This is a first-person account by Yossi Amar, mission commander for the United Hatzalah medical relief mission to Morocco following the deadly earthquake that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 and injured almost as many. The team continued its mission despite the onset of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. This is their story.
“Over the course of the mission which began less than 40 hours after the earthquake, our team arrived in Morocco and immediately began assessing what the most urgent needs of the local population were. We found a country that was suffering, with many killed and many others wounded, but also a proud nation and strong people whose leadership was wary of foreign assistance.
After several meetings with government officials to assess the needs, we received permission to open medical clinics in villages that had yet to receive medical aid.
Throughout the week we made preparations and finally were able to arrive with a full contingent of 14 team members to remote villages in and near the Atlas Mountains where the epicenter of the quake took place.
We worked together with the local leadership and military medical liaison in order to ascertain which villages needed help the most, and each night we planned which villages to go to the next morning.
Our team is led by two doctors and filled with other first responders, all of whom have comprehensive medical training.
We opened medical clinics, went to people’s homes in order to do house calls for those who couldn’t make it to the clinic, and assisted the community by providing psychological first aid and humanitarian aid wherever needed.
Sign Language, Translations and Good Will
The first day, it was a bit difficult for the populace to understand what we were doing, but local leaders informed them that it was okay to approach us — and they came.
We had language barriers for some of our volunteers, but we also have two Muslim team members, one a doctor and another a rescue specialist with the fire department who is also an EMT, in addition to a Jewish EMT who lived in Morocco with her parents for many years.
There are also three French-speaking team members. With their assistance, and a lot of sign language we were able to communicate with the locals. Later, we had two Moroccan nurses join our group and they helped translate as well.
We treated medical conditions and injuries, some of which were sustained during the earthquake and some that predated the tragedy. However, most of the people here have not been to a doctor or a hospital in a very long time.
As the days carried on, and we went to more villages and more, word spread about who we were and what we were doing. Suddenly there were lines of people waiting for us to open our clinic and receive treatment, even before we arrived. People from the outlying mountain areas even came by donkey in terrain that jeeps couldn’t traverse, just so they could receive treatment from our team members.
Praying to God, Providing Medical Relief
Rosh Hashanah was a bit different for our team, but not by much.
During the holiday we continued our medical clinics, but this time in one village, Ouchfilene. Our team members set up the clinic in a tent, and then went door-to-door — in this case tent-to-tent — to do a type of ‘house calls’ and provide medications and intravenous fluids to anyone in need.
Instead of the second team going to another village, those who wanted to spend the day in prayer went to the synagogue in Marrakech and joined the local community for Rosh Hashanah and heard the Shofar.
After the prayers were over, they were invited to eat at the home of one of the community members who was gracious enough to invite us. We were also allowed to bring the shofar back to our hotel in order to blow it for our team members who came back from the medical clinic in the mountain village prior to sunset in order to hear the Shofar and fulfill the mitzvah of the day.
For me, celebrating the holiday here in Morocco created a very mixed feeling. On the one hand, it was not the same type of holiday that I am used to celebrating as I do each year in Israel. But I always kept in the forefront of my mind that I am here in Morocco this year for a very specific and clear purpose — to help save lives, and to save as many lives as possible.
To be able to provide free and urgent medical care to people who haven’t received it since the earthquake, and for some a long time even before that, this too is part of what Rosh Hashanah means.
We pray to be written in the Book of Life, and that is exactly what we are here helping to do. We want to begin the year with good deeds, with acts of kindness. I can’t think of any way better to do that, than by being right here helping these people.
Our mission is still ongoing and we hope to continue to help as many people as we can while we are still here. We are coordinating our efforts with the local authorities so that when we leave, they will be able to continue what we started and pick up where we left off.”
Yossi Amar lives in the town of Tel Zion/Kochav Yaakov with his wife and four children. Yossi serves as the chapter head for the central Binyamin chapter of United Hatzalah as well as the head of the organization’s drone unit, his wife also volunteers with the organization as an EMT. Yossi works in Jerusalem and works in the field of medical supplies. He also is in charge of emergency protocol for various neighborhoods in Jerusalem through the Eshkolot Community Center.