Unwavering support

Unwavering support

This year, Honor Israel Night — a fundraising campaign by Grace Baptist Church and Arlene and Jeff Berg (below) — aims to raise enough funds for an ambulance for Magen David Adom. (Photos courtesy of Jeff Berg)
This year, Honor Israel Night — a fundraising campaign by Grace Baptist Church and Arlene and Jeff Berg (below) — aims to raise enough funds for an ambulance for Magen David Adom. (Photos courtesy of Jeff Berg)

A local Baptist church has launched a fundraising campaign to purchase an ambulance with a price tag of $100,000 for Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency medical first responders.

“We’ve always had a heart for Israel,” said Arlene Berg, who along with her husband, Jeff, spearheads an Honor Israel Night every other year at the Grace Baptist Church in Monroeville. “And the intifadas burned us more to help Israel.”

The 250-member church, led by Pastor Grant Abe, brings in speakers to talk about Israel and Jewish music for its Honor Israel Nights; it raised $2,700 in 2014 for Israel’s Lone Soldiers project.

This year, though, the congregation decided to do something bigger and hopes to work in tandem with the Jewish community to raise the money for an ambulance in advance of its Honor Israel Night on May 15.

“This fundraising effort is more in depth,” said Arlene Berg. “We will be going deeper into the Pittsburgh Jewish and Christian communities. And we are starting now.”

The church is unwavering in its support for Israel, according to its pastor.

“We honor Israel because God commands us to, and we have an obligation to honor the Jewish community,” Abe said.

He quoted a passage from Genesis, in which God is addressing Abram in support of his congregation’s dedication to Israel: “I will bless those that bless you and curse those that curse you.”

“I don’t want to be on that team [that curses the Jewish people],” Abe said. “I want to be blessed, and I want God to bless our church. And God has blessed our church. We are committed to it, based on this pretty straightforward passage in the scripture.”

The Bergs will be arranging parlor meetings in the coming months to explain the work of the Magen David Adom and the significance of sending a new ambulance to Israel.

“The Magen David Adom in Israel is the country’s 911, EMS, ambulance agency,” said Cari Immerman, the Midwest regional director at American Friends of Magen David Adom in Cleveland. “It is the disaster relief planning and action group and deals with mass causalities. And we produce the country’s blood supply.

“We train all the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] medics and provide blood for soldiers,” Immerman continued. “We are mandated by the government but not a government agency.”

Because it is not a government agency, she said, the organization is not fully funded by the government and is dependent on donations.

“Our team in Israel has Christians, Muslims and Jews,” said Immerman. “And we serve everyone. This is not a Jewish agency that only serves Jewish people.”

The efforts of the Grace Baptist Church is one of the first times in the United States that there will be a joint Christian/Jewish effort to raise funds for the purchase of an ambulance, according to Immerman. But communitywide fundraising for the organization is not unusual, she noted.

“In 2012, in Youngstown [Ohio], where there are only 1,800 Jews left, the Jewish community sponsored an ambulance,” Immerman said. “That’s what we’re hoping to do here.”

Each year, the Magen David Adom requires 100 new ambulances.

“In the late 2000s, after the Second Intifada, the ambulance fleet was greatly expanded,” Immerman said. “There is a growing threat on all the borders as well as a growing population. We expanded our fleet considerably, but now, several years later, lots of ambulances are reaching their tour of duty and becoming long in the tooth. Also, the technology is changing, and the paramedics perform a lot of things that they don’t do here [in the U.S]. We need room for the new equipment. We have to keep adding to the fleet.”

The Bergs will discuss the ravages of Palestinian terrorism in conjunction with their fundraising efforts for the ambulance, Arlene Berg said.

“That’s the whole impetus,” she said. “God has given us a love for the Jewish community, and we want to show the community that we stand by them.”

The Bergs have had a longstanding connection to the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, fostered through almost 20 years of volunteering at the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center of the Jewish Association on Aging. It was there that they met Rabbi Eli Seidman, the JAA’s director of pastoral care.

The Bergs, Seidman said, are dedicated and valued volunteers.

“They work on the Alzheimer’s unit. They even teach a Yiddish club. They are very nice people and very pro-Israel.”

Seidman attended the church’s Honor Israel Night two years ago and was “flabbergasted by the support they have for Israel.”

It was Seidman who suggested raising funds for the purchase of an ambulance for this year’s project.

“There is probably a lot of support in the Jewish community for the Magen David Adom,” Seidman said. “”We have to harness it for this project.”

The ambulances for Magen David Adom are assembled in Elkhart, Ind., and are driven to Baltimore, where they are placed on a ship to Israel. The Bergs hope they can arrange for an ambulance to make a stop in Pittsburgh.

Immerman said that it is the organizers’ hope to place a new ambulance in Pittsburgh’s Partnership2Gether’s region, Karmiel/Misgav.

“We are thrilled that Jeff and Arlene are looking to keep Israel strong,” said Immerman. “There’s a long tradition of supporting the Magen Dave Adom in the Greater Pittsburgh area, and we hope that others in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities will join us to purchase an ambulance that is going to save lives.”

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

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