THE ANONYMOUS HERO COP
[A version of this story was first published in the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger of August 17, 1995]
CANTOR HILLEL SADOWITZ
What kind of journalist am I who now has to kick myself in my ass because I didn't bother to write down the name of the off-duty Newark cop who so dramatically helped save the life of my old buddy Harry Sadowitz the other night?
Harry and I have known each other for maybe more than 60 years. We come from the same stetl , which is sort of the Yiddish word for your original neighborhood or home town. Harry is definitely Yiddish. He's so Yiddish, he has his last name carved on his front door with SADOWITZ spelled as if with characters from the Hebraic alphabet rather than from the ABCs. After all, this is the home of the man I consider to be my generation's personification of Yiddishkeit .
Harry and I grew up together. Except, I grew up to be a lapsed Jew, a non-believing agnostic too modern-minded to waste my time with dahvening , which is the Yiddish word for praying, something religious Jews seem to spend so many hours doing that I wonder when do they have time for anything else? Both Harry and I are the sons of strictly kosher Orthodox Jewish immigrants, but, as I grew up, religion increasingly made no sense to me. Harry, on the other hand, was a pretty worldly kid, as I remember him, but he was drawn inexorably toward religion and became a Hazzen , Cantor Hillel Sadowitz of Temple Israel of Union, a member of the clergy, the holy man who sings the Hebrew liturgy in shul .
Harry is the kind of guy who once proudly showed me his badge, a shield given him by the mayor of Union identifying Harry as a "Mayor's Aide." He keeps the badge in a leather holder and he showed it to me much in the same way that the off-duty Newark police officer showed me his badge, also in a leather holder. When the off-duty Newark police officer showed me his shield, he didn't say, "I'm a cop!" He said, "I'm an off-duty Newark police officer! Can I help you?"
As I said, I'm not religious, but some deity must have heard the silent prayer screaming in my head as I leapt out of Harry's car with Harry apparently dead in the driver's seat: "I NEED A COP. I'VE GOT TO FIND A COP!" The vibrations occasioned by my prayer, however silently I screamed it, went out into the cosmos and brought me this angel, this off-duty Newark cop. I had really wanted a cop in a patrol car with a two-way radio. This guy, in civilian clothes, was in his own car with no radio or phone, but I could have kissed him. This angel served very well as an answer to my prayer. Since then, I've found myself so moved just thinking about this man's act of dedication and kindness, that I break into tears. This off-duty cop had other things to do. I didn't flag him down. He didn't have to stop to help me. He didn't have to help save Harry's life. This was in West Orange, not Newark. At the intersection of Northfield Avenue and Cherry Lane in South Mountain Reservation, a fairly desolate place at 11 at night.
The off-duty Newark cop had seen me trying to flag down other motorists while looking for a driver with a car phone. He was a handsome young man, tall and muscular. He did what I was too clumsy, too panicked, too upset and too timid to do. He got Harry's breathing machine going, stuck the bit into Harry's mouth and kept it there until Harry started breathing on his own again. I thank God the cop was young and gung-ho-ish. He got right to it. He saw a chance to be a hero and, as far as I'm concerned, that's exactly what he was, a hero! I certainly didn't know what to do in this situation, other than to call a cop. The truth is that I wasn't ready for this. I had other plans, too. I really didn't want to be inconvenienced by Harry dying on me. Besides, he's too good a friend for me to want to lose him.
This wasn't the first time Harry had to be rushed to the hospital with an asthma attack. But this time, a very troubled me feared that Harry was already dead. The off-duty cop put his hand on Harry's wrist and said:
"He's got a pulse. It's weak, but he's got a pulse."
A woman driver with a car phone stopped, asked if she could help and was told to call 911. She drove off and returned later to say that an ambulance was on the way. Soon, a West Orange police car with sirens wailing and red and blue lights flashing pulled up behind us with a tough young patrolman named Joe Racaniello behind the wheel. The ambulance wailed in not long afterwards and the emergency service crew took over. All in all, about 20 minutes had elapsed since the onset of Harry's asthma attack, but my hero cop kept Harry breathing until the medical technicians got there. Only then did my hero cop feel free to get into an animated huddle with Racaniello. Neither one seemed interested when I tried to tell them I once covered Newark Police Headquarters for the Newark Evening News . Obviously, I used to be a much more efficient reporter in those days. I certainly wouldn't have neglected to write down the off-duty Newark cop's name.
The Ambulance took Harry to St. Barnabas Hospital, where he was placed in the intensive care unit. This morning, Harry was transferred to his own room and he telephoned me to ask what happened. He wanted to know every last detail but there was one bit of information I didn't have: the name of the hero cop who helped save his life. ##
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