February 24, 2009 / 30 Shevat 5769
It's hard to reach Amir Peleg by cellphone – even our conversation is interrupted and he has to go. But given his role as a medic in Ashdod's Magen David Adom (MDA) ambulance corps it's a forgivable excuse. Since moving to Israel in January 2009, Amir has been volunteering with MDA. He came to Israel during Operation Cast Lead, when life in Ashdod was radically halted because of the incoming the Kassam missiles from Gaza. Amir had previously volunteered as an EMT and fireman in New York, but seeing the crisis unfold across southern Israel, he felt Israel "needed [him] more than ever."
Just over a month since he's been here, Amir is settling into his new life at the Jewish Agency's Beit Canada (Barnea) Absorption Center. He's living in an apartment and feeling independent thanks to the support he receives from the absorption center staff and his role within the community. "Over the years, Israel has given me so much," says Amir. "Both my parents are Israeli. I grew up as a proud Jew, spoke Hebrew, celebrated Jewish holidays and enjoyed Israeli culture. But now, being here and helping others, I finally feel like I'm giving back to Israel and it feels great to be able to."
Although his volunteering service ends in June, Amir's considering staying in Israel afterwards. "It's so different here than in New York. The warm people make you feel like you're home." It's a recurring pattern for Amir how helpful and warm the people of Ashdod have been to him, and it's made a great impact on his life here as well.
"The people here, like the climate, are warm," he says. "A few days ago, I was walking down the street in Ashdod and a lady stopped me and asked, 'Do you remember who I am? I had trouble breathing and you came to help me. Thank you so much.' The woman then gave me her telephone number and address and invited me for Friday night dinner, insisting that I come join her and her family," Amir recalls with a smile. "It's just amazing to me to be a part of such a warm people – and giving back to them too."