MILWAUKEE — When Milwaukee VA Nurse Heather Polan Berken became aware of the danger the Israeli-Jewish community is facing, she didn’t hesitate to lend a hand.
When the war began in early October, Berken considered traveling to Israel so she could offer her medical expertise. She said it was “really difficult” to watch what was happening from home and thought her skills could be useful on Israeli grounds.
“I really wasn’t scared… People were scared for me,” Berken told WTMJ.
She had traveled to Israel in the past without any fear, but it was a warzone this time, and there was an adjustment period for her. Multiple people helped her pack medical supplies and more for her three-week trip to Israel, and even though she had no proper plan in place for when she got there, she “felt confident” she’d find an opportunity to volunteer or work.
Berken collaborated with a group of roughly 40 Americans, who partnered with the army, were trained for the situation and got to work at bases in Jerusalem.
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“In the beginning, I had to get used to hearing sirens because there would be red alerts every time a missile would be coming from Gaza, which was pretty frequent,” Berken said.
These red alerts came from an app on her phone that tells Israeli people when a strike is incoming. Israel has an Iron Dome that protects people from strikes, but that doesn’t prevent injuries overall. Berken told WTMJ she got “used to” the attacks over time.
Even though she described the atmosphere in Israel as “heavy,” civilians took it upon themselves to rally together and help each other.
“What surprised me is the resilience of the Israeli people,” Berken said. “I’m in a warzone but I feel more comfortable being Jewish there.”
She hopes that people will properly educate themselves about the conflict by reaching out to Jewish friends, having conversations with knowledgeable individuals and learning from outlets other than what they’re used to.
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