In the past ten years, I have hosted and organized literally dozens of ambulance dedications and presentations involving thousands of people in Israel. I have had the privilege of hosting donors who have made a generous gift to the people of Israel that will save lives here and provide comfort to all Israelis. Each ambulance treats thousands of people each year and stays active for as many as 10 years or more. As one donor put it recently, for more or less the price of a loaded Mercedes, he can help save lives which provides him with much more satisfaction and will leave a longer impact than a new Mercedes.
I have hosted people who’ve donated an ambulance in honor of a special anniversary or milestone. I have hosted groups of people from synagogues and churches who just want to express their love and support for Israel in a tangible and meaningful way. I have hosted people who’ve donated an ambulance in memory of a loved one, or in memory of any number of Israelis who’ve lost their lives through war or terrorist acts against us.
Each of these has been meaningful and emotional in their own way. Regardless of the reason or occasion, ambulance donors are blessed in knowing that their donation is something special. When we learn of someone’s ambulance responding to an incident in the news, we are able to share that with the donor. When we get “Stork Club” reports, we share the happy news of babies being born aboard or with the assistance of staff from an ambulance donated by them. We have even had instances of people treated on an ambulance donated by people they know.
All this is to say, that without these donations, the urgent health needs of Israelis could not be met. Each donation is very important in a myriad of ways.
Recently, the experience of sharing a new ambulance with guests from the US became more personal. The ambulance was made possible through the sum of many donations, from many people, in memory of our friend and colleague, Karen Berger. Karen lost her struggle with cancer this past year. Of the dozens of ambulance dedications and presentations I’ve hosted, Karen was responsible for securing the donations of many of them. Her finger prints are figuratively all over dozens of ambulances roaming the streets of Israel, something which she and I used to discuss, and which was very meaningful to her.
Now an ambulance carries her name as well. Her legacy is not an anonymous finger print that nobody knows about. People who see the ambulance will connect its mission with Karen’s memory. It represents an incredible person in whose memory it was donated and who was beloved and is missed by many.
Israel, Judaism and the Jewish people were central to Karen. Her job provided an expression of that, a case where one’s vocation is her avocation. She worked diligently, I know, because we’d exchange emails at odd hours. She often spoke of her satisfaction in knowing that she was helping to make a difference in saving lives in Israel.
Karen’s other love was her family. She was a devoted wife and couldn’t get enough of her children. Her love for them exuded through her pores. If there were a Mrs. Mother competition, Karen certainly would have been among the final contestants. . I hosted her son for a lovely Shabbat in my home once, experiencing the adage that the apple does not fall far from the tree. It was special to meet my friend’s son, the young man whom she gushed about with love and pride. She also gushed with love and pride about her daughter but I only met her this week when, together, we went to see for the first time the ambulance carrying her mother’s name.
Appropriately, Karen’s ambulance is unique, and serves a special population in a special place. It is one of two stationed in the Old City of Jerusalem. As much as Israel and Judaism were central to Karen, the ambulance’s location is in the one place in the world most central to Israel and Judaism.
Karen’s ambulance is also distinct because it replaces an older model that provides newer technology and better service. It is uniquely built to squeeze through the many narrow Old City alleys and paths as well as go up and down stairs and ramps, that make up the maze of the Old City, but which a regular ambulance would never be able to make it through.
And the population served by Karen’s ambulance, staffed by volunteers from the community, is vastly diverse. With thousands of visitors and pilgrims coming into the Old City daily, Karen’s ambulance is there to help anyone in need, regardless of their religion or nationality. Just as the population of the Old City is diverse, made of Arabs and Jews, Christians and Moslems, whoever needs help gets help, 24/7. Even on Shabbat because although it’s the day of rest, there is no resting in the case of saving a life.
In fact, the paramedic who hosted us when we went to see Karen’s ambulance related how recently, on a Shabbat, he and the ambulance were called upon to treat to people injured on a hike in the mountains outside Jerusalem. Making this all the more impressive is the hikers were Israeli Arabs.
Karen’s ambulance represents her life in so many ways, and especially her love for Israel and the Jewish people, her incredible maternal nature, and the imperative to save lives. While Karen lost her battle for her life, her memory and maternal instinct is carried on, saving lives in the one place most central to Israel and the Jewish people.
I am proud to have had Karen as a friend and colleague, and know that in heaven, she is deriving great satisfaction in knowing that her legacy continues.