Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department members Jason Stukes and Shoshana Weiner recently spent two weeks working for the Emergency Volunteers Project in Israel in two of the country’s fire departments.
“All of us basically dropped everything to go help our fellow firefighters in Israel,” Weiner, a firefighter, paramedic and former department lieutenant, said.
Stukes, 45, a five-year member of the LCFD, and Weiner, 50, a member for 23 years, signed up to volunteer as the crisis in Israel deepened after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.
“I’m kind of one of those guys to kind of take a shot — like if you guys are doing it, I don’t even know what it entails, but if you guys are doing it, I want to do it,” Stukes said. “Then after I did it, I was kind of like, what did I sign up for?”
Within a day of submitting his application, Stukes, of Elmont, got a call informing him that that he had been selected to serve in an Israeli department, and he flew out of Kennedy Airport on Oct. 22.
“I didn’t think I was going to get the opportunity to go as fast as I did,” he said.
Weiner, of Cedarhurst said she felt as if she had no other option. “The moment the attacks happened Oct. 7, I knew I needed to go,” she said.
Stukes was sent to Ashdod, Israel, and Weiner to Hadera. When the arrived, they underwent Israeli firefighting training, and Weiner recalled working 24 hours a day for two weeks responding to rocket attacks and other emergency calls.
The firefighters had a strong sense of camaraderie, Weiner said, adding, “It was an amazing experience.”
Stukes said the experience was shocking, but extremely rewarding. “I kind of forgot where I was, and then I was like, oh, there’s a bomb, there’s rockets — I’m in Israel,” he said.
When he got home, he said, he had a newfound appreciation for Judaism. “I’m not Jewish, but that had nothing to do with things,” Stukes said. “To see the real culture of Hebrew and being Jewish and experiencing not just the war part, but to experience the culture, they’re phenomenal individuals, warm, welcoming with open arms.”
Both Stukes and Weiner said they were sad to leave when their two-week stints came to an end. Stukes plans to return in December.
“If I can go as much as my job allows me to, or my time allows me to, I’m going to go until they don’t need me anymore, or this is over with,” he said.
The Emergency Volunteers Project has been recruiting volunteers for emergencies in Israel for 15 years, whether related to conflict or natural disasters. Volunteers are deployed where there is a need for their skills and experience.
At its meeting on Nov. 6, the Cedarhurst village board at the Nov. 6 meeting honored Weiner and recognizing their hard work in a speech.
“Honestly, I really appreciate it, but I don’t think it’s something we need to be honored for,” Weiner said, “because I would have done it with or without it.”
Village Trustee Dan Plaut lauded the volunteers’ efforts, and noted the bonds among Lawrence, Cedarhurst and Israeli communities.
“In a remarkable show of solidarity, the brave members of the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department ventured to Israel during a critical moment in their country’s history,” Plaut said, “offering their skills, dedication and unwavering support to aid our friends overseas.”
LCFD Deputy Chief Meyer Adler echoed Plaut’s sentiments, saying of Weiner and Stukes, “We are very proud of them for standing up what they feel is right.”