On the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Hashoah), volunteer first responder Tina Berkovitz was honored at a commemoration ceremony hosted by the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council.
At the ceremony, Tina was awarded a citation for her continued dedication and devotion for saving the lives of her fellow Israelis. But Tina isn’t a regular native-born Israeli: The 67-year-old grandmother grew up in post-World War II Germany and is the daughter of Nazis. For her, receiving the award on the eve of Yom Hashoah was an exceptionally emotional experience.
Berkovitz was born in the city of Bochum near Dusseldorf. In 1973 she began a 45-year-long career of saving lives and working in the medical profession, volunteering as part of the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace organization, whose aim is to confront the legacy of Nazism.
Berkovitz came to Israel as part of one of the organization's projects, and took three months to learn Hebrew before she began volunteering as an EMR and nurse’s assistant with the Red Cross. She began her volunteering just as the Yom Kippur War broke out.
“I volunteered in Shmuel Harofe Hospital, which had been converted during the war to house and treat Arab POWs. I was working as a nurse as part of the Red Cross and we had an agreement with the Nurses Union in Tel Aviv... to serve in the local hospitals. I’ve always had a passion for helping others and for the field of health and I felt this was the perfect way to help others,” Berkovitz said.
Following the war, Berkovitz was transferred from Shmuel Harofe to Assuta in Tel Aviv. There she met then-Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa Rabbi Yitzchak Yedidya Frankel, who heard her story.
“Rabbi Frankel invited me to learn about Judaism, not to convert per se, but just to learn and understand it better,” she said. “In the end, I converted and we learned together for a time before he found me a tutor to study with.”
“It was just him and me in the lessons and it is because of him and his approach that I converted. He told me: ‘It doesn’t matter how you look or what you wear, but if you are a good person and you honor your parents then you should join us.’”
He didn’t come from a place of forcing me to do anything but rather from a place of love and from the value of human life, and that is something that I really connected with.
Since then, Berkovitz built a family of her own and settled down in the Artist’s Colony of Ein Hod. She has three children and two grandchildren, most of whom live in Tel Aviv. Berkovitz currently volunteers as a First Responder and EMT with United Hatzalah, Israel’s national community-based volunteer EMS organization.
“I provide EMS coverage as a volunteer for United Hatzalah for all of the events in Ein Hod and many others events for the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council,” she said. “I have the honor of working 24/7 as an EMT, since my passion also turned into a profession and I work as an EMT in local establishments that require medical security such as the Dor Habonim beach.”
Berkovitz is also a doula, a naturopath, and even started an emergency medical clinic for Israeli tourists and travelers in the Goa province of India.
“I’ve always felt that it is a great honor to be able to work and volunteer around the clock in a position that saves lives all the time. That is one of the things that pushes me to continually volunteer and serve my community. It is thanks to organizations such as United Hatzalah, which allow and inspire me to keep helping others no matter what,” said the EMT who also currently volunteers in the Emergency Room of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. “As an EMT, I see every type of scenario in the field, but as a volunteer, in the ER I see everything on the other side in the hospital as well.”
Explaining why she has always felt connected to the field of medicine and first response, in particular, Berkovitz said: “I have always believed that when a person knows what to do and has the tools to make a difference, it is simply a waste to not do everything he or she can to help others.”
Adding to her accolades, Berkovitz also worked at the Kfar Izun psychological and drug rehab center.
“I began helping the patients there with natural medicine and now it is one of the few places in the world where natural medicine and traditional medicine are used hand in hand to treat patients who are suffering psychological conditions due to drug use,” she explained.
Shortly after the award ceremony on the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, Berkovitz praised the organization, that over the past decade has given her so much and enabled her to treat and save the lives of those around her.
“I have really found a home in United Hatzalah,” she emphasized. “I’ve taken all the courses and training classes that I can and I am currently waiting for a paramedic training class. I don’t look at my life and think, ‘Wow I’m doing a lot.’”
“I think that I was given talents and if I don’t use them then it is a crime. I was given the opportunity to give to others and that is what I do. Anyone who has been involved in EMS knows this. I believe that everyone should learn medicine and that in every town or neighborhood there should be ten or twenty EMS personnel, however many are needed and more so.”
Berkovitz concluded by saying: “I come from Germany, the land that the Nazis once called home. My parents were Nazis. Here, in Israel, I received an award of recognition on the eve of Yom HaShoah, from the regional council where I live, for saving the lives of Israelis.”
“I don’t think of this award and say to myself that now I can now sit back and relax. Rather, it pushes me forward to do more and to help more people and that is what I want to do. While my parents were not happy with my choice to come to Israel and with my conversion, the one thing that they couldn’t argue about was the importance of saving lives.”