Since I was younger than 45 when our family made aliyah I was eligible to be drafted for two months of basic training so I could be in the reserves of the IDF-TZAHAL. Having been in the American Army, I had a little sense of what military life could be like. Each of the 35 men there with me were interesting, but I really do not want to talk about them. Hope they are still alive.
The first month of our training we learned how to march. I am not sure why. We were taught how to fire a rifle; I rarely hit the target. We were supposed to climb a rope, but for most of us it was too difficult. We had several hikes just with our backpacks and several in which we carried one of the trainees on a stretcher. There were other “military training activities,” but I imagine that I have repressed them.
The second month we had five days in the field, including training with our gas masks, crawling under simulated enemy fire, and loading and firing our rifles on various types of terrain.
Our commanders knew we were not youngsters, so they had pity on us. Our dog tags were made of cardboard, which tells you how highly our military skills were valued.
However, we did have some real training related to what the delegation of Israeli physicians were doing for the volcano-suffering Guatemalans. We were not doctors, but we were trained to assist with home-front casualties, helping to free them from large blocks of concrete and other big items that might have fallen on them. Clearly we worked with soldiers who could operate the various cranes, bulldozers and other large equipment. We had to simulate pulling the individuals out and then providing medical care for dummies used for training. I had a special task I won’t describe, but suffice to say it is only practiced with Israeli or Jewish casualties.
What the world seems to forget is that Israel, for its size, provides more assistance for natural and other types of disasters than any other country in the world. Israelis know, literally from birth, that mass casualties are a responsibility of our nation in any place in the world we are permitted. The IDF has special units trained to fly quickly at any time, anywhere in the world to save people struck by calamities.
Now it is Guatemala, where a volcano erupted. On TV we could watch the lava pouring out and running down the hill, turning all it touched into fire balls. Any houses, shacks, cars, fields were covered with the lava and disappeared in flames. The TV cameramen can capture all this but, from what I know, there is no way to halt the lava flow. Nor could we see many of the victims.
I saw on TV tonight, the Saturday after Shabbat, the team of Israeli specialist physicians who have arrived in Guatemala. They were in makeshift medical tents assessing the wounds of those burned by the lava and who had roofs fall on them. This is a real disaster.
The Israel medical flights also brought medications needed for the Guatemalans who had been hurt, some mildly and others very seriously. To emphasize the severity of the situation, burials were done just of bodies that could be identified.
Since we have lived in Israel, I can recall when Israelis rushed to Turkey and then Mexico City, where massive earthquakes had occurred. I’m sure that you all recall Israelis working to remove the rubble and trying to save those who might have survived. The most moving sights were Israelis carrying children, just rescued, from the buildings and homes that had disintegrated and trapped unsuspecting victims.
I am very proud that a basic principle of Israel is to “help your fellow human being.” When misery and the danger of loss of life is faced, our citizenry here is prepared to act immediately in whatever part of our planet assistance is required.
I assume that, in Atlanta, collections of money, food, clothing, medications and other required items are underway. I am certain the Jewish Federation and Atlanta Jewish organizations are moving quickly to help.
Israelis have flown out and are helping on the spot. I assume American specialists are in Guatemala too. Each of you is to be thanked for all you are doing.