The one-man fund-raiser

Alexander Goldberg takes the initiative and manages to raise over $1 million in donations for United Hatzalah of Israel.

Race to Save Lives 521 (photo credit: Yeshiva University)
Race to Save Lives 521
(photo credit: Yeshiva University)
With the United States trying to overcome its economic recession, Israel-based nonprofit organizations that have historically relied on overseas support – primarily from donor bases in the US – have been feeling the pinch. These organizations have had to develop creative fund-raising strategies to obtain the necessary funds abroad so they can continue to offer their services to those in need.
Luckily for one organization, United Hatzalah of Israel – whose volunteer first-response medical personnel are frequently the quickest on the scene during emergencies – a resourceful 21-year-old Yeshiva University student named Alexander Goldberg helped ease the burden by organizing a one-day fund-raising event recently.
That event, known as the 2013 Race to Save Lives, generated a whopping $1 million in donations for medical equipment and other programming for the organization.
The YU senior, along with a group of his friends and other like-minded altruistic youngsters, rented out New York’s Roosevelt Island Park, and on June 9, 350 sponsored runners of all ages took part in a 10K race to benefit Hatzalah.
This was the third annual race; the first two took place in 2011 and 2012 at Jerusalem’s Sacher Park. Those also succeeded in generating substantial funds for the organization, but nowhere near this year’s sum.
Goldberg came up with the idea while studying at the Kerem B’Yavne Yeshiva during his post-high school gap year in 2011.
“I was in Israel learning for the year and wanted to do something meaningful for tzedaka [charity],” says the Riverdale, New York, native, who tells The Jerusalem Post that he plans to make aliya in the next few years.
During his year in Israel, he was introduced to United Hatzalah of Israel president Eli Beer through a mutual friend, and received a tour of the organization’s Jerusalem headquarters. Impressed with Hatzalah’s mission, Goldberg asked how he could be of assistance. He and Beer discussed options for an event, and plans for a 5K race for overseas students took shape.
After tirelessly promoting the event with his student peers, Goldberg had 450 competitors show up for the inaugural Jerusalem race, which brought in an astounding $250,000 for the organization.
“Not only did the students get sponsors from their parents and friends in order to race, but business professionals both in Israel and abroad, many of whom chose to remain anonymous, supported the cause as well,” says Goldberg.
According to Beer, the funds from the first race allowed Hatzalah to purchase 10 life-saving ambucycles and 20 emergency defibrillators. “These 17- and 18-year-olds not only succeeded in raising essential funds, but many of them actually became volunteers with the organization while in Israel, taking the course to become emergency medical personnel and volunteering in the field,” Beer says.
After their inaugural success, he insisted that Goldberg return to Israel a year later and help organize another race for Hatzalah. Goldberg agreed. With the assistance of his friend and fellow YU student Aharon Watson, and New York University’s Sara Mandelbaum, another 450 students ran the 5K in Jerusalem during Passover 2012, bringing in an additional $350,000.
Living in New York with a hectic schedule as both a student and a part-time employee at a Manhattan hedge fund, Goldberg says that each race takes “over two hours a day for four months to plan,” so it was decided to hold this year’s race in the US.
Using social media, local radio and word of mouth, he and his friends worked hard to bring in participants for this year’s event.
“We didn’t realize how much more difficult it would be to get people out for an event on a Sunday morning in New York,” he says. “In Israel, it was easier to get people out.”
Despite the struggle and in addition to signing up 350 runners for the race itself, Goldberg and his team were able to secure corporate sponsors and matching pledges from well-known US Jewish businessmen.
Beer says that while United Hatzalah of Israel has various fund-raisers throughout the year, including a large Succot concert in Jerusalem, there is no doubt that “Goldberg’s event has become the organization’s biggest fund-raiser of the year.”
According to Beer, the funds from this year’s race have been earmarked for the purchase of ambulances, ambucycles and other life-saving equipment. He is proud that Hatzalah volunteer first-responders now boast an average response time of just three minutes when emergency life-saving medical attention is needed.
In addition, he says, the proceeds from the race will help sustain the organization’s Ten Kavod (Give Respect) program, which benefits the country’s elderly population.
Beer explains that his organization encounters many instances of seniors being alone, with no one available to check up on them.
“Sometimes there are older people in this country in need of medical attention who have nobody looking after them and literally end up dying in their homes,” he says. “We have ‘adopted’ several thousand seniors in Jerusalem and Ramat Gan [with more cities on the way], and we visit them regularly in order to monitor them medically in their homes.”
He says he gets the contact information for such seniors through organizations in the country that work with Holocaust survivors, or through other organizations that tend to the needs of the elderly population, such as the Joint Distribution Committee.
“We were having a hard time funding this program,” he says. “People often are more receptive to helping programs that benefit children, but thanks to the success of this year’s race, and a matching gift that went along with it, we were able to sustain this important initiative, bring in more volunteers, as well as hire two more paramedics and purchase medical equipment to benefit the seniors in need.”
While Goldberg says that his goal upon graduation is to enter the world of business, particularly working in hedge funds, Beer is convinced that the YU student still has tremendous potential in the world of philanthropy. Because of the success of the races, Beer has elected Goldberg to the organization’s international board of directors.
He believes that Goldberg achieved such success because of his intentions. “Three years ago, when we met, Alex was just looking to do hessed [kindness]. He wasn’t looking for any kavod [honor]. Sometimes a small idea can lead to something great if the intentions are pure. And Alex had no other intentions besides helping.”
Beer, who admits that he was utterly – but of course pleasantly – “shocked” by how much this year’s event generated, is confident that Goldberg will assist in organizing the annual Race to Save Lives for many years to come. “After the third annual race, we now have a tradition for Alex to run this event. And he’s only 21!”