A call to help

UAMS surgeon a volunteer with Israeli emergency medical service

UAMS trauma surgeon in Israel helping alleviate suffering

Dr. Joseph F. Margolick (right) , a trauma surgeon at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, is volunteering this month for Magen David Adom — Hebrew for “Red Star of David” — Israel’s emergency medical service. Pictured this week with two paramedics, he’s been issued a safety helmet and a flak jacket and he’s downloaded an app that alerts him when rockets are fired. (Courtesy photo)

While other Arkansans are eating turkey, watching football games or shopping for Black Friday bargains, Dr. Joseph F. Margolick will be thousands of miles away, tending to the medical needs of sick people in a war zone.

Since early this week, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences surgeon has been working for Magen David Adom -- Hebrew for "Red Star of David" -- Israel's emergency medical service.

"I'm Jewish, and I saw what happened on Oct. 7, and I signed up right away because I saw that there was a need for doctors," he said.

On that day, Hamas terrorists targeted civilian population centers as well as military sites, kidnapping scores and slaughtering 1,200 men, women and children. The country has been at war ever since.

Many of Israel's regular medical providers have been called up to help with the military efforts.

Margolick goes wherever Magen David Adom sends him. He's happy to volunteer.

"My objective was to come in and try and help alleviate suffering. I'm a trauma surgeon and I feel like I have a unique set of skills that enable me to actually help in these situations. And so that was really kind of what motivated me to go," he said Monday.

The goal is to save lives and help people heal -- whether they be Jewish, Muslim, Christian or atheist.

"I help people of any stripe, color or background," he said.

This isn't Margolick's first time in the Holy Land.

"I've lived in Israel in the past, have been there a number of times. I have friends there," he said.

His smartphone alerts him when danger arises.

"I have an app. It goes off every time that there's a rocket [going] by," he said. "It's rocket after rocket after rocket. I mean, my home screen is full of rockets."

The threat of attack is ever present.

"Today we were out dropping off a patient at a hospital and the siren went off and we all had to go rush into the bomb shelter for a few minutes," he said.

"To me, it's a shock to the system. To the Israelis, they're so used to it. It's a totally different reaction," he said.

Margolick's gear is appropriate for the assignment.

"They've provided us with safety helmets and flak jackets and things like that," he said. "I feel pretty safe, but you know, anything can happen."

While the United States government has sided with its ally, massive anti-Israel protests have erupted in many of the world's capitals.

"I see a lot of anti-Semitism happening. I read the news. I see the rallies," he said.

"It's not lost on me that there are two sides to stories. ... There's things that are gray and things that maybe not everyone can agree on, but I think everyone can agree that kidnapping children and mutilating babies and shooting innocent people is wrong," he said.

His wife, Lauren Berkman Margolick, isn't surprised that he's volunteering.

He was in Mexico in 2017 when a 7.1 earthquake claimed hundreds of lives. He did what he could to alleviate suffering then, she said.

"When there's a call, when there's a need, he volunteers," she said.

She looks forward to Nov. 27, the day he is scheduled to return.

Her feelings about the trip are complex.

"Because I've spent such a significant amount of time there ... my heart's really tied to the place. I have friends there. I want to see the best for them," she said. "But as a mom, it does stress me out."

"I'll be very relieved when he is back home," she said.

The Margolicks are members of Temple B'nai Israel in Little Rock.

Their rabbi, Barry Block, along with other leaders of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, is also in Israel this week.

Block, the group's vice president of organizational relationships, is scheduled to return Wednesday.

"It's a brief trip and it's a pastoral visit," he said. "We're going to be giving a lot of hugs to people that we know, we love, we care about, who are in an extreme and traumatic situation."