(June 30, 2021 / JNS) Passersby were treated to a striking sight outside Jerusalem’s City Hall on Tuesday. One-hundred and fifty bright orange “ambucycles” – motorcycles and scooters equipped with lifesaving medical equipment – were lined in neat rows at Safra Square to celebrate the dedication of the Dr. Miriam & Sheldon G. Adelson Ambucycle Unit of United Hatzalah.
Hundreds of United Hatzalah volunteers attended the event, and Channel 12 news anchor Ofer Hadad served as master of ceremonies. The 150 ambucycles join a fleet of 1,000 ambucycles already operating in Israel for United Hatzalah.
Guest of honor Miriam Adelson, whose donation made the ambucycles’ purchase possible, opened her speech with a confession: “I admit and confess that I’ve always been afraid of motorcycles and never gave my children permission to get on a motorcycle.”
However, she said she appreciated the “charm” of riding motorcycles when it came to saving lives.
“Every second is important. It can be the difference between survival and death. It can be the difference between one who recovers completely and between one who’ll suffer brain damage or other serious disability,” she said, noting that ambucycles, unlike traditional ambulances, can move quickly around traffic jams.
Adelson, who years ago served as head physician of internal medicine as well as emergency medicine at Rokach (Hadassah) Hospital in Tel Aviv, said, “In too many incidents, more than I care to remember, the sick arrived too late and it wasn’t possible to save them.”
Citing the famous Talmudic quote, “Whoever saves a life saves the world,” Adelson said that “with this simple sentence, our ancient sages summed up Judaism for all times.”
Eli Beer, founder and president of United Hatzalah, told JNS prior to the event, “I’m honored to be hosting Dr. Miriam Adelson,” noting that she and her late husband, casino magnate and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, “were instrumental in ensuring my safe return to Israel after my battle with COVID-19.”
Beer related the story at the ceremony, one well-covered by the press at the time, of how he suffered an acute bout of coronavirus and fell into a coma for a month while visiting the U.S. in March. “I was ventilated. I was confused. I thought I had been kidnapped,” he recalled.
“Miriam Adelson called the hospital and said, ‘I’m bringing you home to Israel.’ (She offered the Adelsons’ private plane.) I burst into tears because the truth is I didn’t know if I would ever return to Israel,” Beer told the audience. When he asked her how he could ever repay her for such a gesture, she responded, “If you promise that you’ll return to Israel and continue to save lives you don’t have to return me a thing.”
Beer praised Adelson for her donation and her character, saying, “I never met someone more sensitive to the sorrows of the people of Israel, its sorrows in the Land of Israel and the world.”
He expressed his regret that Sheldon Adelson, who passed away in January, wasn’t able to attend on Tuesday. Beer compared him to other great Jewish philanthropists who contributed to building and developing the land of Israel, including the Rothschild and Montefiore families.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon was also unstinting in his praise. “The Adelson family is among the most philanthropic and the most patriotic that rose for the Jewish people in recent times and, therefore, we all say to you, and in particular, you dear Miriam, thank you very much,” he said.
“Many souls were saved and will be saved in Israel and the entire world. Your current contribution is only a drop in the sea of contributions and charitable deeds of the Adelson family,” the mayor added.
United Hatzalah presented Miriam Adelson with a piece of art to commemorate the event. It featured the image of an ambucycle composed of tiny colorful butterflies shaped from steel. The butterflies symbolize “the renewal of life,” the artists said. Adelson also received a Book of Psalms in the name of the Avigal family, which lost their 5-year-old son, Ido, when a piece of rocket shrapnel penetrated the safe room where he was hiding during May’s conflict between Israel and Hamas. A letter from Ido’s parents that was read at the ceremony thanked Adelson for supporting United Hatzalah, as a member of the organization was the first to arrive to their Sderot apartment after the rocket struck.
Avi Marcus, who worked as a paramedic for 18 years before joining United Hatzalah and now serves as head of the group’s medical department and psychotrauma unit, told JNS that it was the ambucycle, an innovation of Beer’s, which brought him to the organization.
“At some stage I saw these ambucycles and I said, ‘What’s this thing? I’ve never heard of it.’ And a friend told me, ‘Come be with us.’ In the first week I started as a paramedic, I saved the life of a 4-year-old who was choking. I was on an ambucycle,” Marcus said.
Describing the importance of Miriam Adelson’s contribution, he said the ambucycle is “one of the best things we have in United Hatzalah. It’s so much faster and so much quicker because it doesn’t have to stand in traffic. Most of the cases if you arrive a minute early, a minute later, it’s not a problem. But when it’s someone bleeding, the difference in one or two minutes is if someone lives or dies.”
At the end of the ceremony, after Adelson handed out ambucycle keys to a select group of drivers, 150 United Hatzalah workers and volunteers proceeded out of the square on their new rescue vehicles to take part in an ambucycle procession around the city.
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