Dr. Michael Block and Evan Block, 20, had the chance to save a life as a father-son duo on an ambulance crew in Tel Aviv.
The Blocks, who live in Englewood Cliffs volunteered this summer for Magen David Adom. MDA is Israel’s primary emergency and rescue service, which is funded mainly by donations.
Magen David Adom, Hebrew for Red Shield, has 33,000 paramedics, emergency medical technicians, first responders and first-aid providers. Most are volunteers.
The unforgettable experience, Evan Block said, has given him a leg up in his medical school application. His father, an anesthesiologist, has learned in depth about emergency medical services in Israel.
Evan Block, 20, a junior majoring in human biology at the State University of New York in Albany, has volunteered on ambulances stationed in Tel Aviv for the past two summers. He took the basic course then returned a year later for the advanced training.
“I had such an amazing time, and with my involvement came a further love for the work they do,” he said.
His father, who practices at Hackensack University Medical Center, has attended the international seminars and donated to Magen David Adom since 2019. He is on the northeast regional board of American Friends of Magen David Adom.
“We were exposed to the whole layout and function of Magen David Adom in Israel,” Dr. Block, 54, said. “You go into homes. You see how people live, the diversity of the population that Magen David Adom serves.”
He also saw the organization’s simulated operations at a military base.
“One of the highlights of the international seminar was being able to ride along on a shift with paramedics,” Dr. Block said.
This summer, he and his son coordinated their rides so they could go together, making the experience even more powerful for both. The Blocks were well-prepared for the challenge on July 27 — Tisha b’Av — when the call came that a man was suffering chest pains and shortness of breath. His condition was confirmed as a heart attack and the crew jumped into action. They started an IV, administered oxygen, and rushed the patient to Ichilov Hospital, where surgeons implanted stents and saved his life.
“It was just amazing for me to see Evan use the skills that he learned and speak the Hebrew language and just be a part of the functioning of a shift,” said Dr. Block, who belongs to Congregation Ahavat Torah in Englewood.
His son said, “It is always meaningful to work on ambulances, but it was so much more meaningful to save someone’s life with my father on one of the holiest fast days of the year.”
It was an “amazing bonding experience for my dad and me,” he continued. “If we had gotten there just a few minutes later, he might not have made it. It was really a remarkable experience and something I’ll definitely never forget.”
Evan Block plans to return next summer for more volunteering with the Overseas International Volunteer Program for Magen David Adom. He is now involved in coordinating an alumni association group for the 1,900 teens who volunteered in the overseas summer program from 2003 to 2023. The program started in the 1990s.
The Hebrew he learned at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford has come in handy. “It’s in Israel where you really get used to it, all the more so in the ambulance where it’s a high stress situation. They need the numbers, they need the information, everything happens quickly, so it just kind of comes out of you.”
Magen David Adom gave Evan the bulk of the recommended clinical hours he needs for his medical school application. “It puts me in a pretty good spot in terms of my resume,” he said.
He is considering emergency medicine as a specialty “because it is exciting. It definitely keeps you on your feet.” And he recommends the volunteer experience to teens. “Regardless if you’re pursuing a career in health sciences or whatever, it’s a really important growing experience. It was an invaluable personal and professional learning experience in terms of seeing some different cases.”
In Israel, Evan lived with teens from Amsterdam, Toronto, and New Orleans. “We’re all on different paths,” he said. “We were all there, giving up our summer to be in Israel, living together and saving lives together.
“I would advise it if you’re looking to spend time in Israel, looking to pursue a career in medicine or you just want to have fun. It’s a lot of fun.”
Dr. Block said that he will return to Israel this December for an international seminar introducing him to the new Marcus Blood Center. “Every time I go back to Israel, even if we’re on vacation, I make it my business to ride a shift,” he said. “I think it’s a phenomenal way to learn more about Israel and to contribute to Israel philanthropically.”
Dr. Block is the son of Holocaust survivors. “I am passing service onto my son, the next generation,” he said. “It’s extremely inspiring.”
To learn more about volunteering, go to American Friends of Magen David Adom at afmda.org/volunteer-overseas