The Israeli delegation in Surfside, Florida. (Photo: Courtesy)
G-d has Heard My Prayers: The Jews have Arrived!
An Interview with Colonel Golan Vach
Commander of the IDF’s National Rescue Unit, Colonel Golan Vach and his team have achieved global fame for their incredible humanitarian work. From Haiti to the Philippines, Colonel Vach’s unit has saved lives and created a tremendous Kiddush Hashem. Rabbi Aron White spoke with the Colonel to hear more about the unit’s incredible work.
How did you begin working in humanitarian rescue?
I was in IDF special forces for many years, and in 2009 was asked to lead a new search and rescue unit. It was intended for use during emergencies in Israel, and also to help with international emergencies. In 2010, we went to Haiti after it experienced a tremendous earthquake. We were able to save lives – I personally helped extract a 63-year-old man who had been trapped under a building for 108 hours. Since then, our unit has been active in saving lives in the Philippines, Mexico, Albania and other places around the world.
What are your unit’s capabilities and work methods?
We are creating a revolution in search and rescue. In December 2022, a senior UN official who leads emergency response spent 3 days with our team, and said we achieved more in simulations of fallen buildings than any of the UN’s 56 teams. Since helping in Surfside after the collapsed building in 2021, I have served as a consultant to the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency, helping them adapt their models of emergency response. When the federal government asked us to help with the Surfside disaster, it was the first time the US government had ever turned to a foreign country for assistance with a civilian disaster.
Our main innovation is Integrated Intelligence, which tries to draw from every possible source of information. You arrive at a building that has collapsed – how do you know where people were, and where there are most likely to be survivors? Gathering information from every available source – the families, the architects, even Amazon, can be critical. Amazon requires a little more explanation! When we arrived at Surfside, we were dealing with a condominium building, where some people lent apartments to their cousins and some spent only a few weeks a year in their apartment. How could we know who was in the building at the time it collapsed? We asked Amazon who had ordered deliveries to the building in the three days before the collapse, and that allowed us to identify that a certain couple was living on the seventh floor in a particular apartment. This is one small example of how we are able to creatively use every source of information about a site that may have a life-saving impact.
What response do you get when you arrive as an Israeli delegation?
For many people around the world, when I tell them I have come from Jerusalem, they are in a daze – it seems like I stepped out of a fairytale or magical world! In 2017, we were called to assist with a collapsed building following an earthquake in Mexico City. There were 40 people missing, and I was told that the family members of the missing wanted to meet me. I came into a tent with about 200 people, and introduced myself: “I am Golan from Yerushalayim”, and instantaneously, the crowd rose to its feet and many of the women began to cry. We have set up field hospitals in countries around the world, and almost without fail, the first baby born in the hospital will be named Israel by their parents. To date, there have been 23 Israels born around the world in these hospitals! A school teacher following the hurricane in the Philippines told me she had prayed to G-d for help, and when she saw that the Jews had arrived she knew that G-d had heard her prayers! It gives me goosebumps sometimes to see the reactions people have when a representative of Yerushalayim arrives to help.