Twenty-year-old Benny Gustafson, a Jewish college student from Wisconsin, transformed his profound grief over the loss of his brother, Jack Gustafson, into a force for positive change by volunteering with Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel's eminent medical emergency service.
"I'm driven to help others because my brother's death was preventable," Benny expressed. "I believe that by working on an ambulance, I can prevent such tragedies. If only someone had been there for my brother, he might still be with us."
Before MDA, Benny served on an ambulance in Madison during college. His dedication to emergency services deepened after a trip to Israel via the Taglit-Birthright program, which exposed him to MDA's vital work.
In Tel Aviv's MDA station, Benny encountered a spectrum of individuals. He reflected on one harrowing incident, stating, "I even provided crucial aid to a person who had lost a significant amount of blood."
Benny’s experience in Israel was transformative
"I fell in love with the country's culture," he shared, noting Israel's "straightforward nature and openness" as a refreshing contrast to his US experiences.
Evan Block, a colleague who shared ambulance shifts with Benny, found the experience equally impactful. "This summer was about personal growth as much as gaining clinical experience," he said.
Benny’s involvement with MDA was supported by Israel Experience. Avner Lasch, its CEO, highlighted the program's broader purpose: "MDA Abroad allows Jewish volunteers from all over the world to get to know Israeli society from the inside...MDA Abroad is one of the flagship programs of Israel Experience."
Dr. Eli Yaffe of MDA lauded the international volunteers, saying, "Beyond the professional experience they gain from MDA paramedics, these volunteers absorb the values of volunteerism and mutual guarantee." He expressed hope that such experiences will keep them connected to Israel and their communities in the future.
Gustafson's participation in the MDA program in Israel was made possible by Israel Experience, the Jewish Agency's educational subsidiary company. This program facilitates theoretical and practical training in first aid and volunteering for approximately 400 young Jews, aged 18 to 30, from various parts of the world.