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L.A. Ambulance Gift to Israel Drives Mid-East Coexistence Meme

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March 31, 2020
43-year-old Avraham Mintz, a Jew from Beersheba, stands and faces Jerusalem, and 39-year-old Zoher Abu Jama, an Arab from nearby Rahat, kneels and faces Mecca. Both take a break from their ambulance duties as Magen David Adom (MDA) medics for daily prayers. Photo by MDA

Los Angeles – A single act of charity can reverberate around the world. Such was the case with Myrtle Sitowitz and the donations of a few of her friends from Los Angeles to Magen David Adom (MDA) in 2016, which allowed Israel’s paramedic service to purchase a new ambulance. The two emergency medical technicians who drive that ambulance —  Avraham Mintz who is Jewish and Zoher Abu Jama who is Muslim — are now being feted as models of coexistence, after a picture of them in the middle of a prayer break made the social media rounds.

“I just can’t get over it,” Sitowitz said. It’s mind-boggling.” Sitowitz, who lives in Beverly Hills, has been long involved in pro-Israel charitable efforts, including a stint as the chair of the local women’s division of Israel Bonds.

Sitowitz and her friends made their donation to MDA through American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA), whose name is emblazoned on the ambulance that Mintz and Abu Jama drive in the southern town of Beersheba. Aso written on the ambulance is “Given by the Women in Action in Los Angeles.”

“I saw what was going on in Israel,” Sitowitz said. “While the rockets were flying, too many of the women I know were sitting on their couches eating ice cream. So I wrote them all a letter asking them to help me donate an ambulance and I showed them each a copy of my own check. Then I followed up with phone calls. They needed to [step] up to the plate. I could not believe the response I got.”

“Only in Israel — a democracy animated by chesed — is an ambulance dedicated to the people of Israel by the women of Los Angeles, a project spearheaded by our very own Myrtle Sitowitz,” said Rabbi Kalman Topp, senior rabbi at Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills. “Am Yisrael Chai and kol hakavod, Myrtle,” he said.

Mintz and Abu Jama said their joint prayer break is standard practice during their shift. “We try to pray together, instead of each one of us taking the time for himself, because we have a lot of situations we’re dealing with right now,” Mintz told the New York Times. In the same interview, Abu Jama said now is the time for people from diverse backgrounds to come together (during COVID-19). “The whole world is battling this,” he said. “This is a disease that doesn’t tell the difference between anybody, any religion, any gender. But you put that aside. We work together. we live together. This is our life.”

Even celebrities took to their social media accounts to retweet and share the inspiring snap with their fans. Gene Simmons, the lead singer of rock band KISS, posted the photo on Twitter to his almost 1 million followers, and wrote that it showed “anything is possible.”

MDA, Israel’s emergency medical service and the Jewish state’s representative to the Red Cross, has been on the frontlines of the coronavirus epidemic. The disease has now claimed the lives of 17 people in Israel, with the number of positive cases north of 4,000.  MDA has seen its call volume grow exponentially, from a usual 6,000 calls daily to a day several weeks ago when it received more than 82,000. The paramedic service has used all of its 25,000 volunteers and 2,500 full-time staff to respond to the emergency.

“God said, ‘Myrtle, try and help us here. I am,’” Sitowitz said. “Now people can see what Magen David Adom is all about. Maybe this will help the peace effort. I’m crying here.”

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