Tau News
Tel Aviv University News, Winter-1996-97

From Russia with Hate
A Mission to Rescue
Zionism Then and Now
Skull Find Helps Solve Evolutionary Puzzle
Children's Books Gain Major Attention

A MISSION to Rescue

"It is a question of shattering one more myth."
Working as an ambulance driver in a special trauma unit is no easy task in any country. However, in Israel, with its heavily congested traffic, high automobile accident rate, terrorist attacks and other military-related incidents, it takes incredible nerve and skills. Add to these hardships the challenge of driving with only one arm, and you have Michael Levy, a third-year student at TAU's Bob Shapell School of Social Work and the only one-handed medic and ambulance driver in Israel.

Michael was born with only one arm but from an early age received encouragement from his parents and teachers to overcome what he describes as his "physical difference" and manage daily tasks on his own. At the age of ten Michael decided that he wanted to dispense with his prosthesis (artificial limb). He explained to the medical committee at the hospital that he found it cumbersome and unnatural and could manage without it. At school he joined in all regular sports activities including a stint playing for the Hapoel Jaffa youth soccer team.

Michael explains his attitude towards his disability: "if, as a two-handed person, you were suddenly transported to another planet inhabited by three-handed people, you might be asked how you manage with only two hands. You would find the question strange, because you're so used to doing everything just fine on your own." He feels that it is important to recognize one's limitations, but jokes that so far these have been confined to mathematics.

Michael began volunteering as a medic while still in high school. After successfully completing a course and receiving his certificate, he was accepted as an instructor himself. Michael says that he was lucky to come into contact with "open-minded" people who encouraged him to believe in his own capabilities. Although some were skeptical at first, they became convinced of his skills when they saw him demonstrate artificial resuscitation, CPR, and sewing up sutures - all with only one hand.

When army call-up time came, Michael went to sign up with the sure certainty that he would be accepted into one of Israel's combat units - preferably in the paratrooper unit. It never occurred to him that he would not be accepted because of his disability. He recalls how at his initial physical check-up, the army doctor somehow failed to notice his missing limb. He passed the physical with flying colors and was granted the high profile necessary for acceptance into a combat unit. When the doctor later found out about his missing arm, however, he was dumbfounded, and immediately sent for his superior officer to evaluate the case.

Michael's profile was downgraded on the spot and he was given an exemption from military duty. "I was in total shock, "he recalls. "I had come ready to serve as a paratrooper and was being told that I couldn't serve. I signed up for voluntary service then and there, with the proviso that they accept me as a medic - where I knew I could be useful."

Many committees later, Michael was accepted for training as an army paramedic and also as an instructor and passed all his courses with distinction. After completing his military service he enrolled as a student in TAU's Bob Shapell School of Social Work, the Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences. At the same time, Michael applied for a position as a professional ambulance driver, but was turned down because of his disability, despite his proven track record as a volunteer ambulance driver and as a paramedic in the Air Force's Special Unit for Air Rescue and Evacuation for his reserve duty.

Michael has thrown himself enthusiastically into university life at TAU, where he specializes in mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder. He is also active in the Student Union, where he is Coordinator of Internal Affairs. He chose to specialize in Social Work because he felt it presented the best path to a career in which he could help other people, he says. He was inspired to a large extent by former Head of the School Prof. Zahava Solomon, who teaches post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prof. Solomon says of Michael that he inspires admiration because he does not think of himself as a disabled person - but rather as an able-bodied person without restrictions.

"In my course on post-traumatic stress disorder, I talk about people who are emotionally disturbed because of either physical or emotional trauma. Many of these people relate to themselves as disabled and focus on the negative aspects of their situation.

"Emotional recovery, however, depends largely on a person's self-image and the extent to which he feels he needs assistance. Michael is an example of a person with a positive outlook on life which draws people closer to him," she says.

Michael believes that his life experience will enable him to contribute to the rehabilitation of patients whose mental problems are caused by trauma - whether by rape, family violence, traffic accidents or terrorist-related incidents.

At present, he is engaged in field work at the Center for Community Rehabilitation in Rishon Le Zion, where he has been assigned six cases for treatment.

Michael has been a source of inspiration for numerous organizations fighting disabled people's causes in Israel. He and a friend, Nir Dror, a third-year student in Law and Accounting at TAU, are engaged in lobbying support to pass a law in the Knesset to prevent discrimination of disabled people in the workplace. "The barrier to acceptance is purely psychological," he says. "It is a question of shattering one more myth."