A 2 a.m. siren wail and the nearby explosion of a Hamas-fired grad missile triggered a heart attack that might have listed Mordechai among the fatalities of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Yet, as Mordechai’s daughter saw the pallor of death steal over her father’s face, her long, fearful scream tore the Israel Aid Mission team from their beds, and their host home, to the family’s side, where they administered life-saving oxygen to Mordechai and treated the whole household for shock.
“I don’t have to be Superman to make a difference in a crisis situation and help save lives,” stated IAM first-responder Brett Forrest. “It was amazing how just a few drills working as a team enabled us all to respond together efficiently when it came down to real-life situations.”
With his background in paramedics, the Israel Aid Mission Director David Ben David says he is committed to equipping volunteers appropriately to respond to a disaster scenario.
“If anyone has the heart or the willpower to save lives, I can give them the training they need to do so,” Ben David said. “Our volunteers are your normal, average citizens. They are nurses. They are doctors. They are mortgage-brokers. They are bankers….”
I personally am the logistics manager for this international organization of emergency-response volunteers, which stationed a team in Ashkelon, Israel, during the 8-day escalation of rocket attacks from Hamas. It’s important to note that this weeklong barrage of hundreds of rockets and missiles followed weeks, months and years of Gazan rockets peppering Southern Israel, which has, among other things, left 43.5 percent of preteens in the southern-Israel town of Sderot with clinical signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (according to a 2007-2008 study administered by the Journal of Adolescent Health).
My internship with the Israel Aid Mission began this fall, at a time when the residents of the nation were pouring into emergency-supply shops and government offices to secure gas masks for their families (at this hour, most if not all of the available gas masks in Israel have been sold). I also began seeing increasing numbers of young adults in uniform, and I acutely felt the unfairness of enjoying the benefits of living in Israel while many of its youth place their lives and futures on hold in order to secure that normalcy for tourist-types like me.
Though I am too old to serve with the Israel Defense Forces, I still wanted to be involved hands-on in defending this nation of hospitable, generous people, and providing direct support to those who have gone through the literal wars and who just want to live and let live.
This specific intent is shared to various degrees across the Israel Aid Mission staff and volunteer base and has manifested in the administration of emergency first-aid as well as in the delivery of food supplies, blankets and toys to affected families.
“Our mission is twofold—firstly, to save lives regardless of race or creed. Secondly, to promote Israel in a positive light throughout the world, doing what we Jews call tikkun olam (restoration of the world),” Ben David said.
In the Ashkelon mission, to counter the shock, confusion and fear accompanying the bombardment of Hamas rockets, the IAM delivered hundreds of toys to a large gathering of impoverished children attending a day program inside a bomb shelter. The IAM team also distributed toys to young families braving the streets of what had become a virtual ghost town.
“I myself am no hero. I’m just simply using what God gave me in order to effect a real difference in the world,” Ben David said.
Other organizations and individuals, including volunteers and donors, have also been vital in keeping the Israel Aid Mission activated and effective.
“Upon arriving in Israel from the USA, I began to seek out volunteer opportunities which would allow me to utilize my time and personal skills to help and support the Israeli people,” Forrest stated. “Next thing I knew, a disaster hit the south of Israel, and suddenly I was down there actually making a real difference.”
Connecting with the Israel Aid Mission has enabled me, as well, to participate in bringing relief directly to these communities in distress. Though my internship began in an office in Jerusalem, I came to be just as engaged in the IAM’s situation-specific search-and-rescue training and responded with the rest of the team to the scene of each rocket that struck while we were stationed in Ashkelon.
“I was amazed how the IAM team was able to work in tandem with police to achieve the fastest possible response when missile attacks hit targets with potential injuries,” Forrest stated. “Often an IAM paramedic was available on scene before any ambulance had even arrived.”
Though focusing its most recent efforts on the Gaza conflict, the Israel Aid Mission is continually developing its preparations for responding to international disasters. In the IAM debut mission following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Ben David equipped his team of volunteers to provide relief to thousands of Haitians in the Port au Prince slums. The IAM also took an emergency-response team to Fukashima, Japan, in March 2011, to distribute 2500 kg of medicine and food to earthquake and tsunami victims.
When disaster strikes in Israel, local IAM volunteers like Forrest have already received thorough instruction about how to pack and prepare for an immediate call-up to local-community hot zones.
“The IAM leadership always puts the safety of the team first and allowed the team to have a great amount of input regarding the team’s objectives, as well as the method of implementation,” Forrest stated about the Ashkelon mission. “Each team member was quick to uphold team morale, and everyone had no problem in getting behind the cause and purpose for being there.”
During times of respite – such as the one effected by the Israel-Hamas ceasefire November 22 – I return to my original internship duties in networking, marketing and logistics-planning, while the rest of the IAM core team continues building up our organization to demonstrate the values of Israel, while providing relief, healing and comfort to those in severe distress, both in Israel and around the world.