Posted by: medicblog999 | September 25, 2009

The final part of the Jewish EMS tale.

star of davidTo bring this short series of posts to an end regarding my experiences with the Gateshead Hatzola, I thought I would share an email that I received from Jacob, a registered Paramedic in the States somewhere. He gave me permission to reproduce his email here, but asked that I not divulge his exact whereabouts, which I will of course honour.

Jacob is also an orthodox Jew but rather that being part of a voluntary emergency services group such as a Hatzola, he decided to go the whole journey and become a paramedic. He still has to conform with certain aspects of his religious beliefs whilst at work, and he gives us all a fascinating insight into his working and religious life:

So can it be done? Can you be an Orthodox Jew and a Paramedic?
Sure, it’s easy to do in Israel, where you are a part of the normal scenery and population, but what about outside of Israel? Mark’s mentioned in his post about Hatzola (Hebrew for “Rescue”), the service provided by Jewish people for the Jewish community. I’ll admit that I don’t know a huge amount about them, and they do give me strange looks when they see me working for a “normal” ambulance service. However, I’d like to give you a different insight.
You see, I’m a paramedic with a large, recognised ambulance service, and an Orthodox Jew. Skullcap and everything, even at work. I stick out like a sore thumb. It certainly means I get some weird looks if I attend a Jewish patient. I’m a very rare commodity in a sea of the multi-ethnic world. The traditional callings for Good Jewish Boys are the old jokes of “My son the doctor”, or “My son the lawyer”. Strangely, “My son the paramedic” never seems to have made it in the commonly spoken Judeo-English language. Having said that, I’m extremely proud of who I am, both personally and professionally.
My colleagues know by now that even when I do work on Saturdays, or really anytime from sunset on Friday until nightfall on Saturday, IE the Jewish Sabbath, there are certain things I can’t and won’t do. On the rare occasion that I’m actually at the station, I won’t turn on the TV. I won’t use the computer. I won’t carry anything outside that is not immediately necessary for my job or my patient. I won’t go and get a cup of coffee in the hospital, as it means pressing an electronic keypad. Sounds crazy, I know, but I’ve lived with it all my life. I know that if I’m at work my day of rest is not really restful, but I’ll do what I can. And in all honesty, when I am at work, I miss my day of rest, the one real family day.
However, along with all the can’ts and won’ts, there’s a long list of can, will, and even must dos.
In Judaism, the preservation of life is paramount. The laws regarding it overrule almost everything else. If there’s a life to be saved, save it. Use whatever you need to, do whatever you have to. When I’m at work, my patient takes priority. That doesn’t mean I forget who I am, and what that means. It doesn’t mean that I treat any members of other religions with anything less than my full respect. You’d think that by being Jewish, I’d have a certain amount of animosity when entering, for example, a Muslim house or Mosque. In fact, I find that in the vast majority of cases, the exact opposite is true. It means that although different, I have an understanding of more than just their medical concerns. It’s a little like being able to converse in another language, with all its slang and nuances.
I’m an Orthodox Jew, and a Paramedic. But for me it’s more than that, I’m a Jewish Paramedic. I won’t force my religion on anyone. I won’t preach to anyone. But I’ll teach anyone who wants to learn. I know I have some customs and rituals that seem strange, so I’ll answer any questions you may have to the best of my ability. At the same time, I’ll treat you to the best of my ability. Whoever you are, and whatever you believe in. It’s what I do. Not despite my religion, not instead of my religion, but because of it. Everyone has a set of morals and ethics. Everyone has their method of behaviour. These are dictated by family, friends, society in general, and in my case, my religion too. I hope it makes me a good person, and by extension also a good paramedic.
I hope you can accept me for who I am, and judge me on my merits as a human being (as well as a paramedic). I promise to return the favour.

Well, I dont know about the rest of you, but I think I would love to have Jacob as a partner at work with an outlook like that!!
I am still finding all of this stuff absolutely fascinating.
Like Jacob says, in this new world where everything has to be multicultural and ethinically diverse and equal, there are times when the good intentions of indivduals and organisations can get lost in the need to show how their equality and diversity policies work and tick all the boxes. At times you can see some staff being actively targeted for high profile positions and ‘campaigns’. This doesnt make the service equal though. What does, is an organisation that embraces people like Jacob, who obviously have so much to offer and give, as an equal employee. Not special because of their colour, race, sexuality or religion, but because of how they act and go about their job with pride and dedication. I hope Jacob is truly seen as one of the team at work, I really do.


  1. So this is where I get flamed…

    I understand and support the Hatzola team: it’s a good balance between meeting the needs of a specific community in a specific locale, supported by other professionals as needed. I love the fact that the reduce inappropriate ambulance calls by providing prehospital services to their community, and they’re obviously doing a great job for that community.

    But this Jacob guy, doesn’t do certain things at work (on Sabbath) because of his religion? He wears religious clothing to work?

    If I dial 999 and need an ambulance, I don’t want to know the religious (or for that matter, sexual, design or tattoo) preferences of the crew. In fact, I would be uncomfortable with someone who is explicitly *irrational* (to the point of advertising it) turning up. I quite like the idea of being treated by someone who relies on their own skills and knowledge and who uses evidence to make decisions.

    Seriously, I don’t have a problem with people believing what they want in the privacy of their own home, but the word “uniform” doesn’t mean “start with these items but accessorise as you see fit” it means “these are the items you will wear when you do your job”.

    Maybe I’m not being very politically correct, but when I dial 999 and an ambulance responds, I want it to be one which is secular and which doesn’t endorse (or for that matter, diminish) any particular belief (or lack of belief) system.

  2. I am studying paramedics currently and there are several Jewish students in my course, one of whom is a good friend. I understand there are differences to be accomodated for, however if the branch they are working in is flexible there should be no issues. Ultimatly their underlying belief appears to be to help people which I also believe is the purpose of paramedics.

    While I am not religious I do not see how an organisation can strongly suggest their employees alter their beliefs.

  3. Mark,
    After reading DavidW’s response and yours, I am in agreement with you. Jacob states that he doesn’t do certain things on certain days because of his faith; that is an issue between he and his colleagues and it seems that they have worked it out.

    I have a problem with a fellow EMS agent decreeing another as irrational for having a strong personal religious conviction/belief. What about it bothers you?

    Jaocb does mention that the driving force behind what he does is his religious faith. Great. That is an outward manifestation of an internal force. He specifically states that he doesn’t push or preach his beliefs; appropriate. He says that he will answer questions if asked; appropriate again.

    Taking issue with a person for wearing a religious article is inappropriate. Would he be offended if I responded and he happened to see my St Luke’s medallion? What if I were black? Would that be offensive? Where is the difference? Jacob can no more stop being Jewish than another could stop being black nor I could stop being Catholic. Let’s not even mention a Sikh.

    The only way that I can see the wearing of a yamaka being an issue if it were decorated in a way that ‘makes’ a statement; loud or gaudy. If it were subdued or neutral in color and appearance, then it should be allowed.

    DavidW’s comments, although carefully worded, border on the anti-Semitic.

  4. DavidW makes a fair point I think. I don’t care what religion or tattoos are preferred by my rescuer when I call for help. However, I will also accept care from a person who will help regardless of their faith.
    The uniform part of the discussion is a fair one, but here there are exceptions made for religious observances so long as it does not effect the donning of safety equipment or present a danger in a fire. (Unique for us dual role guys).
    I would find the same expression in a traditional Jewish “skull cap,” as I would in a Christian cross or a Wiccan tattoo. I would see someone devoted to something other than themselves, which is kind of what I’m looking for in a rescuer.

    We all take the same training, earn the same certificates and do the same job at the same level.

    Only if one group got special permission to withhold treatment to me because of their faith would I protest.


  5. Hey guys

    Wasn’t really expecting this to turn into a discussion, although perhaps in retrospect it was a little controversial. I’d like to clarify my position. My principal concern is for the patient. Everything else comes secondary to that (and, coincidentally, I would and have extended that principle to criticisms of management, equipment etc… in public and private healthcare sectors, both NHS and private).

    Let me start by absolutely rejecting any accusations of anti-Semitism; anti-Semitism would be advocation of the eradication of the Jewish people which I have clearly not done. I wouldn’t restrict my criticism to people of the Jewish faith, either, I would also object to Christians demanding special arrangements on Sundays (or Saturdays in some traditions), Muslims making special demands on Fridays or any other faith group making demands of any other day. I expect all employees to put in the same amount of effort regardless of the day of the week.

    Whilst Jacob, logically, refers to a yamaka, I also don’t think it appropriate for an individual to show any other belief-related paraphenalia when wearing their uniform. Either everyone wears the item, or nobody wears it: that’s what uniform means. Provided the uniform is applied universally, it’s not discriminatory: everyone is held to the exact same standard, regardless of their beliefs.

    In addition, in a publicly-funded service, such as that which exists in the UK, it ensures that the state is neutral with regard to promotion (or inhibition) of particular religious beliefs. Religion is a private affair, held between the individual and their deity of choice. What place does it have in the work place?

    At the end of the day, people are employed to do a job. Whilst I advocate flexibility in employement, prehospital care is job in which life and death literally rests upon the employee’s skills, knowledge and promptness of response. Should this flexibility be extended to all aspects of employment?

    Whilst patient care is, obviously, a key part of this it is the not whole part of the job. In addition to caring for patients, ambulance crews are expected to undertake routine maintenance, clean their vehicles, drive the vehicles, check their equipment, complete shift paperwork, ensure they are up to date with protocol changes, urgent drug notifications and suchlike, and to deal with non-urgent patient care episodes.

    Jacob doesn’t mention how he deals with these issues (and to be fair, they may not be a feature of practice in the USA). However, would it be fair for the people who crew with someone who needs special arrangements to be expected to carry them one day a week (plus, in some religions, holy days)?

    I am certainly not suggesting that anyone is expecting to change their beliefs as an employee. However, I am suggesting that employees self-select by agreeing to the job. If people are not willing to undertake the full job whenever it is demanded of them by their employer (obviously within contractual and legal limits), then why are they applying for the job?

    With regards my assertion of rationality, (para)medicine is (or should-be) evidence-led. The evidence in question is scientific in nature, with repeatable data and the entire hypothesis system. Religion, of any type, is explicitly NOT rational (ie. irrational – not in the sense of crazy); religion is faith-based, and faith means holding a belief regardless of (and sometimes in explicity contradiction of) the available evidence. That’s fine, provided that the person’s faith doesn’t intrude upon their workplace and/or their relationship with the patient.

    Whilst I personally would prefer the caregiver not to be advertising their irrational beliefs, it wouldn’t stop me accepting care. However, some religious groups are less tolerant of different beliefs; indeed, some are possibly antagonistic towards each other: could open expressions of faith inhibit the formation of a therapeutic relationship?

    I’d like to stress, finally, that this isn’t about Jacob, who I am sure like the vast majority of prehospital care professionals is an excellent care provider. However, I wonder to what extent any religious belief should impinge on one’s professional life in service to the public.

  6. I am going to add my 10 pence worth to the above post.

    Whilst I wholeheartedly agree that David W’s statements weren’t anti semitic per se I do have to question the reason as to why he has such an issue with a person wearing a kippah/ crucifix/turban etc.

    At what point do these start to impinge on a persons ability to perform the role for which they are employed??? The question is never! The argument that these items are not uniform is a weak one. Given that a majority of women wear make up and perfume, men aftershave. These are non uniform items as is any jewellery – why should a person wear a wedding ring? After all, it’s not provided by the employer but something the individual chooses to wear, alongside their uniform – this topic could run and run…

    David then goes on to say –

    ” would it be fair for the people who crew with someone who needs special arrangements to be expected to carry them one day a week (plus, in some religions, holy days)?”

    At what point did Jacob say that his colleagues carried him in his job??? He states that they are aware of certain restrictions on the Sabbath and one would assume they are mindful of this. However, Jacob does not state that he is unable to do his job – to treat the patient to the best of his abilities and no mention is made of any short cuts because of his religious preferences.

    You state David, that you “would prefer the caregiver not to be advertising their irrational beliefs, it wouldn’t stop me accepting care.”

    This is in the same light that someone who has “irrational beliefs” does not stop them from performing their job role either.

    To finish you “wonder to what extent any religious belief should impinge on one’s professional life in service to the public?”

    Whether a person is black, white, purple with pink spots, muslim, jewish or catholic bears no relation in their ability to perform their duties in service to the public.The answer is it only impinges on an individual through the often misguided and sometimes ludicrous opinions of others who see people with religious garments/different skin colour as easy targets for abuse.

    I too am a Paramedic and have Jewish colleagues. I can honestly say that their religion or indeed any other of my colleagues religion does not stop them from fulfilling their role. What makes it difficult for them is the narrow mindedness and ignorance of others…

  7. I am stunned by the comments made on this blog, relating to the “modification” of a “uniform” for religious reason! To wear a skull-cap, a turban, a pair of Tzitsit (Jewish prayer shawl) or any other adornment while at work is up to the individual. Any workplace that made any comments about the wearer, including refusal for that person to wear aforementioned “modification”, should be had up for discrimination.

    It is one thing if someone was unable to perform to an accepted standard as a result of their requirements, either spiritually or from a disability. It is totally another if the problem stems from what someone else thinks as a result. I have 3 doctors in my hospital who wear skullcap and Tzitsit, and they perform their duties perfectly. I shall stop now, before I say anything too rude.

  8. Interesting.

    So if a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster decided to modify his uniform with the addition of a tricorn hat, this would be perfectly acceptable?

  9. So, is it perfectly acceptable to say to a religious Jew that he either doesn’t have his head covered, or he doesn’t have a job?

  10. Tricorn hat??

    Flippant remarks like that shows your unease at the weakness of your argument which, quite frankly. hints at discrimination…

  11. DavidW. I really didn’t intend for this to cause you so much discomfort, knowing that one day you may have to rely on someone so irrational for your own wellbeing. Maybe you didn’t see it, but I replied on Mark’s other post on this subject, the one reopening the discussion. Have a read. You may learn something. If only a little respect. No-one has mentioned Flying Spagetti Monsters until you did, and this is a point made by religious atheists as a mockery of religion. This was the one point you so vehemently tried to deny, but clearly must be your driving force. You don’t like religion? Fine. I’m not forcing you to be religious, nor am I forcing my religion on to you.
    Religions of all varieties are accepted everywhere in the Western World, where you are also resident. Allowances are made, differences tolerated, beliefs accepted. This is true whether just out in the general public or in any work place, public service or otherwise. If your work is not affected by your beliefs, then within the bounds of what is socially acceptable, you can adapt and accept. And whether you like it or not, today it is socially acceptable to wear a turban, a cross, a hijab or a kippa to work. Very few people wearing a visible item of religious clothing are “irrational” to the point of their religion affecting their job. Very few people are intollerant of religion to the point of refusing the well-trained, well-intentioned services of believers. You, sir, seem to be floating very close to that, at a risk only to yourself.

  12. I find it interesting that there’s a lot of outrage about me being intolerant.

    At no point have I advocated that religions be banned, that people should not hold religious beliefs or that it is acceptable to discriminate against people on the basis of religious belief (or lack thereof).

    What I have done is say that religious belief has no place in the delivery of public service, particularly when it has the potential to reduce the effectiveness or efficiency of a service paid for by tax ravenues. It is not the place of the state to endorse a particular form of religious belief and whilst the NHS is state-funded, it is a branch of the state whether the employees like it or not.

    At no point have I said that I would reject care from someone wearing religious paraphenalia.

    What I have said is that symbols and acts of belief can create barriers between care-givers and patients. This is well-documented, and it’s why professionals are disciplined for offering to pray with a patient and are required not to wear religious icons to work (we’ve had several cases in the UK where NHS employees have been disciplined for wearing crosses at work in contravention of uniform policy). I could just as well have mentioned the wearing of Jedi robes as the Flying Spaghetti Monster; would it be acceptable for someone to modify their uniform such that they look like they’ve just stepped off of Tatooine?

    Of course it’s not acceptable for someone to wear a tricorn hat at work (unless, I suppose, one is a pirate for a living); of course it’s not acceptable for ambulance crew to roll up wearing many layers and with a light sabre hanging from their belt. But where is the boundary? One person’s sincerely-held, ancient beliefs are another persons mythology.

    Should the guy in Wales (and I assure you a quick Google will show I am not making this up) who ardently beliefs he is a Jedi master be dismissed simply because we know his faith was established in 1977 by one George Lucas?

    Should the cargo cultists of the Pacific islands be dismissed in their belief because we saw the advent of their religion in the second world war?

    Should other belief systems be dismissed because we can provide evidence which doesn’t support – or actively contradicts – what they believe?

    Show me a line which is fair to every belief system. Show me a line between flippancy and discrimination.

    The answer of course is that wherever you draw the line someone will be upset. So you either don’t draw the line – in which case we invite the creation of homeopathic paramedics – or you exclude all expression of belief from the professional workplace.

    That’s what a secular society is: one which treats all staff the same, regardless of their belief or lack thereof. It hold everyone to the same standards every day of the week. It ensures that the staff’s apparel and behaviour do not create barriers to effective or efficient work.

    And of course, a secular society is not the enemy of religion. Indeed, a secular society is the best friend of religion, because it says “the state doesn’t agree or disagree with your faith, the state will neither endorse nor criticise your faith provided it doesn’t impact on other people, the state stands for the rights of its people, not for the rights of ideas”.

    A secular society is not one which demands that people abandon their religion. A secular society is one in which a plethora of religions have equal space and can compete with one another in the spiritual marketplace. A secular society is emphatically not one which dismisses people from job, or refuses to employ people, because of their faith.

    However, a secular society is one which says to every single person: “Here is the job, here are the standards. If you don’t want to comply with these standards, don’t take the job.” After all, I wouldn’t take a job which involved climbing ladders because you will NOT get me up a ladder; I wouldn’t take it and then demand that they make adaptations for me!

    I thought my previous post made it clear that I wasn’t attacking individuals, although apparently the same is not true in reverse. I hope that I have presented arguments which address the points made by contributors and haven’t engaged in ad hominem attacks.

    I’m sorry that we can’t have a rational discussion about the impact of beliefs upon work and society without reducing it to people shouting “discrimination”. Perhaps using the word irrational – even with a clear definition of what I meant by it and excplicitly excluding ‘crazy’ from the meaning – was a mistake. I’m sorry if people’s feelings are hurt, but I am not sorry for standing up for separation of faith and state: it’s an important principle which is routinely trampled.

    I shall now withdraw from this debate as it’s clear that people are not interested in the facts, but the harm it might cause to their right to wear different clothing or behave in differents ways on special days of the week; points which I notice no-one has addressed.

  13. Well, I dont know about the rest of you,
    but I think I would love to have Jacob as a partner at work with an
    outlook like that!! i think soTerry Bradshaw Jersey
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