Exclusive Interview: NYC’s DOT Commissioner Visits BP’s Hatzolah to Make Connections and Provide Resources
By Yehudit Garmaise
Hatzolah of Boro Park tried to reach out to NYC’s Department of Transportation (DOT) many times before Mayor Eric Adams took office in January, but has not had luck in establishing connections, until today, when DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez came down to visit the Hatzolah garage at 37th Street and 14th Avenue to speak with its leaders.
The DOT commissioner, who said with admiration that he came “to see first-hand the work that Hatzolah is doing,” not only received a tour of the building, but he got to observe how Hatzolah volunteers spring to action when calls come into the dispatching room.
Although Rodriguez was thrilled to see the inside of a Hatzolah garage, the DOT commissioner who had previously worked with Hatzolah when he represented Washington Heights in the City Council, said, “I am not new to the work of this amazing organization.”
Rodriguez also became familiar with Jewish community when he taught high school social studies to students from Latin America and Yeshiva University.
Rodriguez said that it was meaningful for him “to see the great work that this institution is doing not only for the Jewish community, but for the whole city.”
“This volunteer emergency institution has an impact not only in this neighborhood, but in the whole city of New York, the state of New York, and now Hatzolah is also expanding in New Jersey,” Rodriguez pointed out.
City Councilman Kalman Yeger, who attended the meeting, said that the mission today was “to show the DOT commissioner the on-the-ground work of Hatzolah.”
“There is knowing Hatzolah broadly, and there is seeing the internal operations,” Councilman Yeger said. “There are street issues, parking issues, and safety issues regarding Hatzalah’s operations and we wanted to make sure that Hatzolah and the commissioner have a clear line of communication."
Councilman Yeger, who had previously worked with Rodriguez when he represented Washington Heights in the City Council, said the DOT commissioner “has always had an open mind and an open heart, and coming to see Hatzolah in Boro Park for first time is just incredible.”
Bernie Gips, a Hatzolah coordinator, was happy to say that today was “the first time we had a meeting with a DOT commissioner, not to mention: Joel Eisdorfer, a senior advisor to Mayor Adams; Fred Kreizman, the commissioner of the Community Affairs Unit; and NYPD Inspector Richie Taylor, who currently serves as the commanding officer of Community Affairs.
Gips was pleased to report that the meeting’s participants discussed providing dedicated parking spots around Boro Park for Hatzolah volunteers so they do not have to waste time looking for places to park: when every second counts.
“Regardless whether Hatzolah volunteers get tickets or don’t get tickets: they should have dedicated parking spots to save minutes, so they can save lives,” said Gips, who mentioned that Rodriguez was able to designate special parking permits next to synagogues and other places where Hatzolah volunteers in Queens often serve.
"What is most important is that Hatzolah volunteers should be able to be where they have to be in emergencies to save the life of any individual," pointed out Rodriguez.
Gips also praised “something that hasn’t been seen in years, which is the sensitivity that City Hall shows the Jewish community,” on issues such as changing signage for Shabbos in Williamsburg and showing sensitivity to camera lights that Jews do not want to trigger on Shabbos.
“From the mayor, to Frank Carone, the chief of staff, to the deputy mayor, City Hall is finally tackling so many issues and needs that have been overlooked by previous administrations,” Gips said with gratitude.
"The working relationship between city government, the NYPD, and Hatzolah has never been stronger," said NYPD Inspector Richie Taylor, who previously served as an EMT for Hatzolah. "Meetings like the one today strengthen our bonds even more.
"Tremendous credit goes to Mayor Adams and his team for setting the tone from the top that the organizations that help the community are our partners.”
Photos by: Dovid Y. Jaroslawicz