Magen David Adom’s Inception
Magen David Adom in Israel was born twice: the first time in 1918 at the end of WWI and the second time in 1930.
The spirit of volunteerism that swept Jewish youth in Palestine eager to help the British in WWI also gave rise to MDA in Jaffa and in NY at the same time. It was decided to establish a Jewish body based on the example of the Red Cross. The body would operate as a volunteer organization, in which doctors, nurses, paramedics and other volunteers would serve. Its purpose would be to offer medical aid to soldiers serving in the Jewish regiments as well as to aid the population in case of a national disaster.
In an appeal to Jewish youth to volunteer in the formation of MDA, the founders urged them to give of themselves, claiming a great national human value for the organization. “We must not entrust the care of our heroic soldiers to the sons of a foreign nation speaking a foreign language when illness strikes, or when they are wounded on the battle field……Not in the name of a foreign symbol or under a flag of foreign holiness will they utter consolations to our soldiers lying on the sick-bed…..” About 500 young people volunteered for the organization at the time of its founding. However, only a very few were actually chosen to go out to the front to aid the soldiers of the Jewish brigades.
In May 1921 the Jewish brigades were disbanded and MDA along with them. However, the medical department, the spirit of the organization, continued to operate and 9 years later the organization would be re-established in Tel Aviv.
Following the period of bloody riots in the year 5,681 (1921), large numbers of Jews moved from Jaffa to Tel Aviv. Waves of the Third and Fourth Aliya (immigration of Jews from abroad) brought tens of thousands of Jews to Israel, a large number of whom settled in Tel Aviv. However, the rapid organizational development of the city, large number of residents, laying of infrastructure, construction of buildings and heavy traffic led to an increase in accidents. There was also a rise in the incidence of bodily injuries due to the quickly developing industry. These injuries caused the officials of the first Jewish city to consider the matter of evacuation of the injured to hospitals and providing first aid.
The father and progenitor of the association for rapid aid was Dr. Meshulam Levontin, who raised the issue of care and evacuation before the city leaders. Dr. Levontin proposed the purchase in Egypt of two sets of bicycles supporting a bed for the purpose of transferring the sick and injured in case of disaster. His proposal, however, was not approved. At the same time, Chaim Halperin returned from Egypt, where he had been sent on a mission for the fire fighters. There he saw a modern ambulance and was determined to purchase an ambulance for Tel Aviv. He contacted Dr. Levontin and on June 7, 1930, Dr. Levontin, Chaim Halperin, M. Rabinowitz, M. Frankel, Dr. Eliyahu, Dr. Barzel, and C. Leibowitz met in a café on the Tel Aviv waterfront and decided to set up an association for rapid aid, “Magen David Adom, Tel Aviv”.
Announcements were published in newspapers calling for residents to join and volunteer for the association. Members of the association began first aid training for the residents taught by Dr. Alotin, who had previous experience in first aid training. At its inception, the volunteer regiment in Tel Aviv numbered 100 volunteers who were divided into three companies.
The graduates of the first aid courses signed a commitment to volunteer for the association for one year as on-duty volunteers at the MDA station. At the same time, intensive activity began to raise money for the purchase of ambulances by the “sale of ribbon”, and on June 24, 1931, the first ambulance set out from Dr. Levontin’s house to the home of the mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff.
MDA expanded its operations within the framework of the renewed communities in Palestine (Eretz Yisrael). In 1947, 24 MDA associations were in operation throughout the country equipped with 28 ambulances and comprising approximately 5,000 volunteers.
MDA Friends Societies
As soon as the organization was established, societies of MDA Friends abroad began to become active. These groups have helped raise funds to set up an array of lifesaving vehicles, blood services and stations and to purchase medical equipment. The society of American Friends was established during the 1930s and notes 70 years of activity and has, in fact, accompanied MDA since the day it was founded. The society of British Friends notes 60 years of activity. Today some 20 societies of MDA Friends are active around the world, raising funds for resources required by MDA for its current operations and for development of life saving operations.
Today MDA operates 11 operational regions with more than 115 stations and dispatch points all over the country. In these stations some 300 standard ambulances and 150 Mobile Intensive Care Units, special emergency vehicles can be found, in addition to some 200 lifesaving vehicles which can be found in remote communities and factories operated by MDA trained volunteers.
Volunteers have founded and been active in MDA since the organization got under way. Today over 13,000 highly trained volunteers are active throughout the country, of which half are youth volunteers serving as part of the crews on ambulances and Mobile Intensive Care Units and “MDA cadets”, who represent MDA’s humanitarian youth movement activities.
During the early 1970’s, MDA was the pioneer organization in Israel developing the Pre-Hospital Advanced Life Support System, operating Mobile Intensive Care Units and training Advance Life Support Medics and Paramedics.
The 1950s onwards
In 1950, the Knesset ratified the Magen David Adom Law, designating the organisation as Israel’s National Red Cross Society. Magen David Adom has since played a major role in providing lifesaving services during times of war, terrorist attacks, and for accidents and emergencies in peace-time.
Today, Magen David Adom operates to the standards of the International Committee of the Red Cross and was officially grated membership to the organisation in 2006. Donations from supporters, such as Magen David Adom Australia (and its constituent State bodies), enable the organisation to purchase ambulances and lifesaving equipment and supplies.