In this exclusive video interview, Martin Jacobson, MD, an anesthesiologist from New Jersey, discusses his decision to be a volunteer physician at Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem. Jacobson describes the atmosphere of the city and potential safety concerns.
The following is a transcript of his remarks:
After the attacks on October 7th, they [Hadassah Hospital] invited me to come out in anticipation of an increased amount of traumas or injuries, casualties related to any increased activity on the battlefront.
Hadassah Hospital is not anywhere near Gaza, but it is a small country, so there are only so many places near Gaza that an injured person or soldier or civilian could go. So a lot of the patients do get airlifted over here or driven here after immediate temporizing things in the field.
I was in medical school in Israel, in Tel Aviv. I had no connection with Hadassah whatsoever other than I have an alumni group on WhatsApp that has been very vocal and very impressive at trying to get support for this country. It’s a group of physicians, there are about 500-600 people on this one chat. As soon as the Ministry of Israel released a website to register physicians for emergency credentialing, I had that in my hand and started filling out stuff probably faster than most people.
That was really it, it was like a cold call from Hadassah that was like, “Hey, can you come?” “Yes.” “OK. Get on a plane.” And here I am.
My main connection with this country has been reinforced by the fact that my education, my current situation in life and success has been due to the choice I made to come here. I got a fantastic education in Tel Aviv. I was hands-on from day one and I had excellent professors there in really very good hospitals. Compared to a U.S. medical student, I feel like I got more practical knowledge, I think, than most.
So as an homage to that, honoring that, I felt like I really owed this country something. I wanted to make sure that I was able to do something.
Like a lot of people do, I felt a little hopeless and a little helpless sitting, watching, scrolling through news on my phone or watching on TV, and I just felt this part of me that’s like these Israelis — I’m Jewish, I’m not Israeli — but Israelis are my family. That’s my family also. There are only so many of us, so I felt like I had to do something.
Hadassah Hospital is in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem. It’s kind of on the outskirts, it’s not really close to the downtown Jerusalem like you would think of. It is a big hospital. There must be at least a thousand beds in this hospital, and it is a sprawling complex of buildings all woven together with a lot of underground tunnels.
The hospital has not only the hospital proper, but it also has a lot of flex capacity in case there were bombs or missiles. There’s the whole underground hospital, which is able to be set up as a fully functioning hospital as well. So there’s a lot of overflow, a lot of flex in what this hospital is capable of.
I think the main concern is that a lot of the people who work at the hospital are not necessarily Israeli, not necessarily Jewish, not necessarily even related to this country at all. Half of the residents that I’m working with are either Arabic — I met one from Cameroon, a few from Costa Rica, and they’re here on Visas to learn. And I believe that if there were a full-blown escalation of this conflict, a lot of them would actually go back to their home country. So I think that in the event that things do get worse here, a lot of people will leave.
The only real concern that was voiced to me, I guess, was from the chairman of the department. He said, “Know where your shelter is.” As far as someone walking into the hospital and having an attack, like everywhere in Israel, there’s security at the door, there are a million soldiers walking in and out through this place — every five seconds, there’s another group of them going through for whatever reason, as visitors, as friends of people who are in the hospital, just off-duty or whatever — but they’re in uniform, they’re armed, and they’re here to make sure that things are safe as well. But that’s not that different from a usual day, I think, in Israel.
It’s important to just recognize that this is a different type of escalation than has ever been in the past. This was a home front attack that was a surprise attack intentionally on civilians in order to hurt civilians, which I don’t think this country has ever seen, and I don’t think most countries have ever seen anything as horrific as this country had to endure last week.
I hope that when people see what’s happening here, that they realize that this is not just Jews that are being hurt in this situation. This is Israelis — and Israelis include Jews and Muslims and Christians and Africans and people from all over the world that are here traveling, because this is a place that has historically been a crossroads for a lot of different cultures and people.
This country is always impressing me with how they just continue on. They just keep living life. They still sit at the coffee shop, they still have breakfast with their friends and their family, and they keep going because that’s the only choice they have.