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Israeli Lifesavers

Central Mass Chabad program showcases tireless work of Magen David Adom

By Laura Porter

WORCESTER – Every child over the age of 5 in Israel knows to call 101 for MDA — “MAH-dah” — in case of emergency.

At any given moment, MDA paramedics and volunteers respond in a matter of seconds to emergencies that range from illness to accident to the horrific aftermath of terror.

Across the world, Israeli MDA teams are often first to arrive on the scene of a disaster or tragedy with medical expertise, medication and equipment.

Either at home or abroad, MDA, or Magen David Adom, is Israel’s national rescue organization, charged with striving “to alleviate human suffering wherever it is found and to protect the lives and health of every individual,” says its mission statement.

On Tuesday, May 17th at Central Mass. Chabad in Worcester, 90 people attended a presentation about MDA led by a number of speakers who described the tireless work of the first responder agency.

Featured speakers included the Israeli Deputy Consul to New England, Matan Zamir; Kurt Schwartz, who heads the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency; and Ari Winograd, a former Clark student who served as a volunteer for MDA when he lived in Israel as a college student.

Hosted by Central Mass Chabad Directors Rabbi Mendel and Chanie Fogelman and Olga and Boris Serebrennikov of the MathAltitude School of Mathematics, the event was sponsored by the American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA), MathAltitude, and Chabad.

In 1950, MDA was mandated by the Knesset’s Magen David Adom law “to carry out the functions of a national society, to be an auxiliary service to the Israel Defense Forces in time of war and to be prepared for this in times of peace; to provide pre-hospital emergency medical services; and to provide the national blood services.”

To do so, it depends upon its 2,000 paramedics and 13,000 volunteers in more than 120 individual stations throughout the country.

The first responders answer more than 650,000 calls per year and train 80,000 civilians as well as IDF soldiers in first aid.

Moreover, MDA’s supervision of the national blood supply – at the country’s only blood bank – involves collecting, testing, storing and distributing blood for those who need it, including the IDF.

Only six percent of the agency’s budget comes from the government, and MDA operates thanks to annual donations of $100 million.

Those donations come from around the world, but Gary Perl, New England Regional Director of AFMDA, noted on May 17 at the Chabad Center that 80 percent of the organization’s ambulances are donated by Americans. Moreover, the vehicles are assembled in Elkhart, Indiana, using GM chassis.

“I like to say, when you support Magen David Adom, you do a double mitzvah; you supply jobs for American workers and you save lives in Israel,” said Perl.

Speaking to the assembled group, the Israeli Deputy Consul to New England, Matan Zamir, emphasized Israel’s great debt to MDA, the essence of tikkun olam, and the voluntary effort “to help others is rare around the world, but very common in Israel,” he said.  “There are many ordinary heroes in MDA.”

Israel has a long history of innovation, and MDA has been a part of that.  Its fleet of emergency vehicles includes over 1,000 ambulances as well as 180 medicycles, scooters developed in house that maneuver through traffic to improve response time.

In addition, its Tomcar can traverse uneven terrain, and its software designers have created an app that facilitates communication between paramedics and the MDA command center.

“The work MDA is doing is ensuring Israel’s survival inside and outside of Israel,” Zamir said.  “It is a source of pride in our country.”

Israeli first response is, in fact, so superior to anything that anyone else across the world is doing that MDA trains groups from abroad.

Kurt Schwartz, head of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) since 2010, spent ten days in Israel in 2011, learning about emergency medical response to terror attacks and mass casualties.

Schwartz, who had been an EMT in college and was a police officer before going to law school, went to the MDA training center in Tel Aviv as well as to the Gaza border.

“None of us [in the group] had had experience with the kind of attack they were teaching us about,” he told the group at Chabad Center.

Eighteen months later, on April 15, 2013, Schwartz was on Boylston Street immediately after the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon.

Suddenly, he was facing precisely the situation he had learned about in Israel.

“What I learned about made a difference on the streets of Boston on that terrible day,” he said.

Indeed, he was one of five officers who made up the unified command that day. They realized months later that every one of them had at some point traveled to Israel to receive training from the Israelis.

Olga Serebrennikov, who organized the May 17 event, and her husband, Boris, have been involved with the AFMDA for many years, a connection that began with their son, Michael’s, bar mitzvah project.

As a family, they set a goal of raising funds to donate an ambulance, a mobile intensive care unit that went to Israel in 2007.

In the process, they developed an understanding of and commitment to the MDA that has only grown.  Both Olga and Boris are current members of the AFMDA Advisory Leadership Council of New England.

In 2010, Burt Klein, the New England representative for AFMDA based in Boston, approached Olga about hosting a reception for the organization.  She held two, one at their home and the second at the Yeshiva in Worcester in 2012.

The second event featured the Consul General, Shai Bazak, as well as then Senator Scott Brown.  It drew a large crowd and, at Olga’s suggestion, was held at the Yeshiva, which was then going through “a transition from being a school to just a center for Chabad,” she says.  “I’m not very religious, but I feel such a gratitude to [the Fogelmans] and everything they do for Worcester.”

Rabbi Mendel and Chanie Fogelman are board members of Chabad’s Terror Victim Project in Israel, a decades-old non-profit organization that is on the scene after an attack to support victims with “financial, practical, emotional, and spiritual support as they struggle to reclaim and rebuild their lives,” according to the CTVP website.

In putting together the May 17 event, Olga Serebrennikov believed it was especially important to hear from an MDA volunteer.  In his comments, Kurt Schwartz stressed the participation of volunteers as the key to MDA’s breadth.  By relying on thousands of volunteers as well as over 1,000 professionals, “it brings together the whole community.  The first person on the scene is as likely to be a volunteer as a paramedic.”

Cities in the United States are trying to replicate that model, said Schwartz.  “Boston is trying to figure out how we can turn 200 medics into thousands by adding volunteer support.”

Ari Winograd is a Clark alumnus, a graduate student at Northeastern and an EMT with Sherborn Fire Department.  In 2010, on study abroad in Israel, he served as a volunteer with the MDA.  He was an EMT at Clark and he “came to Israel to experience Israeli society, not just study,” he told the audience.

Working side by side with volunteers from around the world, Winograd learned firsthand about the international makeup of the MDA volunteer corps.  He stressed that the MDA reflects Israel’s commitment to “duty, voluntarism and collaboration” on a local, national and global level.

Reflecting upon his service in the midst of crises, both large and small, he recalls the advice of the Israeli medics who told him: “It’s like a duck. You’re calm on the surface, but underneath you’re kicking like crazy.”

At the present time, Israel has only one national blood center, maintained by MDA.  It is the only blood source in the country.  As Gary Perl noted, the center was built in the 1970s to serve a population of 4 million. Not only has the population doubled, but the center is vulnerable to missile attack.

A fundraising campaign to construct a $100 million subterranean blood service center is ongoing.  The MDA collects, stores and distributes 100 percent of the blood needed by the IDF and 95 percent of that needed by the rest of the population.  The new blood center will be located in Ramla, the crossroads of all Israeli highways, on land donated by the government, and the groundbreaking is planned for November 15, 2016. n

For more information, visit the MDA website at https://www.mdais.org/en/ or the AFMDA at https://afmda.org/.

CAP: From left to right, Ari Winograd, former Clark student who served as a volunteer for MDA in Irsael; co-host Rabbi Mendel Fogelman; Israeli Deputy Consul to New England, Matan Zamir; and co-hosts Olga and Boris Serebrennikov.

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