As part of our Year Of The Volunteer project, United Hatzalah will be highlighting volunteers from across the country who give of themselves and their time to help others and save lives each and every day. We want to recognize these heroes for the work that they do both as volunteer first responders and in their everyday lives.
Today on Veterans Day (U.S.) and Remembrance Day (U.K. and Commonwealth countries) we are highlighting two United Hatzalah volunteer first responders from North America who have served in the U.S. Military in different capacities. They each have a unique story about why they decided to serve their countries, when they made Aliyah to Israel, and how being a United Hatzalah first responder is an extension of their extraordinary lives of service.
I was born in McKeesport, PA, and spent my formative years in the Pittsburgh area until high school, which I attended in Baltimore. At the age of 17. I then came to Israel to spend a few years in Yeshiva. Shortly after, I made Aliyah during the Gulf War in 1991 and was immediately drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces. From 1991-1992, I was a liaison between the South Lebanese Army and the IDF.
Pittsburgh and The U.S. Civil Air Patrol
In 2002, already married with 3 kids, I came back to Pittsburgh so I could complete my master’s degree in Public and International Affairs and start my Ph.D. in Public Administration. That is when I joined the U.S. Civil Air Patrol, right after getting my pilot’s license. At the time, I was also involved in politics and eventually became the Republican nominee for the Mayor of Pittsburgh in 2013.
Founded during the earliest days of World War II, The U.S. Civil Air Patrol is the U.S. Airforce’s auxiliary. Their main mission is to conduct search and rescue for grounded aircraft. I participated in many search and rescue missions in which we successfully tracked downed and located stranded aircraft and rescued numerous pilots.
I was a pilot for the Civil Air Patrol for over 10 years. Then, in 2013, I came back to Israel with my family and became involved with an organization called the Jewish War Veterans. Most of the members of the organization in the U.S. and in Israel are elderly veterans from WW2, Korea, and Vietnam. For some reason, the younger Jewish veterans, mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan, are less excited about the camaraderie with their fellow vets.
They were looking for a younger member to take charge of the Jewish War Veterans here in Israel who was able to attend meetings and take on the role of flag-bearer at official ceremonies here in Israel, which is one of the many things we do. I was first the Deputy Commander and then became the Commander four years ago and served a 2-year term. I then retook the position recently as our current commander has unfortunately been ill.
Becoming an EMT
In addition to all my previous experience in the Civil Air Patrol and the IDF, I am also an EMT.
The story of how I became an EMT is rather interesting. During my first period in Israel during the second intifada, I was the first online editor of the Jerusalem Post. As a journalist, I found myself at the scene of bus bombings and various terror attacks, and sometimes we were at the scene before first responders managed to get there. It was very disturbing to me that there were so many people in need and I was standing there reporting. I had two hands to help, but I didn’t have the skills or training to do anything.
Soon afterward we created an EMT course for journalists who were regularly the first on the scene and could help out. Then, when I came back to Israel the second time, I redid the EMT course and got recertified with United Hatzalah.
I currently live in Ma’ale HaZeitim, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, which is very close to the Old City. Because of my proximity to the Temple Mount and Western Wall, I have responded to numerous terror attacks that were in my immediate vicinity at the time of the attack. For example, I was one of the first responders on the scene on July 14, 2017, at the terror attack on the Temple Mount where two police officers were murdered (photo on right).
Military Family and Legacy
I come from a military family. My father was a Vietnam veteran, and my grandfather served in the Navy during WW2 on a ship in the South Pacific. Naturally, I am very proud to continue our family legacy of service. I am especially proud that I can be an IDF veteran, and current reservist, fighting for the Jewish people’s homeland.
My oldest son just finished his military service in combat intelligence and my daughter is currently in the IDF.
The legacy continues.
Josh Wander currently lives with his wife and 6 children in Ma’ale HaZeitim, Jerusalem.
I was born in Holon, Israel, and moved to the U.S. when I was six years old. My parents were born in Egypt, and my father used to fly back and forth to the U.S. in the summers and eventually felt the financial opportunities were better there for our family.
The economy tanked in 1991 just as I graduated high school, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to go to college, but it was expensive and I didn’t qualify for any financial aid. Somebody mentioned to me that if you join the army or the air force, they will help pay for college and that was what originally got me thinking about military service.
Joining the U.S. Marine Corps
I decided to join the U.S. Marines when I was 19-years-old. I served for seven years, but mostly in the reserves. The first year was regular service and the last six I was both a reservist and in college at the same time.
More than anything, being a Marine is another mindset. The training is completely different in that it serves as a guide for one’s entire life. Attention to detail is critical. You become more of a straight shooter, never beating around the bush. I still line up my belts, shoes, and shirts (which makes my wife crazy!) Little details stick with you.
There is a camaraderie that I learned in the Marines that I take with me until today. The trust factor is extremely important. If you are in a group, you immediately give the trust over. G-d help anyone if they break that trust. That is part of the training – you must trust the person beside you.
My recruit training was at Parris Island, South Carolina and then I was stationed at Camp Giger in North Carolina. When I was in the reserves, I was stationed at Fort Skylar in the Bronx while at the same time studying at Baruch College. I earned a BDA in Finance and then went to Pace University to get an MBA.
As a reservist, it was a commitment of 2 days a month, usually on the weekends, and 2 weeks at any period during the year for training.
Aliyah to Israel and becoming an EMT
At 34-years-old I got married to my wife Yvonne. I already had two brothers in Israel and we always felt we might make Aliyah. We happened to get engaged the day we flew to Israel for a pilot trip.
In 2010, we made Aliyah with our two daughters Rochelle and Grace, coming first to Jerusalem. We had our twin boys Elliot and Raymond while living in Jerusalem, and three years later we moved to Modi’in and have been there ever since.
My military service and service as a volunteer EMT has many similarities. One connection I have made between my past service as a U.S. Marine and becoming a United Hatzalah volunteer is the trust aspect as well as the trauma training. Just like one needs to trust the soldier next to them in combat, one also has to trust the EMTs and work together so that lives can be saved. Much of the trauma training is also very similar.
Overall, in any given situation I remain extremely calm. After going through service as a Marine, nothing really surprises me. During training, they had us work on our memory and our reactions. We are trained to know what to do before one thinks about it and that is what makes one calm through whatever is going on. That is something that translates extremely well into being an EMT. Relying on one’s training.
The first few times I responded to an emergency, I ran to the scene, and by the time I arrived, I was halfway out of breath. I realized I needed to go back into the easy, calm mode. As a first responder, one’s own demeanor has an effect on the patient. The patient immediately feels better when the responders are relaxed. After responding to a few emergencies, I took a deep breath and went back to my old training.
U.S. Marines in Israel
I am a lifetime member of the Jewish War Veterans, but I am not very active. However, at least once every few months I meet with three other U.S. Marines that are in Israel. Steve, one of the Marines, does regular barbecues for Israeli soldiers. He does it out of his pocket as a complete donation.
Usually, Veterans Day comes one day after the U.S. Marine Corps Birthday, which is on November 10th. There is usually a Marine Corps Ball at the US Embassy in Israel and I enjoy attending. It is a very special event, where many dignitaries from other embassies join as well. This year the event will be downsized to a cake cutting ceremony, but I am still looking forward to attending. I am proud to be a Marine and proud to be a United Hatzalah volunteer EMT – always have been and always will be.
Amir currently lives with his wife Yvonne and their four children in Modi’in.
To support the lifesaving work of United Hatzalah volunteers such as Josh, Amir, and others like them, or to send them messages of encouragement, please click here: