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Israeli EMS Team Trains Milwaukee-Area Residents To Respond To Violent Incidents

Marti Mikkelson
About two dozen people participate in an emergency training exercise at the Jewish Community Center.

What would you do if you're at a place of worship or a public institution and it's attacked? Would you be prepared?

Members of Milwaukee’s faith communities participated in training this week to know how to respond in the wake of a violent incident. The exercises were held at the Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay in response to recent armed attacks against religious and public institutions in the U.S.

Members of churches, mosques and other faith-based communities were invited to participate. The training was conducted by emergency medical workers from Israel.

About 15 people were sprawled onto the floor of a conference room at the Jewish Community Center. They’re playing the role of people injured in an attack. Each is wearing a white t-shirt, spattered with fake blood, and screaming in pain. Other members of the group rush to assist the wounded.

The chaotic scene depicts the immediate aftermath of a violent incident. Members are participating in what’s called “First 7 Minutes” training. The course teaches participants how to assist victims of an attack—in the seven minutes that organizers say it typically takes for first responders to arrive. In this instance, trainers are teaching how to stop wounds from bleeding or to comfort until help arrives.

Credit Marti Mikkelson
A woman assists a man wounded in a mock emergency response training exercise at the JCC.

One person participating in the training is Rabbi Rachel Marks of Congregation Shalom in Milwaukee. She says the possibility of an attack weighs heavily on her mind, and she’s pleased she’s learning to be prepared.

“In some way, it’s really wonderful that we’re all thinking about it. And in other ways, it’s really sobering that all the institutions in the community are taking the new reality that we live in, pretty seriously,” Marks says.

Marks says she’s grateful for the training, especially in the wake of two mass shootings at synagogues in the U.S. in the past year.

Another trainee, Cody Hirsh, says he found the exercise useful, and is still haunted by incidents closer to home. They include the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek in 2012 that resulted in the deaths of six worshippers. He says the Jewish Community Center in Milwaukee, the site of today’s training, had a few scares in 2017.

“A couple years ago, we actually had four bomb threats that were phoned in. We had to evacuate the building including infants and toddlers. We had to totally evacuate the building four times over a two-month period, so that was a very sobering experience,” Hirsh says.

The training was sponsored by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. Raphael Herbst traveled from Israel to conduct the sessions earlier this week. He’s a trained paramedic for Israel’s national EMS service, Magen David Odom (MDA). The Jewish Federation says it treats and transports nearly 1 million people to hospitals every year, in the wake of terror attacks in Israel. Herbst says it’s important to be prepared for a violent incident.

“The worst feeling is for people to be at any situation and not know what to do. The whole idea of this training ... is that if anything happens, the strength of the community is one of the biggest advantages. If a community can be prepared to deal with extreme situations, the ability to deal with that situation will be even better,” Herbst says.

MDA has conducted terror-response seminars to emergency medical professionals in the U.S. But this week marked the first time the organization has offered training for civilians here. Herbst says he is open to coming back to the U.S. to train more civilians, whether in Milwaukee or elsewhere.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.