In a medical emergency, every second counts between life and death. Brother Jonathan Cohen (Florida Atlantic, 2024) is a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the Jewish Volunteer Ambulance Corps (JVAC), a community-based volunteer organization whose mission is to improve medical outcomes for patients by enhancing existing pre-hospital emergency medical services in South Florida.
Brother Cohen grew up in a religious family, going to Camp Gan Israel, and a Jewish school in Boca Raton. He then attended public high school where he kept close to Judaism but became less observant.
In June of 2015, while in high school, he decided to move to Israel. He figured that it’s now or never to join the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) and doing it after college didn’t seem plausible. “It’s only going to take four years, I thought of high school and how fast those four years went by. So I said, what’s three years in the Army? Then it went by too fast, honestly.” he was drafted to the border police with a unit called Magav. “It’s nothing like the border police you think of here in America. It was internal security which is a counter-terror unit in the Israeli police.”
After the Army, Brother Cohen came back to the states and enrolled at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) on track to become a Physician’s Associate (PA) with a Health Science Degree. “I found out that the PA profession doesn’t really exist in Israel, they just have nurses and doctors. I made the tough decision to come back to the US for school. That means I roughly have four more semesters and then I apply to PA School.”
Before college, Brother Cohen was unfamiliar with fraternities and had a negative impression. He assumed he would never fit in. He went to his first tailgate, saw AEPi Brothers and remembered that somebody had told him that AEPi is the Jewish fraternity. “I went by and the first thing I noticed was the nice comradery amongst the Brothers and they looked like good people. They seemed open and welcoming. Everybody had a good head on their shoulders.”
Brother Cohen soon found that AEPi’s strength is in its mission and its Brotherhood. It makes him extremely happy being connected, being a part of something bigger than himself and he really missed that from his time in the IDF. “All the Brothers are younger than me. I’m able to help, being through training in the military, having experience dealing with people, how to explain things to people and delegate. I really like that they ask me for advice and to share stories. I feel like I can be helpful to them because I have more real world experience than they do.”
Brother Cohen is currently Jewish Programming Chair, organizing Shabbat dinners and celebrating Jewish holidays with the Brothers. “AEPi keeps Judaism relevant. I’m able to be with more Jewish people and be part of a Jewish community.”
A couple months back, during a break, Brother Cohen took an EMT course. That was around the time that Hurricane Ian hit Florida. “There were areas that were totally destroyed. There was a search and rescue humanitarian mission that the JVAC did. That was the first time I volunteered with them. They picked me up in the morning to drive there.” When he arrived in Fort Myers everything was destroyed. People’s houses were gone. The roofs were the floor. The people that didn’t evacuate had to stay huddled up in their houses. “What really stuck with me was that people’s dignity wasn’t destroyed. I really expected people to be just totally devastated and you could see they clung to something bigger. It was eye-opening.”
JVAC’s primary role is to bridge the gap between when the emergency is called and the county fire station and the paramedics get there. The fire station’s response time is usually seven minutes and Brother Cohen’s response time is anywhere between three and five minutes to the local neighborhoods. “Seconds count especially in the case of cardiac arrest. When help is minutes away you know those seconds really matter.”
Brother Cohen is currently an ambucycle rider responder, in other words a motorcycle specially equipped with medical equipment. Although he prefers to use his Chevy Tahoe because it feels safer, he can use the motorcycle to get places faster. He gets alerted to an emergency over text messages or on the radio. He might get a message that could say something like, “Any units in the Daytona area available to respond for a possible cardiac arrest.” He waits a couple seconds on the radio to see if somebody else is closer, if not he answers with his code name and says he’s available to take the call. He then gets the address, puts it in his phone and gets into the response vehicle. He turns on the lights and sirens and gets there sometimes within three minutes. Once there, Brother Cohen introduces himself, takes vitals and then gets a medical history. After a couple of minutes, the fire station shows up and he gives them the information and lets them take over. JVAC currently can’t transport patients to hospitals and are trying to raise funds for an actual ambulance. JVAC is made up of Jewish volunteers but serves all populations. JVAC participates in community events like local food drives, and helps the community in any way they can. “I’m also going to be leading a CPR Course in one of the synagogues nearby.”
Brother Cohen is connecting AEPi and JVAC by setting up a training course. Brothers can get CPR certified, become BLS (Basic Life Support) providers, get Narcan certified (a medication used to reverse or reduce the effects of opioids) and are trained in AED defibrillators, choking, and cardiac arrest.
Brother Cohen makes it work when balancing AEPi, school and JVAC. “The Brothers were extremely lenient with me, for the amount of meetings I had to miss. I missed my initiation. I’m grateful that everyone told me that they wanted me there and to not worry. They were very accommodating and accepting.
Brother Cohen has advice for Brothers going into the medical field. “There’s always something to learn, even if you’re a doctor with 50 years’ experience. New science comes out and you can’t be ignorant about the new data. I always have an open mind to new techniques, protocols, and procedures. Never be complacent with your knowledge because there’s always somebody that knows more that can teach you as long as you’re open to learning. I’d say that’s the most important in the medical field.”
To learn more about JVAC visit their website.