At Magen David Adom blood drive, a show of force by Israelis of every type

Hundreds from all walks of life stand in line for up to 11 hours at Jerusalem’s Pais Arena in order to donate for devastated nation after Hamas bloodbath

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Part of the long line of MDA blood donors at Jerusalem's Pais Arena on October 10, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/ Times of Israel)
Part of the long line of MDA blood donors at Jerusalem's Pais Arena on October 10, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/ Times of Israel)

It was 10:30 a.m. on Monday and the line of blood donors snaked up the wide staircase and around the spacious sidewalks surrounding Jerusalem’s Pais Arena stadium, just half an hour after the doors opened for the Magen David Adom blood drive.

Jerusalemites of all stripes — secular teens toting guitars and yeshiva boys with prayer books in hand, groups of worried mothers, English speakers, Russian and French immigrants, Christian pilgrims — all waited for hours, quietly and patiently, in order to donate blood.

Bursting across the border on Saturday morning, hundreds of Hamas terrorists massacred over 900 Israelis, including hundreds of civilians, and injured thousands more. There were some 2,300 injured patients in Israeli hospitals as of Monday.

“Look outside, there’s Sephardim, Ashkenazim, all of the citizens of Israel, every kind of Israeli that exists,” said Yaakov Mohadav, director of blood donations for Magen David Adom in Jerusalem.

It was the first day that MDA was holding the blood drive at that huge venue, after the previous day turning away donors by early afternoon in a smaller location where the incoming volume had clogged the narrow street. The Arena, home to the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team, had hosted some of the mass COVID vaccinations of 2021.

“It’s an easier site to work with,” said Mohadov, gesturing at the spacious lobby where donors, when they reached the end of the long line, were processed before giving blood at one of the 45 beds set up near Gates 5 and 6 of the indoor stadium.

There were 150 MDA staff on hand, including volunteers who helped donors fill out forms and handed out cups of water to those on line, with grape juice drinks once donors gave blood.

Giving blood at Jerusalem’s MDA station at the Pais Arena took hours on October 10, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The drive needed to hit its target, but would be closed if necessary in order to ensure that the blood bank would have new donors a day or two from now if necessary, said Mohadov.

Donors can only give blood every three months.

Donated blood is sent to the Tel Hashomer hospital lab and then to a new blood bank in Ramle, where it’s separated into three parts, with each portion of donated blood able to support three patients.

This was day three of the massive blood drive taking place around the country, after Magen David Adom called for blood donations in order to treat the terror victims at Israel’s hospitals.

Thousands of units of blood have been donated at the many MDA donation sites around the country, beginning Saturday at 8 a.m.

The blood donation space was established in cooperation with the organization Safeguarding Our Home, which has been organizing the anti-government protests of the last nine months.

The organization, together with MDA, is holding another blood drive on Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Aliza Klieman-Marriot spent four hours at the blood drive on Sunday, but was eventually turned away. On Monday, she and her husband parked at the Arena at 11:30 and stayed until 7 p.m. to complete the process.

“It was a surreal experience,” said Klieman-Marriot, who didn’t bring food, books or cell chargers, never expecting to spend so many hours in line. “We met so many amazing Israelis, all looking to do something.”

Avi Weiss, Eli Wittenstein and Itamar Greenberg on the long line of MDA blood donors at Jerusalem’s Pais Arena on October 10, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Three teenagers, Itamar Greenberg, Avi Weiss and Eli Wittenstein, all participating in a pre-army preparatory program in Jerusalem, were at the blood drive for their second day, Wittenstein with a guitar strapped to his shoulder. They spent seven hours at the blood drive on Sunday, said Greenberg, entertaining people, playing games and singing songs.

“I don’t want to be stuck at home, it’s not good,” said Weiss.

Malka Kirschenbaum, 19, and her brother, who preferred not to be named, also tried to donate blood on Sunday but were turned away and returned the next day.

Getting there took them hours — they live in the Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, neighborhood of Ramot Eshkol and public buses are running on a less frequent schedule — but they were determined to take part.

“We’re praying, hoping things will be better,” said Kirschenbaum, who packed food for soldiers on Sunday. “We can’t serve but that’s what we can do.”

Ditto for Shaul, who was standing in line with the Davidkins, a father and son, all three men wearing the traditional white shirts and black suits of Haredi men. “I do what I can do,” said Shaul. His friends nodded.

Israelis come together like this whenever there’s an attack, said Yisrael Bronstein, who waited for 11 hours until it was his turn.

Kim and Roi Cohen waiting on the long line of MDA blood donors at Jerusalem’s Pais Arena on October 10, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“We’re looking for what to do,” said Kim Cohen, waiting in line with her husband, Roi Cohen, a medical student at Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Kim’s sister and boyfriend are on their way to Israel back from Colombia after being called up for reserve duty.

The Cohens were at her parents’ home in the southern town of Gedera for the holiday when they were awoken at 6 a.m. by the rocket sirens. By the third rocket, they began realizing that something was going on. “I just can’t take it in,” said Kim Cohen.

Down the line, David Shalem said he donates blood every three months because his particular blood type is in demand, but this was a more personal mission. His three children were all called up for reserve duty on Saturday morning, as he was still at synagogue.

David Shalem waiting in the long line of MDA blood donors at Jerusalem’s Pais Arena on October 10, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“It will take time to get out of this mess,” said Shalem. “This is worse than Yom Kippur. That was two battlefronts of soldiers, and this is civilians. This is hard.”

When a siren suddenly sounded at midday, warning of an incoming rocket, MDA staff began ushering the hundreds of people inside, telling them to gather in the lobby and lie on the floor, hands on heads.

“There were hundreds of people, two sirens — an experience in of itself — and so much good,” said Klieman-Marriot. “The people of this country are truly amazing.”

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