The events of September 11, 2001, changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Nearly 3,000 people died that day, but there were many more who for whatever reason didn’t make it in to work that day, and who know that but for the grace of God they would not be here today.
One of these people is Donna Calcaterra.
On the morning of September 11, Donna didn’t feel well and stayed home. Her life was changed forever as a result.
Some months after the tragedy, her bank called and told her that her safety deposit box, or what was left of it, had been recovered. When she inspected the remains, she found that amid the charred mess, only one thing had survived: an Israeli government-issued collectable silver coin, on top of the ashes and other melted coins, remained intact. Three words stood out – “Am Yisrael Chai,” “Israel lives on.” Donna took this as a sign.
Israel was at the time well into the second intifada; buses and cafes were being blown up on a seemingly weekly basis. Donna decided to donate an ambulance to the American Friends of Magen David Adom. And then another, and another, and then a “bloodmobile,” another ambulance, and another. A retired commodities trader, Donna actually went back to work to earn more money so she could give it to MDA.
JUST AS Israel has had its share of sorrows, we also have more than our share of heroes, as well. One of these is Amber Biton.
At 15, Amber joined the ranks of teenage volunteers for MDA, just another of the thousands of kids throughout Israel that do the same, desiring to give back, a testament to the volunteer spirit that pervades this country.
While in high school, Amber was diagnosed with cancer, but continued volunteering. At 17, Amber died of the disease, having devoted her last years to saving others.
By this point, Donna Calcaterra had become a member of the AFMDA board, having donated several ambulances and two bloodmobiles. When she heard about Amber, she decided it wasn’t good enough that Amber only be remembered by those who knew her. She donated an ambulance in Amber’s memory to carry on her legacy.
That ambulance arrived in Israel recently and is currently stationed in Kiryat Gat, where Amber lived and volunteered, and where it will enable MDA staff and volunteers to save lives for years to come.
The ambulance’s dedication this week falls within a month of Amber’s 18th birthday, and of the first anniversary of her death. Children born after Amber died will grow up, volunteer and ride on this very ambulance, saving the lives of others.
It’s also quite likely that once in a while a baby will be born in this ambulance with the help of the dedicated staff and volunteers, the backbone of this incredible pillar of Israeli society.
BEFORE I made aliya, I ran the Jewish Federation campaign in Rockland County, New York. Demographics had changed, and a local synagogue was liquidating its assets. The rabbi said they wanted to donate an ambulance to MDA with some of the proceeds.
I told the rabbi I was sure Israel had enough ambulances and advised him to keep the money in the community – at the federation, of course.
I was wrong.
I remember exactly where I was when this realization hit me. Shortly after making aliya and before I went to work for the American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA), an ambulance raced by to my left, lights flashing and siren blaring.
Recalling my conversation with the rabbi, I realized at that moment how wrong I had been; if I or my family needed an ambulance, there was only one number to call – MDA’s.
A NATIONAL tragedy that made one woman dedicate her life to Israel, and the tragic death of a special young woman who chose to do the same, permanently connect these two women, who never met in person, never sought recognition, but who, each in her own way, stepped up to the plate and devoted themselves to saving lives in Israel.
May their generosity of spirit motivate and inspire others to do the same.
The author is the Israel representative of American Friends of Magen David Adom.