Tending to dozens of teenagers with spinal and other injuries, a Jerusalem hospital is juggling emergency prep for the ongoing security situation with care for the many injured in a synagogue disaster on Sunday.
Two people were killed and 167 injured, including five seriously, when a bleacher collapsed under celebrants at the Givat Ze’ev synagogue of the Karlin Hasidic sect just before the start of the Shavuot festival. The synagogue is located in an under-construction building and had not been approved for use, the police commander of the Jerusalem District told reporters.
Yechiel Michel Gleiberman, 13, and Mordechai Binyamin Rubinstein, 23, both from Beitar Illit, were buried in a single Jerusalem funeral just after midnight. Rubinstein left behind a wife and a daughter who was just a few months old.
“Now, two days after the incident, the trauma faced by our volunteers is still reverberating in our minds,” paramedic Dov Maisel, vice president of operations at the United Hatzalah rescue service, told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.
He said that the incident is particularly raw, coming so soon after the fatal April 30 crush at an ultra-Orthodox gathering on Mount Meron. “Many of the people who responded on Sunday night were also present at the tragedy in Meron,” Maisel said.
He added, “Throughout our organization’s 15-year history, I cannot recall a time when we faced two mass casualty incidents of this magnitude in such a short time.”
At Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center doctors were caring for 42 patients who are still hospitalized there, six in serious condition and most with medical issues that require highly specialized attention.
It’s unusual for a hospital to have such a large influx of patients with the types of injuries sustained, and Hadassah doctors are working flat out. “Seeing the masses come in together, all with similar injuries, was the kind of thing we have only seen in a very big terror attack,” senior doctor Josh Schroeder told The Times of Israel.
“Over last few days we have been focused on the ongoing violence, and suddenly this came out of nowhere,” he said.
“What the patients went through was akin to falling from the second floor of a house, so we saw see broken arms, broken legs, fractures of the spine, and head injuries. We have some 10 patients with fractured spines.”
Almost 150 people arrived after the tragedy, and some 44 are still in the hospital. “Now it seems that the vast majority, after surgical interventions, will go back to their regular lives — but it could take months,” Schroeder said.
“Those with spine injuries, at least the ones we have been operating on, should get their lives back.” There are several people with significant head injuries, and he said it was hard to predict whether they will make a good recovery, though he is “optimistic.”
He said the hospital was initially “overwhelmed” by the influx, but it managed to cope by bringing in almost 200 extra staff within minutes. “It happened at the start of the Shavuot holiday, and suddenly we needed a very full staff, with everyone from secretaries to people pushing patients into surgery and anesthesiologists,” said Schroeder. “Text messages went out and staff arrived quickly.”
Extra manpower was needed as each patient required extra verification. That was because Israelis normally arrive at the hospital with their identity cards, but religious Jews do not tend to carry documents on Sabbath or festivals.
“It was a situation where no one came with an ID card because it was the festival, and we had to be extremely careful regarding identification,” .
“But we managed the influx and now it’s a matter of giving the best possible care to give everyone the strongest possible chance of recovery,” Schroeder said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.