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SA medics poised to answer Israel’s call

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Though they have yet to be called upon, more than 80 South African-based doctors, medics, and others with specialised skills have signed up to volunteer in Israel.

“I stand in complete solidarity with my people, the people of Israel,” says Israeli-born, Joburg-based specialist radiologist, Liat Malek Alhadeff. Though breast-cancer diagnosis is her speciality, as a radiologist, she’s capable of interpreting any trauma-related scans – a useful skill in Israel at this time.

“This is an important time in all our lives,” she says. “We all need to stand up and contribute in some way. This is now a threat to Jews all over the world. I don’t feel like this is just a country that’s at war, it’s our entire nation.”

The mother of a five-month-old baby and two older kids, Malek Alhadeff says she’s thought long and hard about whether she should be volunteering in Israel if needed. “I just feel like this is a different situation, like this is like pre-World War II, in which we can’t sit still and just do nothing. I want to be able to say to my own family, ‘I stood up and did something.’”

Malek Alhadeff wouldn’t be on the frontlines and wouldn’t endanger herself if she were to go. “If I’m needed, I’m going to be in a hospital setting and I would be in a pretty safe environment, but obviously providing much-needed assistance,” she says. “I wouldn’t go there unless it was necessary, and I was actually going to be of service.”

At the moment, she says it seems that the Israeli health ministry is looking for surgeons, for those practicing more clinical physician-based disciplines, and psychiatrists. The delay in calling up our medical volunteers also seems to be partially around either finding ways to register their qualifications or to allow them to simply come in and volunteer, she says.

Malek Alhadeff is inspired by the example of her Israeli father, who served as a general in the army, fighting in the Yom Kippur War and the Second Lebanon War. “This isn’t something unfamiliar to my family,” she says. “For me, being all these miles away and not able to participate and do something is frustrating. I have a deep connection to Israel. I still feel that it’s my home.”

Her need to help has grown to encompass more than that notion, says Malek Alhadeff. “It’s about right and wrong. I’m not a religious person, but that’s my heritage. It’s just about the injustice of it all. That’s what infuriates me, how history is repeating itself. We can’t just sit back silently and say we’re in South Africa and nothing is happening to us personally. It is happening to us. It is personal.”

A Joburg-based specialist physician who prefers to remain anonymous agrees. “As Jews, we step up where and when we can and always have this pull to help,” he says. “I have a skill that’s particularly necessary with so many hurt or injured, and I believe I can help. If viable, I would definitely use those skills to do something useful.”

Having seen an email with a request for medical volunteers to be added to a database, the specialist’s wife filled in his details. “She discussed it with me afterwards, an indication of how strongly she feels about me going,” he says, speaking of who he would leave behind. “I have three kids who, while a little anxious, would definitely encourage me. They are strong kids who were incredible during the COVID-19 pandemic, and although this is on a different level, they would be good with their father stepping up. I don’t have details about where I’d be working, but I have both in-hospital and paramedic training.”

Though he’s no stranger to stressful medical situations, the specialist says that if he is to go to Israel, he knows that he’ll probably see and hear things that will stick with him always. “That said, I have the skills and ability to help, so if I can, I must.”

Speaking of his hopes and fears if called upon, he says that he prays that by the time he gets there, there will be no more need for him to be there. “My fear is that there will be a need, because if Israel is calling on outsiders, then there’s no end in sight.”

Benjamin Sher*, another potential volunteer, says that being born in Israel has fostered a deep connection to the country. “My skills range from search and rescue, to being a medic, to fire containment, to tactical skills gained through working with the police and security companies here,” he says.

“If admitted, I’d like to help with anything and everything. A Jewish homeland is vital for the sustainability of Jews everywhere around the world. So, Jews around the world need to step up to assist in protecting that Jewish homeland.”

Jews today are far better equipped to protect themselves than they were during the Holocaust, he says, and we need to learn from history and not stand idly by. “Through our skills, our training, and our military resources, we can stand together and protect Israel.”

*Name has been changed

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