Foundation donating its fifth emergency vehicle to Magen Dovid Adam
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Foundation donating its fifth emergency vehicle to Magen Dovid Adam

Family head trades on Wall Street to support the foundation's good works

Mitzvah Day festivities at Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff Sunday morning will include the dedication of a new mobile intensive care unit bound for Israel. The MICU is the latest of several emergency vehicles donated by the 613 Foundation, headed by Donna Fried Calcaterra of Park Ridge.

The $125,000 vehicle memorializes her great-grandmother, Laskeh Helig Freidin – aka “The Great Bubbe Laskeh” – who collected food for the hungry in her pre-World War II Polish shtetl and then was starved to death as persecution of Jews worsened. “We don’t know if it was the Russians, Poles, or Germans who did it,” said Calcaterra, who chose Beth Rishon as the venue for the ceremony because her ancestor’s great-nephew, Jack Berger of Mahwah, is a member of the temple.

Through their foundation, Calcaterra and her 25-year-old daughter, Jenna, have donated five vehicles – including a specially constructed bloodmobile – to Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency medical service. The first, an ambulance dedicated to the memory of Calcaterra’s parents and uncle, was sent off following a ceremony at the Bergen YJCC in Washington Township in 2009.

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The Calcaterra family’s 613 Foundation is donating this mobile intensive care unit to Israel’s Magen Dovid Adam. courtesy American friends of magen dovid adam

“I had wanted to donate an ambulance since my first visit to Israel in 1970,” Calcaterra told The Jewish Standard. “I saw all the MDA ambulances dedicated to people, and I thought if I were ever rich enough it was something I’d like to do. I didn’t think I’d ever have the money, because I was supposed to be a famous artist. But instead I wound up on Wall Street as a commodities broker.”

And although she had retired in 1988, the high of that experience sent her back to the trading floor. “I felt so good about donating that first ambulance that I started trading again, looking to support the foundation,” she said. “At 60, I have learned how to trade options on stocks, something I had never done. I also trade the Israeli stock market, which is active and growing.”

It was on Wall Street that she met and married Salvatore Calcaterra, whose brokerage-floor number was 613 – the number of commandments in the Torah. “Orthodox brokers used to ask how an Italian like him got a number like that and wanted to buy it from him,” she related. “He was the one who told me what it meant. It became his lucky number, and when he passed away in 1996 we put it on his cemetery stone.”

That’s how the 613 Foundation got its name. Calcaterra said she and her daughter – an ardent Zionist, equestrian, and options trader living in Culpepper, Va. – intended the foundation to assist Israelis in a variety of ways. In addition to the emergency vehicles, the fund also is putting a discharged Israeli soldier through college and soon will sponsor another. The Calcaterras also hope to open a physical rehabilitation center for wounded Israeli soldiers.

“Everything the foundation does helps Israel, particularly the soldiers. My goal is to do more,” said Calcaterra.

Once it arrives at the Ashdod port, the MICU will join the fleet of 800 patient transport vehicles operated by MDA. Although it is Israel’s only government-mandated ambulance service, it receives no government funding and depends on the support of fundraising arms in North America and the United Kingdom.

“Israel has requested an unprecedented 100 ambulances from us in 2011,” said American Friends of Magen David Adom Northeast Associate Regional Director Karen Berger.

She said that MDA crews log nearly 10 million miles and take care of 550,000 patients annually, responding to disasters, car accidents, illnesses, and births. For information about opportunities to help, call Berger at (212) 757-1627 or e-mail kberger@afmda.org.

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