“It’s hard to believe that this was a war zone just over a month ago and that Hezbollah missiles were falling all around the city,” says Rajlevsky. “When I ask people about the war they play down their feelings. But you still sense a lot of unease.”
"I feel really comfortable and at home being surrounded by so much Hebrew and so many Jewish people," says Rajlevsky. "It’s a very calming feeling. My parents are happy I’m here. They know there’s no danger now.”
Rajlevsky, who was born and raised in Mexico City, moved to the US with his family two years ago. He is one of 50 participants in a first-responders course within the framework of the MDA program. Over 500 young Diaspora volunteers have graduated the course and worked in Israeli ambulances over the past year.
“For eight days, 14 hours a day, they learn all the basic first aid procedures from bandaging to resuscitating,” explains Adi Levi, an instructor with the MDA volunteer program. "These dedicated young people are taught the types of calls that they are likely to respond to including road accidents, heart attacks, suicide attempts and suicide bombings.”
The reality of traveling around to emergency calls in an MDA ambulance, and working side-by-side with Israelis has so far been a positive experience for Rajlevsky. “We resuscitated an unconscious man in a gas station yesterday. It was a fantastic sensation to be part of saving somebody’s life.”
Another graduate of the September course Raissa Zekri, 20, from Belem in Brazil, thought she was prepared for every eventuality when she volunteered to be a first aid responder.
Volunteers from around the world work together to save lives
“The first day out was very traumatic,” she recounted. “We were called to a road accident where a bus had run over an eight year old boy. He was lying crumpled and lifeless in the middle of the road. As it turned out he had a broken leg so it could have been a lot more tragic. But it showed me how difficult this job is going to be.”
Zekri reached Israel in February and is participating in a 10-month program for Brazilian students organized by the Jewish Agency and the Bnei Akiva youth movement. A graduate in Occupational Therapy from the University of Belem, she remarked that Israel is even better than she ever imagined.
“I’ve really fallen in love with the country and the warmth of its people," says Zekri. "My parents obviously worry about me, especially with the war raging in the summer, but they knew I was out of danger. Besides, the level of violent crime is so bad in Brazil that they realize I am safer here.”
Jacqui Mautner, 22, from Sydney, Australia has been a volunteer in the MDA program since December. "When the war in the north started I was volunteering in the Galilee town of Carmiel," she recalls. “My parents phoned up and asked me to leave Israel. I refused. In the end we compromised and I pledged that I would leave the north and work in the center of Israel out of missile range.”
Mautner's experiences up north were both exhilarating and sad, as she saved lives but also faced loss. "One day I found an elderly person dead in bed. This was so sad I cried my heart out. Another time we were called to a remote Arab village in the Galilee. We failed to resuscitate a man who had had a heart attack. It was heart wrenching."
Mautner had planned to volunteer for MDA for two months but extended her commitment to one year. Rajlevsky wants to follow suit. “I’d like to carry on doing this until February and perhaps take an advanced paramedics course.”
Mautner and Zekri would eventually like to make aliyah. Rajlevsky wants to keep his options open, but will definitely bring his experience in Israel back to the US and continue as a first-aid volunteer.
First picture: Naftali Hilger
Second picture: Shimi Nachtailer
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