HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — As the conflict between Israel and Hamas rages on, six Chicago-area synagogues have joined together to donate an ambulance to Magen David Odom (MDA), the emergency medical service agency in Israel.
The ambulance was on display during a dedication and showing of support that was held in Highland Park on Sunday before it is sent to Israel.
The ambulance will reach Israel in the next few weeks and join a fleet of emergency vehicles at MDA.
The ongoing conflict has left thousands of civilians dead and wounded.
According to the Associated Press, over 1,400 people in Israel have been killed and at least 212 people were captured and taken back to Gaza. The Hamas-run Health Ministry, says over 4,600 people have been killed in Gaza, that number includes the disputed toll from a hospital explosion.
Yoni Yagodovsky, the Director of International Relations for MDA, said he has witnessed atrocities during previous attacks, but said what he saw on Oct. 7 is almost impossible to put into words.
“It’s chaotic. People were bleeding to death, people were burned. Our team members risked their lives under fire to reach their own neighbors,” Yagodovsky said.
He told WGN-TV News that one of their ambulance drivers was shot to death at close range and another medical professional, who was also killed, was buried in Israel just hours before Sunday’s event in Highland Park.
The growing number of casualties has MDA crews working harder than ever. Yagadovsky said, surrounding the attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, their medics applied more tourniquets in a single day than in 10 years.
Some MDA apparatus has been damaged amid the conflict, and Yagadovsky said the new ambulance will help save lives.
“When we started this last year, we were hopeful that it would be used for things like taking pregnant women to the hospital,” Rabbi Ike Serotta, from Makom Solel Lakeside, said.
Although the choice to purchase an ambulance was made by the synagogues well before the conflict escalated earlier this month, it will still be used for a variety of medical calls. Still, Serotta said the effort has taken on a new meaning and now carries a much heavier weight.
“We couldn’t possibly have envisioned that there would be so much acute need,” Serotta said.
Illinois State Representative Bob Morgan, who serves as the Chair of the Jewish Caucus in the state, and Congressman Brad Schneider spoke to the group on Sunday.
“There’s a lot of darkness in the world, especially over the last few weeks, but today is a breath of fresh air and a little bit of light,” Rep. Morgan said.
During the event, Schneider praised the release of a mother and daughter from Evanston, while he also called on Hamas to release the remaining 212 hostages.
“All of Israel’s our family. All of us are aching and grieving,” Schneider said.
Alongside state leaders, David Valentine, whose son moved to Israel for graduate school and was active duty in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for three years before becoming a reservist, spoke to WGN-TV News on Sunday.
Valentine’s son was called to the northern border after the initial attack, leaving his family at home holding their breath as the violence escalated.
“It terrifies me every day. It makes me so proud for him to be there,” Valentine said. “They’ve actually taken gunfire. For the three years he was active duty, they never had to shoot at anybody.”
Valentine said he has seen photos of the MDA helping in the area where his son is serving and said every bit of humanitarian aid makes a big impact.
“We’re very, very grateful for everything that gets sent over, for people’s prayers, thank you very much,” Valentine said.
Other ambulances have been donated in similar efforts around the country. The ambulance at the center of Sunday’s dedication will join MDA’s current rescue fleet of about 1,400 ambulances across Israel.