Anne Hailes: New places and organisations with hidden secrets

Judge Rob Rinder on location for his programme The Holy Land And Us on BBC2
Anne Hailes

Don’t you learn something every day? That’s the beauty of life. There was a football commentator (not Gary Lineker) who made a list of unusual words to include in his commentary and so stretch interest and education.

In the same way it’s fascinating to hear of new places and organisations with hidden secrets, just like Magen David Adom.  I learned about MDA recently when I attended a fundraising event in the Belfast Jewish Synagogue and there, along with around 150 others, heard about this organisation which translates as Red Star of David. 

This is a vital part of Israeli society, a national medical emergency, disaster, ambulance and blood service, officially recognised by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

However, it isn’t exclusively a service for Israeli citizens, as Daniel Burger, leader of Magen David Adom UK explained.

The massive underground blood centre is the largest in the world, supplying 300,000 units every year and now that the ban regarding Mad Cow disease has been lifted, the all clear has been given for blood donation to resume. The 1,716 ambulances are fully equipped with qualified medics and a direct line to hospital operating theatres and bicycle transport is thanks to donations from Northern Ireland.

MDA work with the Palestinian Red Crescent and have been very involved in providing armoured ambulances to Ukraine and sending help to the Turkey/Syrian earthquake disaster, indeed earlier this month Virgin Atlantic gave two flights to MDA to fly vital supplies to help aid relief efforts.  

Wherever there is disaster internationally they will be on hand to give support and, as their literature promises, "give urgent medical care to civilians irrespective of their nationality, religion, ethnic origin, age, disability, sexual orientation or political affiliation".

A Man Of Many Talents

The organisation, established in 1915 in Switzerland to help wounded and Jewish prisoners during the Second World War, now has 7,500 first responders and 23,800 volunteers.

The guest speaker was criminal barrister and television personality Judge Rinder.  He loves theatre so is well suited to the law and presenting himself and his brief and is just as happy on the sofa at Good Morning Britain – although occasionally he can show the sensitive side of his personality and tears come in sympathy. 

Robert Rinder MBE, who was honoured for services to Holocaust education, is also an active supporter of MDA. 

What an inspirational man; he talks passionately about his work, never raises his voice – but captivates his audience. He admitted that this, his first visit to Belfast, meant he wasn’t sure what to expect but a walk through town left him in no doubt he was welcome. 

That was the case in the Synagogue as he talked of many things from the Holocaust to Strictly Come Dancing when in  2016 he took to the spangly floor with Ukrainian dancer Oksana Platero and danced through to the quarter finals – obviously enjoying every minute of it.

Craig Revel Horwood said he was a ‘delicious dancer’ and his beloved grandmother was in the audience to cheer him on. 

 He’s obviously a man who goes into every project 100 per cent – no more so than when he’s making programmes about his background especially moving is My Family, The Holocaust And Me and The Holy Land and Us, currently  on BBC2.  

Horrible Facts Of Life

Here’s a point to ponder from the majesty of David Attenborough, a man who cuts to the chase so much so that there’s talk that his final BBC programme in the series Wild Isles may not be broadcast for fears that, "its themes of the destruction of nature would risk a backlash from Tory politicians and the right-wing press".

Despite this, he didn’t hold back in a recent lecture.

“One of the things Darwin’s work has taught us, that we break nature's connections at our peril yet break them we do at ever greater speeds. Ninety-six per cent of the mass of mammals on our planet today are us and the livestock we have domesticated – only four per cent is everything else from elephants to badgers to tigers and bats. Seventy per cent of all birds are domesticated poultry – mostly chickens.

"Nature once determined how we survive, now we determine how nature survives. The impact of our growing population and our consumption now directly threatens our own future.”  

When it comes to birds, I can visualise the Bass Rock in Scotland as I have often sat at my brother’s front window and watched thousands of gannets circle the rock off North Berwick. The largest gannet colony in the world, 75,000 pairs return each year to build their nests, two to every square metre, now I learn from Attenborough that not content with the fish in the Firth of Forth they are prepared to fly many hundreds of miles to catch their herrings and other small fish to bring back to their young.  

The Demise Of Clowns

And I recall seeing my first puffin from a boat sitting in a calm sea at the base of Donegal’s Slieve League, one of the highest cliffs in Europe. The sun was warm and glinting off the sea water and the air was filled with the lazy call of gulls. Then all of a sudden a puffin popped up. 


Puffins are in danger because of the state of the sea and the lack of their favourite food


I nearly fell overboard in excitement. A long held dream became a reality as he, or she, was joined by brothers and sisters; these clowns of the sea as they’re called bobbed and dived, their oversized brightly-banded coloured beak leading the way.

My companion was delighted, even he who had seen everything to be seen at sea, was taken with their antics. But these birds who mate for life and return to the same burrow to have their single chick, called a puffling, are in danger.  Now David tells me these delightful little birds are on the vulnerable list because of the state of the sea and the lack of their favourite sand eels.  

“Nature once determined how we survive," says Sir David Attenborough. "Now we determine how nature survives."