From Scrubs to IDF Uniform: One TAU Friend’s Journey

Surgeon and TAU alumnus Dr. Nikolaj Wolfson steps up to help the State of Israel in its time of need
07 August 2014
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz (left) with Dr. Nikolaj Wolfson near the Gaza border, 7.27.14

When the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) entered Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, Dr. Nikolaj Wolfson, an orthopedic surgeon and member of the American Friends of Tel Aviv University Western Region – Northern California, knew he would be on the next flight to Israel to volunteer for the IDF Medical Corps. “It was the most natural decision in the world for me to come and help out,” says Wolfson, who served for two weeks in the field and operated on wounded soldiers at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. 


As a new immigrant from Russia, Wolfson completed his medical training at TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine in 1980 and later served four years in the IDF, including two years as a doctor in a paratroopers battalion in Lebanon and two years as Chief of the Medical Corps of the Submarine flotilla. He then married and moved to Toronto to continue his medical training, eventually settling in San Francisco where he runs an orthopedic practice and heads the Regional Trauma Center.


“I’m so grateful for having this opportunity to have served once again,” says Wolfson, “Although my everyday life is overseas, my heart is in Israel during difficult times. I feel like any other Israeli – wanting to help during hard times in the most efficient way I know.” During his recent voluntary service he was promoted to the rank of Major.


From the airport to the field

When he arrived in the country, Wolfson was picked up from the airport and taken immediately to be enlisted and kitted out. “After two hours I was part of this very special family that is the IDF,” he says.   


Wolfson admits that the experience has been painful and emotionally moving for him. “The sad part is our casualties: these young people are the best and most beautiful of what we have,” he says. “You treat people who are willing to give their lives for you and they will then return to their military duties and once again be at risk.” At the same time, Wolfson is overwhelmed by the “amazing doctors” in his unit. Among them are several TAU graduates, both men and women, including one who is a lone soldier originally from Russia. Wolfson intends to invite them to San Francisco to his annual fundraising gala in aid of Israel later this year, he notes.  


The female military doctors strike a particular chord with Wolfson as his own mother served as a field officer in the Russian military during World War II –“something very unusual for a young Jewish woman at the time,” he says. 


Asked what his family felt about his coming to a hot conflict zone, Wolfson replies, “They would have found it strange if I didn’t come. They were one hundred percent behind me.”


On the quality of medical training at TAU, Wolfson enthused, “The Sackler School of Medicine is one of the best medical schools in the world. It provides a very solid basis in medical training. I am extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to study here.”  


Dr. Wolfson recently hosted TAU President Joseph Klafter, Vice President for Resource Development Amos Elad and Dean of Medicine Yoseph Mekori at his San Francisco home during their visit to the region. “I feel very privileged to be part of the TAU family and to support the University,” he says.


For more on Dr. Wolfson's experience, click here.

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