NEWTOWN – Outside, parked in front of Congregation Adath Israel in Newtown on the morning of Sunday, June 30, stood a shiny, new Magen David Adom (MDA) ambulance. Inside, seated in the shul’s sanctuary, were a packed house of community members and assorted dignitaries. Those gathered were there to take part in the dedication of the ambulance, which was being donated to Israel by a group called the Great Vest Side Club in memory of those who lost their lives in the shooting inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
It all began many years ago, when six men who grew up together on Chicago’s West Side began meeting regularly for lunch. Soon, the lunches morphed into the Great Vest Side Club – a social club so named for the propensity of the men’s immigrant parents to pronounce their “w”s as “v”s. It wasn’t long before the group’s focus turned towards things philanthropic. Specifically, through its dinners, the Great Vest Side Club began raising funds to purchase Magen David Adom ambulances for Israel.
Every MDA ambulance costs about $l00,000 to purchase and takes the club about a year to raise the funds, Great Vest Siders (GVS) Art Farber and Herb Kanter told those in attendance at Adath Israel. In fact, said Farber and Kanter, the group had just sent one off to Israel when the Sandy Hook shootings took place, but the tragedy touched them so that they felt compelled to accelerate their fund raising in order to buy an ambulance in memory of the Newtown victims. The ambulance will be used in the Afula-Gilboa region, which is Connecticut’s sister city.
“By honoring the victims on the ambulance, the GVSers hope that their memories will also be associated with saving lives,” said Sandy Rosen, Midwest regional director of the American Friends of Magen David Adom.
Rabbi Shaul Praver echoed that sentiment.
“The greatest value in the Jewish faith and all great religions is safeguarding the sanctity of life. It says in the Talmud that the one who saves a life saves an entire world. An ambulance is a very effective tool for saving lives. The Great Vest Side Club has decided to give this ambulance to the state of Israel in memory of those slain on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I can not thank them enough for this most generous, heartfelt gift; it will save lives while preserving the sacred memory of our dear ones.”
Photos by Leslie Murray