When one enters Jerusalem, two structures immediately catch the eye. The first is a digital sign informing the traveler when the next Sabbath begins and ends. The second is a building bearing a sign identifying it as the William H. Bloomberg MDA Jerusalem Station.
The building is the Jerusalem headquarters of Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency ambulance and blood bank service. The Bloomberg Station is a state-of-the-art facility renovated and expanded thanks to a donation made by the family of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and dedicated in October 2011 in memory of Mayor Bloomberg’s father.
At the dedication ceremony, Bloomberg told the audience that his family had been attracted to MDA due to “…its spirit of volunteerism and its commitment to treating all people, of all religions and nationalities, absolutely equally.” Indeed, MDA prides itself on the treatment it provides during emergencies to both Jews and Arabs. It now seems, however, that MDA may need some rescuing of its own.
MDA has recently made a new addition to its ranks, and this time it is not a volunteer seeking to save lives. The ultra-Orthodox community had been critical of what it perceived as inappropriate mixing of the men and women volunteers, with a number rabbis even going so far as to issue an edict forbidding followers from volunteering. In response, MDA agreed to establish a rabbinical committee which would have the authority to dictate religious guidelines for the organization. The chairman of the committee, which started operating in June, is Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed.
Eliyahu is the son of the deceased Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who was chief rabbi of Israel from 1983 to 1993. In the last decade, it is the younger Eliyahu who has made a distinct, if infamous, name for himself.
In 2002, following a terrorist attack near Safed, Eliyahu called for the expulsion of Arab students from the local college. In a radio interview in 2004 he warned against the seduction of Jewish girls by young Arab men and called upon Jewish apartment owners not to rent to Arabs.