Leaving family, work, and homes behind, 20 American EMTs and paramedics arrived in Israel this past weekend to volunteer with Magen David Adom (MDA). Amidst rocket and missile attacks, some of the volunteers have already helped save lives.
Upon arrival, the volunteers were immediately deployed to cities like Sderot, Ofakim, and Netivot. Eli Rowe, a married 41-year old businessman from New York and father of four, was among the first to administer first aid to two people badly injured after a missile landed near their car yesterday in Ofakim. Rowe, in Israel with a group of Hatzalah-New York medics and EMTs, doesn’t see danger in the situation, only an opportunity to save lives and stand by Israelis in distress.
“We got the call from MDA asking for assistance [last] Thursday night and by Friday afternoon we were in Israel,” he says. “We want Israelis to know that we are not deserting them. We didn’t come here on vacation. Everyone paid their own ticket and we all did it wholeheartedly.”
The American volunteers, all between 25-50 years old, plan to stay in Israel for at least three weeks. New Yorkers account for all but one of the volunteers currently riding with MDA ambulances. The exception is 26-year-old Jeremiah Cann of Parkland, Florida. Currently stationed in Netivot, Cann left for Israel on Sunday immediately after a stint volunteering in Hoboken, New Jersey with Hurricane Sandy rescue efforts. Cann’s parents, still living in Florida, could not be more proud.
“This defines who he is,” says Ruth Cann, Jeremiah’s mother. “He has a lot of Israeli friends and he’s a rescuer with a big heart. He really gravitates towards doing good things in the world.”
The most rewarding part for volunteers like Rowe has been the reaction from everyday Israelis.
“It lit up their faces when the nurses and soldiers realized we were here to help,” he says.
Meanwhile, the feeling of gratitude for the Americans’ sacrifices is felt strongly on the Israeli side.
“Their being here makes us feel like we’re not alone,” said MDA Director of Foreign Affairs, Alon Fridman.” They’re leaving their homes and lives to help us and it’s very touching and appreciated.”