Following in the footsteps of her late husband, a bereaved widow and mother of 10, picks up her husband's mantle and becomes a volunteer with United Hatzalah to honor his memory and life's work
Ashdod - About two years ago, Avishalom Yankovitz, a volunteer from United Hatzalah, died suddenly. He left behind his wife, Rivka (37), and their ten children, who live in Ashdod. Rivka decided to continue on the path of her husband and volunteer for United Hatzalah. She became the coordinator of the “Ten Kavod” (Giving Honor) project, through which trained medical volunteers visit seniors in their homes, both to keep them company and alleviate any feelings of loneliness, as well as to provide them with a free medical check-up and make sure that they are healthy. Rivka finds the time to volunteer for United Hatzalah despite everything she has been through. “United Hatzalah has become my family,” she said. “For me, United Hatzalah volunteers are angels in orange.”
Rivka relayed how one time she was moved to tears when she overheard her 5-year-old son tell his injured friend, “Don’t cry, my father's friends will come to take care of you”. Rivka feels that her husband is watching over her and helping her through this hard time. "When I was offered the position as coordinator of the project, I felt that it came from heaven. That Avishalom sent it my way."
It all happened so fast. Too fast. Avishalom Yankovitz was only 36 years old at the time of his death. It started with a blow to the knee during a bowling game, got complicated, and together with a combination of several other factors, Avishalom was attacked by an infectious bacteria. Two weeks from the moment he was hospitalized, he passed away. He left behind his widow Rivka, then pregnant, together with their nine children.
Avishalom volunteered as an EMT and first responder with United Hatzalah for the past decade. He spent his free time helping to save others. Everyone was astonished by his quick and untimely death. However, despite all the pain and bereavement, Rivka managed to stand on her own two feet, continued to raise their family, and did one more thing in Avishalom's name - she too became a volunteer for United Hatzalah. She currently serves as the coordinator of the United Hatzalah “Ten Kavod” project for the Elderly.
Not in Rivka Yankovitz’s worst nightmare did she think that in two weeks her world would turn upside down. Rivka said, "Avishalom passed away two years ago. I was pregnant with our little girl then. Everything happened so suddenly. The day Avishalom was hospitalized, he had lunch with our children before they went to school and when they returned home, they found out that their father was in the hospital."
Avishalom, an ambulance driver by profession, was proud to volunteer with United Hatzalah. Rivka spoke about the dedication of her late husband to his calling and said, “There wasn’t a single person who disliked Avishalom. He always had a huge smile on his face and if there was ever anyone that wasn’t in a good mood one day, Avishalom would invite him to do a shift on the ambulance together in order to help others and would work hard to cheer that person up. Avishalom was also an incredible father and husband. When he got hurt, he first thought of our children and asked, ‘Who will take them to school? I must recover and stand on my feet for them.’ He always thought of our family first.”
Rivka noted that a tragic event had pushed her husband to join United Hatzalah. “We lost our baby girl of 7 months when she died in her crib 15 years ago. I tried to revive her with the basic first aid knowledge that I had from High School, but I did not succeed. Avishalom, who watched my revival attempts, said that he wanted to save lives. He started to volunteer at United Hatzalah and I fully supported and encouraged him to do so. I felt that he needed it and he loved what he did. He trained to be an EMT and later as an ambulance driver. I wanted him to continue learning and eventually become a physician’s assistant, but G-d decided otherwise.”
After her period of mourning, Rivka had made up her mind that she wanted to follow Avishalom’s path and become a volunteer. She said, “In the years before my husband’s passing, I helped with many United Hatzalah projects like the Sabbat projects for volunteers, social evenings, and other events in Ashdod. Following my husband’s death, the “Angels in Orange” were by my side and stayed with me in the hospital, including the chapter head of Ashdod as well as the deputy. They gave me support in every way they could. "
Rivka, who was soon going to give birth, knew that as soon as she could after the birth she would join the ranks of these selfless volunteers just like her husband had. “I knew that I needed some time to recuperate after giving birth, but as soon as possible I wanted to become a volunteer. I started by organizing an event for the inauguration of an ambulance and continued to volunteer for other projects afterward.”
Rivka took a training course and became the regional coordinator of the “Ten Kavod” project as well as the manager of the women's volunteer group. She is currently enrolled in a full EMT training course that will allow her to become a fully licensed EMT and first responder.
United Hatzalah’s “Ten Kavod” project cares for seniors who live by themselves and don’t have any children nearby or anyone else to visit or take care of them. The volunteers visit the elderly, many of whom are Holocaust survivors, at least once a week for an hour in order to spend time with them and provide them with a free medical check-up. The trained medical personnel who conduct the visits measure the participant’s blood pressure, pulse and heart rate, sugar levels, oxygen saturation levels, and make sure that the person is eating well and that their house is clean. They spend time with the elderly participants in order to alleviate their sense of loneliness and to make sure that nothing G-d forbid happened to them. They provide the elderly person with the feeling that someone cares for them and knows what is going on in their lives. Quite often the volunteers and the elderly participants build close friendships. It also helps prevent depression and the deterioration of the participant’s medical condition.
The recruitment of volunteers for this incredibly important project is currently underway. Rivka explains, "We are recruiting even those who are not United Hatzalah volunteers and have no medical training to join this project. Every volunteer receives at least a basic 44-hour first aid course in order to bring to the level of training of an EMR. Thus, we are able to recruit more people and can expand our service to additional seniors in need of care and include them in this project.”
Having women involved in the organization is also very important to Rivka. “Without the help of one’s wife, a husband and father, even if he is trained, would not be able to go out and respond to emergencies. In the case of a husband volunteering, the wives take over caring for the children so their husbands can rush out when they receive an alert. These women enable their husbands to save lives, and the same holds true if the woman is the responder.”
When asked how she finds time to train and volunteer as a single parent with ten children to care for Rivka answered, “My dream is to give back to the community as much as I possibly can. United Hatzalah is my family. They have not left me even for a moment and they support me and my children. Whenever we visit friends from the organization my children say that we are going to visit our uncles. But really, they are not their uncles, they are United Hatzalah volunteers. There is nothing more touching than this.”
Rivkah concluded by saying that “I am so sure that Avishalom is watching over us. I feel that he is with me and is guiding me in what I do and that he is happy that I am doing it. He always wanted me to be the coordinator of the “Ten Kavod” project. When they offered me the position, I felt that it came from heaven; that Avishalom sent it my way.”