This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post and was written by Maya Zanger-Nadis

On October 7, 2023, Adi May Ninio and Leehee found themselves in the eye of the storm, watching terrorists set the Gaza border region aflame, killing hundreds of innocent civilians.

On November 13, they became certified to save lives, finishing their EMT course with United Hatzalah. 

Like many of us in Israel, these two extraordinary women once lived relatively normal lives. Adi May runs an integrative pain clinic in Tel Aviv and Leehee is a data analyst. However, in their off hours, they are heavily involved in the Midburn community, an official branch of the Burning Man Regional Network. Adi May and Leehee are part of the team that runs the medical clinic at the festival, and back in April, they decided they wanted to shift their focus from administration to practical medical expertise. So, they began an EMT course with United Hatzalah. 

On October 7, the two were excitedly making the final preparations for the annual week-long event set for early November. They were about three kilometers away from the location of the Nova Festival, at a private Midburn event with about 120 people. 

The whole group was sleeping in tents outside. So, on the first morning of the war, Leehee explained, “We saw and heard everything.” First came the rockets. Then they saw the motorcycles. Then the fire. “We knew by about 7 or 7:30 in the morning that there were terrorists everywhere, that they were flying above us, that there was some kind of incident at a festival. We knew that. Just not the details,” Leehee added. They had a 360-degree view of the morning’s events. They were in the center of several main roads in the area and could see the Hamas terrorists driving from place to place. They saw Nova participants running for their lives and were able to take some of them in. “They ran to us,” explained the two, “hoping we were Bedouins or someone who could save them.” 

The Midburn event was on the grounds of a private farm, and as the day progressed, the participants moved into the farm buildings to hide. “The road [that the terrorists were driving on] did come up to the entrance of the farm,” explained Adi May. “But they just never came into the farm.” Some members of their group tried to escape in their cars independently. By the end of the day, there were only about 40 people left. Most of them got away, but several were wounded trying to escape and one, their friend Hagit Refaeli Mishkin, was murdered by terrorists on the road. Those who remained were able to safely return home later in the evening, after witnessing firsthand the most horrifying event in Jewish history since the Holocaust and hiding for hours amid immediate fear of death. 

Yet, somehow, life went on. And the date for Leehee and Adi May’s United Hatzalah EMT course final exam was moved up. They had one week to prepare and still managed to pass despite the circumstances. United Hatzalah is a community of over 7,000 volunteer EMTs located all over Israel equipped with specialized motorcycle ambulances whose goal is to respond as quickly as possible to medical emergencies, thereby increasing the chances of survival. Currently, their average response time is 3 minutes or less and their ultimate goal is 90 seconds. For Adi May and Leehee, United Hatzalah EMT certification was a step on the road to empowerment after the trauma of October 7. “When we were at the farm, we were kind of helpless,” Leehee said. “We couldn’t get out, we just had to wait. Being an EMT will give us the power to always be active and help and know that we have the power to do something good in bad situations. And that feeling- when you know that you have the power to be active and do something for someone, that’s really powerful. You won’t feel helpless.” 

Midburn, the community that brought Leehee and Adi May together many years ago, is built on the same ten principles as Burning Man, centering mostly around inclusion, acceptance, and openness. But these principles share a lot of foundational aspects with United Hatzalah. Specifically, the principles of Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, and Gifting come to mind. The first two are relatively self-explanatory. However, Gifting in the Burner community is defined as the act of giving without any expectation of exchange or return. It is unconditional and constant. “Midburn is a community that is based on values of giving and not expecting to receive in return,” Adi May explained. “It encourages you to give and to accept others as they are. And when I think about that and I think about United Hatzalah, it’s the same. This is also an organization of volunteers who just want to give their time, energy, and emotion just to help other people, to save other people, to support them. And they do it expecting nothing in return.” “This is what we enter right now,” said Adi May, referring to the official graduation ceremony they were about to attend. “We joined a new community with people who truly just give from themselves. And they’ve given us the tools to do the same.” “We have an opportunity now,” she said, “to save other people and help them survive.” 

It is a testament to the State of Israel, United Hatzalah, Midburn, and Leehee and Adi May specifically, that these two women were able to turn their experience of utter helplessness into life-saving empowerment. Since the outbreak of the war, supporters of Israel worldwide have adopted “Am Yisrael Chai,” the People of Israel Live, as a rallying cry from which to draw strength and form a community. It is a powerful phrase when spoken and written. But Leehee and Adi May have taken “Am Yisrael Chai” and chosen to act upon it.