Israeli medic visits; images of Jewish immigrant life

Gavy Friedson is a volunteer EMT and deputy director of international operations with United Hatzalah.

Ellen Futterman, Editor

To the rescue

After exiting his plane in the Newark, N.J. airport on Monday, Gavriel “Gavy” Friedson spotted a situation all too familiar to him. An elderly Orthodox Jewish woman in a wheelchair was turning blue in the face as she and her family approached the security line.

“I’ve seen this enough times to know she was in deep distress. I knew something was up,” says Friedson. “I flagged the police officers standing upstairs to get me the defibrillator and call 911. I was able to start chest compressions and a full CPR on her in seconds.”

Friedson, 29, is a volunteer EMT and deputy director of international operations with United Hatzalah (UH), a free, volunteer-based emergency medical services organization in Israel. Originally from Boca Raton, Fla., he made aliyah with his family when he was 10 years old.

“In Israel, you can volunteer on the back of an ambulance at 15 years old, which is what I did,” says Friedson, who is coming to St. Louis this weekend to speak at Congregation B’nai Amoona. “Once I moved to Israel I really wanted something that would help me grow from this young American child, turning me into an Israeli child. I wanted to be more connected to Israeli society. I thought there is no better way to be a part of society than treating society itself.” 

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At age 16 he joined the fire department, then the police department until he entered the Israel Defense Forces at 18. “My entire time in high school, I was a first responder. I would go to school every day either getting dropped off by an ambulance or a fire truck.”

In the 12 years that Friedson has been volunteering with United Hatzalah, he has responded to more than 9,500 emergency calls. He has been the first medic on the scene at numerous terrorist attacks and speaks to how UH has become the “Uber” of emergency medical services in Israel, arriving in just 3 minutes or less nationwide and 90 seconds or less in major cities. 

“Seconds can be critical in many emergencies,” says Friedson, who helped lead UH’s response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. “Our job with UH is not to replace ambulance services but fill the gap until they arrive.”

Friedson is now traveling across the United States and Canada to talk about his experiences. He also helps to raise money for the nonprofit, which he says “brings men and women from all walks of life — Jewish, Christians and Muslims — who scatter the country to make sure UH has teams in place in every single Israeli city, village and neighborhood.” 

Friedson will speak at 11 a.m. at B’nai Amoona on Oct. 20 as part of the synagogue’s regular Saturday morning services. 

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the woman he helped at the airport unfortunately died early Tuesday at a nearby hospital. She was 86 years old and had been on her way, with her daughter and granddaughter, to attend a nephew’s wedding.

“We were able to restore her pulse before she got to the hospital, but she had a really bad heart attack,” says Friedson. “I was thankful that we gave her a fighting chance. She passed away in the hospital with her family surrounding her.” 

For more information about United Hatzalah, go to

Jewish immigrant life in pictures

As part of their 20th anniversary season, The Sheldon Art Galleries are featuring four free exhibitions that focus on the immigrant experience. The most prominent of the four is “The Immigrants: Works by Master Photographers, which depict the work of 40 photographers from the 1860s-2015, examining issues of labor, education and poverty as well as discrimination, assimilation and a sense of belonging. 

The exhibition includes several pieces that speak to the Jewish immigrant experience as well as many noted photographers of Jewish heritage. Among them are Lewis Hines, Robert Capa (Endre Friedmann), Bruce Davidson, Arnold Eagle, Robert Frank, Arthur Leipzig, Leon Levinstein, Mary Ellen Mark, Ruth Orkin, Walter Rosenblum, Arthur Rothstein and Alfred Stieglitz.

Tracing the immigrant’s journey, the photographs lead viewers through sections on otherness, growth, global issues, boundaries, work and the history of the United States. In addition to iconic images such as Stieglitz’s The Steerage, from 1907, and Hine’s Jewish Grandmother, Ellis Island, 1926, the exhibit also features a historic work by Augustus Frederick Sherman, who documented new arrivals while working as a clerk at the Ellis Island immigration station from 1892 to 1925. 

Other memorable photographs include Orkin’s touching 1951 portrait of three Jewish teenage refugees who are fleeing to Israel from Iraq, and a photograph by Bob Gruen of John Lennon posing in front of the Statue of Liberty in 1972. More recent images include a 2005 print by Dulce Pinzón that shows a young man, Noe Reyes from the Mexican state of Puebla, dressed in a Superman costume, riding a bike. Reyes works as a delivery person in Brooklyn and sends $500 home to his family each week. 

Issues relating to immigration are front and center in today’s world, from the recent travel ban to the border wall to the uncertainty of the DREAMers. Today’s refugee crisis is documented in a haunting photograph by Alex Majoli of African refugees trying to reach Greece. These and many more works by important photographers tell the story of the lives of immigrants throughout the world.

The exhibition runs through Jan. 12. At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, Olivia Lahs-Gonzales, Director of the Sheldon Art Galleries, will speak on selected works in the exhibit. Admission to that is free as well, though reservations are suggested. Contact Paula Lincoln at 314-533-9900 x37 or [email protected].

The Sheldon is located at 3648 Washington Blvd. in Grand Center. Gallery hours are noon – 8 p.m. Tuesdays; noon – 5 p.m. Wednesdays – Fridays; 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturdays, and one hour prior to Sheldon performances and during intermission.