S.F. man donates an ambulance to Israel in memory of his brother

Twenty years ago, Dr. Eli Weil tried to get several of his Jewish colleagues to help him purchase an ambulance for Israel.

He was unsuccessful, but he never gave up on the idea.

“I’d wanted to do it for a long time,” said Weil, 81, of San Francisco. “But my efforts then didn’t work out.”

Things changed earlier this year when, after working as a nephrologist for Kaiser for 50 years, he retired — and received an unexpected financial windfall from his retirement package.

At a ceremony at the Jewish High School of the Bay in San Francisco, Croce and Eli Weil stand next to the ambulance they purchased for Israel. photo/courtesy of afmda

Quickly, he shared the good news with his wife, Croce.

“After I told her about the money, she said, ‘It looks like you might want to buy an ambulance,’ ” said Weil, who is a longtime member of Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco. “I said, ‘That’s what I was thinking!’ ”

So this summer, the ambulance Weil waited more than two decades to donate — a mobile intensive care unit ambulance — was dedicated in a ceremony held at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay. It was donated in the memory of his brother, Jack Weil, who died in 1988.

Not long after the ceremony, the vehicle was given to Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross. The gift was made through the auspices of American Friends of MDA.

Weil chose JCHS for the dedication ceremonies in June, he said, because “they had a nice spot to view the ambulance that wouldn’t be so public.” Weil feared a more open presentation might encourage unwanted anti-Israel attention.

The mobile intensive care unit ambulance cost $125,000, an amount Weil donated by himself. It will be used by medical responders in Israel who provide the entire nation’s pre-hospital emergency medical needs (including disaster, ambulance and blood services).

Weil said he wanted to fulfill a mitzvah by “helping people in pain, wounded, hurt by car accidents, or women in labor.”

Weil’s mitzvah meets a tremendous and immediate need in Israel, said Yossi Mentz, the Western Region Director of AFMDA, which is MDA’s largest supporter and sends approximately 50 ambulances per year to Israel. MDA does not receive any governmental support.

“[Weil’s donation] was extremely important for Israel,” Mentz said. “Every ambulance saves lives.”

Wentz explained that MDA requested 100 new ambulances for 2011, fearing the worst as events unfold.

“With the U.N. vote [on Palestinian statehood], we have no idea what we’re looking at,” he said. “Israel has to be ready for anything and everything.”

Not only does AFMDA raise funds for ambulances, but money also goes to train paramedics, build and refurbish more than 100 emergency stations across Israel, and provide the country with medical supplies and equipment, said Wentz. AFMDA sent $23 million to MDA in Israel in 2010, including 50 ambulances.

Weil and his wife are no strangers to donating to Jewish entities; Hebrew Free Loan, local Jewish schools, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and the Mikveh Society of San Francisco are among the many they support.

However, the Jewish National Fund (“plant a tree in Israel”) holds a special place in Weil’s heart. Several years ago, he spearheaded the JNF’s Blue Box campaign.

When he went into people’s homes to retrieve the blue JNF boxes, filled with coins for Israel’s forests, he “felt like I was making house calls.” That experience, he added, helped him develop a closer bond with Israel than ever before.

Weil and his wife have been to Israel several times, and he was a participant in Volunteers for Israel, an agency through which people work with Israelis doing civilian work on bases, hospitals and nursing homes. Weil worked in a motor pool.

Additionally, Weil studied Hebrew in Israel and also worked as the sole nephrologist for three months at a hospital in Jerusalem. Later, he was invited back for seven weeks when the staff nephrologist went on vacation.

Weil said, however, his biggest emotional tie to Israel is through his late brother, Jack.

“My brother went one time to Israel with Croce and me,” said Weil. “He always wanted to go back, but he got sick and passed away.

“I always felt bad that he didn’t get to go back,” Weil continued. “But when I dedicated the ambulance to him, I thought that way Jack will be in Israel.”

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.