NORTHBROOK, Illinois — “Help! Help! Something terrible has happened!”
The alarming call, coming amid shouts of pain, bombarded a member of the Northbrook Community Synagogue as she entered the temple’s sanctuary outside of Chicago to find over a dozen worshipers lying helpless on the bimah platform and in between the chairs below.
As she weaved through the chaotic scene, the synagogue member tracked who needed triage and who could be moved to a safe location, while ordering one unhurt worshiper to call 911 and another to help apply pressure to a wound.
The screams weren’t real, though. Nor was the blood on the oversized t-shirts that Magen David Adom paramedic Rafael Herbst had participants wear for the simulation.
The exercise was part of MDA’s “First 7 Minutes” training session, one of several Herbst facilitated last week for faith communities in the Chicago area. Based heavily on Israeli expertise in responding to terror attacks, the seminars are aimed at teaching participants how to react in the immediate aftermath of a mass-trauma incident before paramedics arrive at the scene.
“You’ll never know when violence will strike, but you’ll know what to do when it does,” Herbst told the synagogue members.
He acknowledged the difficulty of continuing to operate in a traumatic situation and recalled how he “froze up” after arriving at the scene of a bus bombing during the Second Intifada.
“That’s why it’s important to work as a community,” Herbst said, explaining why a single person should not be responsible for triaging an entire room after a mass-casualty incident.
“We believe the power of communities to [respond to] a difficult situation is always greater than [that of] the individual. Once we strengthen the community, we strengthen the ability to [respond to] deadly attacks,” he said in a subsequent interview.
Participants said that the growing number of mass shootings was what brought them to attend the seminar.
“I’ve got children in school, and it’s a concern,” said Morgan Farr. “So anything I can do, any training, I’m willing to do.”
Also in attendance was Court Williams, a priest at nearby St. Giles Episcopal Church who received an invitation through a local interfaith listserve.
“Because of what happened in Highland Park we just felt like we need to be more aware, so this was kind of a first step for us,” he said, referencing the mass shooting that took place at this year’s July 4th parade, in which seven people were killed and 48 others were injured. Located several miles north of Northbrook, Highland Park is home to a large Jewish community, whose members were among the casualties.
One participant at the seminar, who asked to remain anonymous, said she had several relatives who were at the parade that day and knew someone who was injured. “I used to think there was little in common between us and what they go through in Israel with those terror attacks,” she said. “Not anymore.”
The next day, Herbst and several other colleagues from the Israeli emergency medical service ran the seminar in Spanish for 20 participants at the Mexican Consulate in Chicago.
“Following recent attacks against religious institutions, the need to train people to protect themselves is paramount. And it is only natural that Israel has transformed its experiences facing violence and trauma into tools to help protect others,” said Israel’s Consul General to the Midwest Yinam Cohen, whose office helped organize that event. Each of the seminars was funded by the hosts.