Prank calls to new emergency service organization follow publication of rabbinic ban

Hatzulas Nefashos is challenging Hatzolah of Central Jersey's monopoly in serving Lakewood, and it's caused a lot of backlash.

Hatzolah of Central Jersey. Credit: Shtetl

Jun 11, 2024 4:02 PM


A series of audio clips published by Haredi news outlets in Lakewood, New Jersey, appear to record prank calls to Hatzulas Nefashos, a new emergency medical services organization that some fear may compete with Hatzolah of Central Jersey, the dominant Orthodox-run emergency medical services organization.

The recordings come as Haredi websites circulate a letter signed by over 100 rabbis discouraging community members from affiliating with Hatzulas Nefashos, arguing that the new organization will undermine its more established counterpart, which they say is determined to meet the needs of the community in its entirety. Shtetl did not independently authenticate the letter or the audio clips.

According to Haredi media, Hatzulas Nefashos, whose name means “saving souls,” was founded in 2022 to fill a perceived gap left by Hatzolah in the Lakewood area’s growing and geographically expansive Haredi community. 

Disagreements over Hatzolah and Hatzulas Nefashos call to mind similar disagreements over another Orthodox-run emergency medical services organization, the all-female Ezras Nashim. Advocates for Hatzolah, which is all-male, claimed that Ezras Nashim invaded the dominant organization’s turf, which could lead to slower response times and worse care for the community.

In what appear to be calls to Hatzulas Nefashos, callers — who include school-age boys — reference the rabbinical letter as they fabricate emergencies, use vulgar language, and wish the dispatcher ill. “My dick fell off,” one person says, in a recording published by the Haredi website FAA News. “Someone kicked me in the balls,” says another.

In the same clip, a Hatzulas Nefashos dispatcher is heard asking a different caller why he is calling from a Hatzolah phone number. The man doesn’t deny that he is calling from the rival organization. “The rabbonim asked you – get the hell out of Lakewood,” the man says. “Go to Chaverim like any other loser who couldn’t make Hatzolah, and go fix a bunch of tires,” he continues, referencing another Jewish volunteer organization. “You deserve to lose your own life,” the man says.

In another recording, published by the Haredi outlet Lakewood Scoop, it appears that the caller begins speaking negatively about Hatzulas Nefashos before being told by the dispatcher that he works at Hatzolah, not Hatzulas Nefashos. The outlet alleges that Hatzulas Nefashos “purposely forwarded the prank calls to Hatzolah” in order to “teach the kids a lesson.”

Hatzolah did not answer Shtetl’s questions. Yitzchok Birnhack, the founder of Hatzulas Nefashos, said he would call Shtetl’s reporter back, but did not do so or respond to further messages.

According to Hatzulas Nefashos’s website, it has ambulances and trained emergency medical technicians and is available 24/7. It offers medical transportation, including for non-emergency appointments, and, like Hatzolah, offers “community-wide awareness programs to promote proper safety habits.”

In a fundraiser launched before the rabbinical letter was published, Hatzulas Nefashos raised over $26,000, according to its Chesed Fund page. In text accompanying the fundraiser, the organization tells the story of a girl who needed to be transported from a hospital in Texas to one in New Jersey, but whom other organizations did not help.

Hatzulas Nefashos volunteers determined that pikuach nefesh applied — in other words, that the girl’s life was at risk, and because of this, emergency responders were allowed to break the usual rules of Shabbat. “This was a true pikuach nefesh situation,” the text says, “and the Rabbanim, after discussion with the Doctors, ruled that they may even travel on shabbos.” It’s unclear how much time rabbis spent determining this.

The rules of pikuach nefesh don’t just allow emergency responders to violate Shabbat — they require it, but Hatzulas Nefashos faced an obstacle when an Orthodox Jewish pilot wasn’t sure what to do. “A frum pilot was contacted but was uncomfortable flying on shabbos.” Soon, a rabbi “personally got on the phone and told the pilot he needs to go, even though it's shabbos.”

Ultimately, the text said, the child was successfully transferred to the New Jersey hospital.