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MADA volunteering gives deep view of Israel
February 27th, 2004
During a cab ride on the way to the new Jerusalem bus station, the driver questioned why I had recently arrived in Israel, I explained to him that I had come to volunteer with Magen David Adom (MADA), Israels equivalent of the Red Cross, working on the ambulances.
His response has stayed with me since. As his eyes found mine in the rear view mirror, he said that hearing the reason for my stay in Israel gave him shivers, and that I was supporting Israelis and contributing to the country during a time of great need. He was touched by this act and thanked me.
I knew then that, in spite of my aversion to blood and needles, I had made the right decision to become a MADA volunteer.
My experience began with an intensive 60-hour training course in Jerusalem. Along with the other American, British and Australian volunteers, I learned everything from performing cardio-pulmonary resuscitation to treating snakebites and head injuries.
By the end of the course, I had transformed from a woman with no medical background whatsoever into a Certified First Responder who checked vital signs and spoke in Hebrew about conditions like pulmonary edema.
Dressed in the official MADA shirt, I arrived in Haifa, the port city where I had chosen to perform my service. As the only foreign volunteer living in the absorption center that would be my home for the next two months, I found myself in a truly international setting.
Only in Israel could I watch the nightly news in Hebrew with my Ethiopian roommate, go salsa dancing with a Russian immigrant from down the hall, and discuss cultural differences in Spanish with an Argentine immigrant over delicious kosher shawarma.
I learned how to make injara, Ethiopian flat bread, and helped a friend prepare for army reserve duty when he was called up in the middle of his studies at Haifa University.
This mosaic that constitutes Israeli society became apparent to me not only in the dorms but also at the MADA station, where I reported for my 7:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. shifts Sunday through Thursday. Every ambulance driver I worked with was unique.
Moti, the Jewish father, always listened to mizrachi music during the ambulance rides. Daniel, the Russian paramedic, had a dry sense of humor that kept me smiling.
Wafa, the Druse emergency medical technician, had lost a finger during his military service. George, the Christian Arab, enjoyed stopping for pastries on the way back from a call.
Working with these everyday heroes in the ambulances provided me with experiences that most foreigners will never know. I saw how real Israelis live as I entered the apartments of patients from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds.
During ambulance rides, I helped to comfort a Romanian grandmother suffering from chest pains, as well as a young Arab butcher who had cut himself while working. I hiked up Mt. Carmel, carrying a medic kit, when we received a call to assist a man who had fainted on a hike during Sukkot.
I served as security at soccer and basketball games (which, gratefully, I was able to enjoy without needing to perform first aid). I transformed a rubber glove into a fun balloon, entertaining a baby suffering from burns who we transported in our ambulance.
I entered the hospitals of Haifa and experienced the Israeli health care system first-hand, opening files on patients and getting them comfortable in their new beds.
As a MADA volunteer, I benefited tremendously. I gained useful medical skills, enhanced my independence and confidence, and strengthened my Jewish and Zionist identity.
In return, I was able to serve Israel in one of the most direct, hands-on ways; to experience the satisfaction of contributing to my homeland; to show Israelis that they are not alone and to unite with them.
As the cab driver had reminded me, Israel needed me. Israel needs us all.
Marisa Jacobson graduated in 2001 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, majoring in history and Hebrew. She lived in Jerusalem during her junior year of college and spent about two months this past fall volunteering through Magen David Adom. She is currently working as a bilingual legal assistant at a downtown law firm and will begin law school this fall.