feeling that phone number was Rabbi Shapiro’s.
Apparently Shuvu, a kiruv organization founded by the great Torah V’Daas Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Avrohom Pam, z’l, had asked Rabbi Shapiro to record an appeal that would then be broadcast via robocall to 30,000 of Shuvu’s closest friends – and donors. Shuvu had a commitment for a triple match, and if they could raise $500,000 from the campaign the next day, they’d receive an additional $1,500,000 from the matching donor – more than just a few shekel. So to give the call that personal touch, Rabbi Shapiro agreed that his private phone number could be displayed as the caller ID. The things we do for love.With the calls recorded, the donor list parsed and uploaded, and the matching funds at the ready, the campaign was launched. It would take about 4 hours for the system to cycle through the donor’s phone numbers. So far, so good. But then the computers took over.
Somehow the robocall company, based in Los Angeles, confused Eastern time, where the bulk of the donors reside, and Pacific time, where their offices were located. Not only was the computer doing its own thing three hours off target, but the company had closed for the day and wouldn’t be available until the next morning. You can probably figure out the rest.
Calls that were supposed to be made at 7 and 8 PM weren’t made until 11 PM. That might be okay if your name is Ackerman or Berger, but it would be well into the wee hours of the morning, 2 or 3 AM, before Roth or Schwartz would be getting their calls, and if your name is Zweibel, you were in for a long night.
As the robocalls continued and the night trudged along, the Shapiro household started receiving call backs, at first just a few at a time. Soon, however, what can only be described as an onslaught of calls started coming straight to the phone number on the caller ID, from donors that had been woken by the errant call. Some calls were tame, inquiring if anything was wrong. One woman from Baltimore, when hearing the Shapiro’s explanation of what happened, actually asked if they could take her credit card donation over the phone. But others were downright nasty, and had to be taken off speakerphone so the children wouldn’t be exposed to the vulgar language. Some were even threatening.
Now I get it, and I’m no different than anyone else when it comes to robocalls. They’re annoying at any time of day. But for so many to respond so viciously says something about where we’re at as a community. Anyone taking a minute to think things through would easily reach the conclusion that the call was in error. After all, how many times does one get a phone call from a world-renowned speaker they don’t personally know, and in the middle of the night no less? Instead, the reaction of many was harsh and unkind, to say the least. I’ve wondered how I would have responded had I been on the call list, and I’m thankful that unlike most, I’ve been trained to take such calls in stride no matter the time of day.
Receiving that robocall was certainly better than receiving news that a loved one is sick, or in trouble, or worse. We can’t just talk about “baseless love” as a strategy for counteracting “baseless hatred,” we have to live that way. Shuvu did reach their fundraising goal and got the matching funds to boot. What we got was a lesson in civility and how we need to react to others when the phone rings, no matter the time and no matter the circumstance.