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Canadian doctors recruited to help with emergencies in Israel

Sidney Benizri, second from left, national executive director of Canadian Magen David Adom, welcomes MDA officials Dr. Eli Jaffe, left, Rafael Herbst and volunteer co-ordinator Daniel Amzallag. (Janice Arnold/The CJN)

Canadian doctors are being invited by Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s emergency service, to join its international medical unit.

Two top MDA officials, deputy director Dr. Eli Jaffe and Rafael Herbst, who is in charge of international relations and fundraising, recently spent 10 days in Canada, to speak to Jewish communities about how they can support MDA’s vital work, as donors or volunteers.

Since the international unit was launched five years ago, about 50 physicians from this country have joined. Participants receive intensive training in Israel and may be called to return on short notice during natural or man-made disasters.

The next training session is scheduled for Oct. 11-21. The course, given by MDA personnel, focuses on handling mass casualties and participants can expect realistic drills in supporting large numbers of victims with severe trauma before they reach a hospital.

Only Canadian and French doctors have formed international MDA units. All medical specialties are welcome.

The program aims to familiarize Canadian doctors with MDA’s expertise and equipment, so that that they can spread the word about the importance of overseas support, through MDA’s fundraising arm, Canadian Magen David Adom (CMDA). They can also put their training to use here at home.


This past January, 16 Canadian and 16 French doctors who had previously taken the basic training course came back to Israel for more advanced training. They worked on MDA’s mobile intensive-care units around the country.

The most critical moment was a surprise drill in Ashdod.

“The doctors were told that they were going to a synagogue to meet Ashdod’s head rabbi,” said Daniel Amzallag, CMDA’s volunteer co-ordinator. “Unknown to them, 25 fake casualties were waiting to be found in the basement beneath the synagogue. The ‘rabbi’ – an MDA volunteer – came into the room and, one minute after he began his speech, alarms began sounding in the synagogue. ‘A missile has hit the synagogue. Everyone down to the basement,’ ” blared a voice over the loudspeaker.

As smoke filled the room, the doctors took command of the scene and began treating the “casualties” until MDA teams arrived. Real ambulances and emergency medical scooters were deployed.

“The drill was executed beautifully, demonstrating the doctors’ knowledge, training, devotion and hard work,” said Amzallag.

Six doctors did experience a real emergency in 2014 when they flew to Israel during Operation Protective Edge, the conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

An armoured Magen David Adom mobile intensive care unit. (Tewfik/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5)

For many years, hundreds of young adults between the ages of 18 and 30, including Canadians, have joined MDA’s overseas volunteer program. It enables them to become certified first-responders and work on MDA vehicles.

Ten years ago, Carolyn Elbaz was one of those young people. She became a doctor – a hematologist in Montreal – and is one of the Canadian physicians in the MDA international unit, CMDA national executive director Sidney Benizri noted.

MDA wants to contribute to the community here, as well. Jaffe and Herbst visited Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal. They hosted seminars designed to prepare non-medical professional to respond to emergencies.

Calling 911 is the first course of action, but the time until paramedics arrive can mean the difference between life and death, said Jaffe, with seven minutes being the critical response time.

The MDA workshop instructs laypeople about what they can do in those seven minutes.

“We want to share our knowledge with the communities here, through the synagogues, schools and community centres,” said Herbst.

The four-hour seminar covers such lifesaving procedures as stopping bleeding and CPR, but also goes over how to keep one’s composure, solicit help from others and gather information about the situation that will be vital to the professionals when they get there, he said.

Perhaps not well known here is that MDA relies on 22,000 volunteers in Israel, of whom 7,000 are trained medics who are on call wherever and whenever they are needed, said Jaffe.

MDA has just 2,000 paid employees working in 162 stations around Israel that receive 1,535 calls a day. The fleet consists of 1,050 ambulances, 507 Medi-Cycles and two helicopters. Every year, about 120 ambulances are retired and must be replaced.

For more information, on the doctors’ unit, contact Amzallag at 1-888-858-2632, or [email protected].

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