Local woman’s foundation donates ambulance to MDA
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Local woman’s foundation donates ambulance to MDA

ASHDOD, ISRAEL ““ In a few weeks, a gleaming new Magen David Adom ambulance donated by Park Ridge resident Donna Fried Calcaterra will roll off the dock here.

Dedicated to the memory of Calcaterra’s parents and uncle in a Feb. 1 ceremony at the Bergen YJCC in Washington Township, the emergency vehicle is the fulfillment of a nearly 40-year-old dream.

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Bergen County YJCC member Donna Calcaterra receives a plaque from Gary Perl, northeast regional director for American Friends of Magen David Adom, thanking her for her donation. Photo Courtesy AFMDA

“I had wanted to donate an ambulance since my first visit to Israel in 1970,” Calcaterra told The Jewish Standard. “I didn’t think I’d ever have the money to do it because I was supposed to be a famous artist. But instead I wound up on Wall Street as a commodities broker.”

There she met and married the late 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.”

So it was only natural that a year ago, when Calcaterra and her daughter Jenna decided to use stock-market profits to open a foundation to assist Israeli soldiers, they named it the 613 Foundation. It was through this foundation that she donated the $100,000 ambulance to American Friends of Magen David Adom, “Red Shield of David,” which is Israel’s version of the Red Cross.

Every year, AFMDA transfers 50 to 60 ambulances to Israel. Over the past three years, donors from New Jersey have paid for six ambulances and a bloodmobile.

Gary Perl, northeast regional director for AFMDA, said Calcaterra’s ambulance was to depart from the Baltimore harbor in a freighter with about a dozen others. At this port city, the vehicles will get a ceremonial welcome from 25 MDA paramedics before joining the existing fleet of about 700 ambulances.

How to help
Want to help Magen David Adom but don’t have $100,000 to spend for an ambulance? There are many lower-priced opportunities.

“Ambulances are our poster child,” said Gary Perl, northeast regional director for American Friends of Magen David Adom. “But as first responders, MDA has more than 100 emergency stations in Israel, and of those, about 15 are supported by AFMDA – meaning we either built it or renovated it.”

AFMDA contributed $5.5 million to an updated station in Sderot and is currently renovating the one in Beersheba to be resistant to missile and chemical attack.

According to Perl, donations are needed for all emergency stations, which not only maintain the ambulances but offer overnight accommodations for first responders as well as professional and community training courses to Jews and Arabs alike. MDA also provides many school nurses throughout Israel.

“Israel’s national blood services center was built by us in 1987 to serve the entire nation,” added Perl. “We provide 95 percent of the country’s blood supply.” In 2006, Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck bought a blood mobile for this service.

“Another program is cord blood and stem cells,” said Perl. “Since we deliver more babies than anyone else in Israel, we’ve accumulated umbilical cords and can create and store the stem cells, so when a hospital needs them for research we ship them from our bank.”

AFMDA’s toll-free number is (866) 632-2763; www.afmda.org.

“MDA is the government-mandated first responder for the state, but it is not supported by the government,” Perl explained. “They need 700 ambulances on call 24/7, and the vehicles only last about five years. When war broke out in Gaza, MDA put in service 200 older ambulances that were on ‘reserve duty,’ and they asked us for an additional 200 ambulances on top of that.”

During the three-week conflict in January, MDA dispatched ambulances to 1,180 sites hit by missiles, collected some 22,000 blood units, and maintained a national blood inventory of 8,000 to10,000 units. The effort received a boost from an AFMDA delegation led by Englewood resident Jeremy Fingerman, which brought $500,000 from the organization’s Code Red Alert emergency campaign. Citizens as well as soldiers on the front lines directly benefited from the aid.

“My heart lies with the Israeli soldiers in all these horrendous situations,” Calcaterra said. “Gary’s speech at the dedication about how 200 ambulances were lined up at Gaza border for injured soldiers made me think, ‘OK, more help has to go over there.'”

Calcaterra, who has only been to Israel one additional time (as part of the YJCC’s Israel Family Experience in 2005), is collecting information about other soldier-related causes her foundation can assist.

According to Debbie Nahshon, the YJCC’s director of development who coordinated the dedication ceremony, Calcaterra is a generous supporter of Y programs, including Project Open Hearts, Open Homes, which brings several dozen Israeli teens afflicted by war and terrorism to Bergen County each summer to participate in the Y’s Teen Travel Camp.

“So it seemed the natural thing to both Donna and to us to have the launch of the ambulance from the YJCC,” said Nahshon. “And the timing could not have been better – we had 200 sixth-graders at the YJCC that morning from eight different synagogues, participating in an Israeli cultural arts program as part of Bergen’s Kehillah Partnership. Our Kehillah educators talked to the kids about the situation in Israel; the need for medical support; how this is an important way that American Jews support Israel; and then brought them outside in small groups to see the ambulance and even jump inside. It was a lovely footnote to a very meaningful ceremony.”

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