Young Judaeans absorb Israel from ambulances to the zoo

Marc Harris and the Magen David Adom ambulance crew pulled into the Israeli village to discover a mangled car smashed into a telephone pole. The dazed driver had stumbled into a nearby house.

Inside, blood trickled out of a bullet wound in the victim's leg. A gunman had shot into the man's car as he motored through the northern hamlet not far from the development town of Karmiel.

Harris, an American volunteer with the Young Judaea program, had taken an exhaustive first aid course but kept out of the paramedics' way as they dressed the man's wound. Doing whatever he could, Harris helped calm the victim, reassuring him everything would be all right as they loaded him into the ambulance and sped him to the hospital.

The shooter was described as an Israeli-Arab. So was the victim.

In the many ambulance runs Harris made during his 10-month stay in Israel from September to June, the day the team of Jewish paramedics aided the wounded Arab driver stands out in his mind.

"It was a great symbol of coexistence," said Harris, a 19-year-old Saratoga resident who will be a freshman at U.C. Berkeley in the fall.

The ambulance crew treated Israeli-Arabs "like everyone else." Likewise, he said, "everyone was appreciative.

"There were also a lot of Russian immigrants — one kid at school gashed his leg open. Another went into diabetic shock. It wasn't clear what was happening; he was flailing about and couldn't speak English. We kept them calm and got them to the hospital. If anyone needed help, we helped them. Everyone has the right to live."

Harris was one of more than 220 participants from the United States and Great Britain in the Hadassah-sponsored program, the organization's largest group ever. In addition to working in ambulances, the young volunteers put in time in schools, kibbutzim, Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo and even leant a hand to the army.

"The worst job was to pack kits for reserves when they're called into war. I talked with the soldier who worked there and he said they hadn't even used these since 1973," said Dorit Resnikoff, 19, of Berkeley, who will attend U.C. Santa Cruz.

"A couple of months later, our counselors from the army called and said that because all the reserves were called up they used every single bag we packed and even called in more people to pack more. I felt so connected to the country; I actually did something useful."

Like Harris, Resnikoff also spent time in an ambulance, working out of Tiberius. Though the pair never responded to a terror scene — though they did see their share of death via numerous traffic accidents — they were unable to completely elude the grasp of terrorism.

During their stay in Israel, Magen David Adom's volunteer coordinator was gunned down while delivering a baby at a checkpoint.

"There were times I was scared and definitely questioned why I was there. I was really sad, confused, angry, all those emotions. But being there in a group helped in some ways. People were just as confused, angry and sad in just the same ways, and we talked about it," recalled 20-year-old Miriam Barrere of Oakland.

"I got a personal view of what Israel is like. I had an incredible experience. I'd go back to Israel in a second if I had an opportunity."

Harris said he "never felt I was in danger," when riding in an ambulance or elsewhere.

"After what Israel has given me throughout my life, I felt it was time to give something back. I don't feel that noble, it was just something I had to do. Some people give money, others send their kids. I just happened to work in an ambulance."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.