Cash infusion

Unity on display at United Hatzalah’s New York fundraising gala

More than $5 million raised, including major donations from keynote speaker Robert Kraft, who warned of growing hate

Five hundred dollars; that’s all it takes to save a life, Mark Gerson, United Hatzalah’s international chairman of the board, explained to an audience of approximately 1,500 people during the organization’s fourth annual gala in New York on Tuesday night.

Based on a series of quick calculations, Gerson concluded, taking into account the cost of training each of Hatzalah’s medics, the organization’s total number of volunteers and the lives saved each year: $500 equals one life saved. It seemed a reasonable return on investment for gala attendees, who later in the night would donate tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on new equipment for the organization (there were also a handful of donations that reached the million-dollar mark, including that of keynote speaker, Robert Kraft, and his wife, Dana).

By the time dessert was served, members of the audience had pledged upwards of $5 million to the organization, according to a rolling tally that was displayed on a monitor during the event. (The final total was $11 million, according to the organization.) But while the event’s goal may have been fundraising, the theme of the evening was unity. 

United Hatzalah provides free, immediate-response medical service across Israel for all types of emergencies – from heart attacks to terror attacks – no matter who is in need, thanks to its vast and diverse network of volunteers. Some volunteers spotlighted during Tuesday’s gala were an Orthodox Jewish couple, Dovi and Batya Widawsky, and an Arab Muslim couple, Nizar and Karima Aweida, a seemingly antithetical pairing, but who, because of Hatzalah, consider each other family.

“A life is a life. We work to help everyone in Israel — Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druze. I’m proud to know that my fellow volunteers, they feel the same way. That we are one person, all life has value, we work to save everyone, and that is what the United Hatzalah is all about,” Nizar Aweida said.

Kraft began his keynote address with an excerpt from the coming weekend’s Torah portion, Beha’alotecha — which he recited, with trope, from memory of his own bar mitzvah, to the excitement of the crowd. The New England Patriots owner, who has spent tens of millions of dollars on efforts to combat antisemitism, spoke about the hatred permeating today’s society and the ways communities must act to stifle it.

“I realized that if I want to try to assure that our future does not look like the 1940s, we all have to collectively do something,” Kraft said. “The way we change history, the way we change the tone and tenor of society from sadness to joy, is by changing the human heart through education and awareness.”

His goal, and the goal of his Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, Kraft explained, is the same as that of United Hatzalah: to spread kindness and bring the world together.

“United Hatzalah is also facing a world of fracture, divisiveness and hate, but it brings out the best in a complicated world one person at a time, one relationship at a time, and we saw it here on the stage tonight, it was touching. Because when someone is in harm’s way, within 90 seconds there’s a United Hatzalah ambulance,” Kraft said. “Jews save the lives of Arabs, Arabs save the lives of Jews, secular people save the lives of the religious and religious people save the lives of [the] secular.”

“People see and respond to the spark of the divine that is in the soul of each one of us. That saves lives, that changes hearts and that adds to the decency of our beloved Eretz Israel (Land of Israel).”