Learning to give
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Learning to give

Local students donate to the American Friends of Magen David Adom

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One of AFMDA’s youngest supporters with an ambulance-shaped tzedakah box.

Maybe they can’t write checks, but children can drop coins in a tzedakah box.

They’ve been dropping those coins at a fast clip since the January launch of the two-month Bergen County Day School Magen David Adom Fund Drive, held in conjunction with the annual county fundraising drive begun around Rosh Hashana through American Friends of Magen David Adom.

The children’s enthusiasm for filling up the ambulance-shaped charity boxes in their classrooms is spreading to their parents and area businesses, pushing the needle ever closer to the $100,000 goal that will add a real ambulance to the fleet of Israel’s national emergency medical response organization.

“We spend 15 to 30 minutes in the different schools educating the kids about Magen David Adom and the important lifesaving work they do in Israel,” said Teaneck’s Deputy Mayor Elie Y. Katz, who started the project with his wife, Esther, to commemorate the 25th yahrzeit of Esther’s father, Rabbi Joseph Feinstein.

“We play a short video or, for the younger grades, read a book about ambulances. We leave the classes with a tzedakah box and give out wristbands for the kids,” added Mr. Katz, a life member of the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

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Eillene Leistner

He and Teaneck’s Eillene Leistner, chief development officer for American Friends of Magen David Adom, have been making the rounds of Bergen’s day schools to give the presentations to pupils of all different ages. Incentives such as pizza parties are promised to the classes that bring in the largest donations.

“Here is a unique countywide project spearheaded by Elie, who recognizes the extraordinary role MDA plays in Israeli society,” Ms. Leistner said. “He wanted to do this in a big way, reaching out to the schools and getting the entire community involved. It truly encompasses everyone.”

She noted that Bergen County donors have contributed ambulances, mobile intensive care units, bloodmobiles, medicycles, and paramedic training sessions through AFMDA over the years.

However, she adds, “We are not reaching enough people. A lot of Jews in Bergen County don’t think of us as being on the front lines in the same way as the IDF is, but we are, all the time. So this is an awareness campaign as well. And kids are really good at raising awareness in their own families.”

Ora Kornbluth, director of Yeshivat He’atid in Bergenfield, says the campaign dovetails with the day school’s goal of fostering a meaningful connection with Israel.

“When AFMDA came to visit, it brought a piece of Israel to our classrooms and through pictures, a story, the tzedakah initiative, and by wearing the bracelets, our students got an instant, tangible connection to Israel,” she said.

“Additionally, nearly every child was excited to identify with seeing an ambulance – or being in one! – so this campaign proved valuable even to our youngest learners. Finally, we received great feedback from parents, which is wonderful evidence that the children went home and told their parents about their experience.”

Ms. Kornbluth said that her students – pre-kindergartners to third-graders – are excited to be engaged actively in helping the state of Israel by putting their tzedakah coins into the AFMDA’s boxes. “The children are very eager and excited when they come in with their money,” she said. “Yesterday, some of the children in Gan Kofim came in with their baggies full of tzedakah, and they were constantly asking when circle time would begin, so they could add in their contributions.”

The excitement touches children in older grades as well. Yosef Morrison, a Moriah School seventh-grader from Bergenfield, assisted Mr. Katz in organizing the presentation at the Englewood school. And he has taken it upon himself to collect, count, and report on the daily donations in the charity boxes he placed in each of 18 sixth- through eighth-grade classrooms and in the school synagogue.

“I felt this was a very important cause,” Yosef said. “I went to Israel over winter break for my bar mitzvah, and I saw MDA ambulances everywhere. It’s definitely a big help to Israel.” Before he left for the trip in mid-January, the tally from Moriah stood at $175, with six weeks to go.

Local businesses also have heeded the call. For example, Shalom Bombay, a kosher Indian restaurant on Cedar Lane in Teaneck, pledged to donate 50 percent of all Friday sales to the campaign, dubbed BergenDonate, during the month of January.

As day school pupils have been learning, Magen David Adom (Red Star of David) was founded in 1930 to work in cooperation with Israeli police, firefighters, and soldiers. Today, more than 125 MDA emergency medical stations and 11 dispatch stations scattered throughout Israel enable emergency medical technicians and paramedics to respond to calls quickly, using a fleet of more than 1,000 ambulances and nearly 200 medicycles as well as other specialized vehicles. In addition, MDA is responsible for supplying donated blood to Israeli citizens and soldiers as needed.

Though the organization’s work is mandated by the Israeli government, MDA is not government-funded. It must rely on donations from domestic and overseas contributors.

Mr. Katz said that after he graduated from the Torah Academy of Bergen County in 1993, he went to Israel for a year of study and also volunteered with MDA. The organization has been close to his heart ever since.

“When they read news about terror attacks in Israel, many people don’t realize MDA is the backbone, responding and providing blood to the wounded,” he said. “So we’re starting the education process about what MDA does in Israel.”

He adds that Akiva Pollack, the first MDA paramedic on the scene of the November 18 terror attack in a Jerusalem synagogue in which five people were killed and seven wounded, spoke at the Young Israel of Teaneck recently. “He recounted exactly what happened; how he was shot at when he arrived,” Mr. Katz said.

The Katzes, whose older children attend Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, hope to sponsor a community-wide breakfast at the end of the campaign. But they intend to stay active in supporting the organization after they’ve reached the $100,000 mark.

“We won’t just get an ambulance and move on; this will be our charity of choice for a long time,” he says.

For information on how to participate or to donate online, go to bergendonate.com; mail checks to AFMDA, 172 West Englewood Ave., Teaneck, NJ 07666. Put BergenDonate.com in the memo space.

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