Israel’s United Hatzalah emergency medical team has 50 new ambucycles in its fleet thanks to an eccentric Jewish billionaire from New York.
Stewart Rahr, a pharmaceutical kingpin and Manhattan tabloid favorite, was on hand in Jerusalem on Tuesday to cut a personal check in Jerusalem for the purchase of a slew of new life-saving motorcycles, while goading United Hatzalah supporters at a ceremony in his honor to do the same. The result? Enough funds raised for the purchase of 50 new ambucycles, which in total cost more than $1.3 million.
Ambucycles, two-wheeled vehicles carrying a range of medical equipment, are used as first responders in emergency situations. United Hatzalah currently has some 250 of the vehicles.
Rahr, whom The New York Post cheekily refers to as “Stewie Rah Rah,” was invited to Jerusalem for a ceremony to mark his donation, which he originally pledged to cover the cost of four bikes. On stage at the Aish HaTorah building overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City, he lived up to his flamboyant reputation, suddenly throwing an additional 20 cycles into his pledge and then announcing he would match the donations of anyone else in the crowd. The crowd responded with pledges for 13 more, which brought Rahr’s contribution to 37.
Rahr, who sold his self-made pharmaceutical company Kinray Inc. in 2010 to the tune of $1.3 billion, is well known on the philanthropic circuit. Last year he broke records by writing a check for $10 million to the Make-A-Wish foundation, and has also given million-dollar gifts to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Alicia Keys’s Keep a Child Alive fund and Bono’s African AIDS Relief organization.
The tabloid rumor mill contends that Rahr’s bitter divorce with his ex-wife Carole is partly motivating his generosity, with the perpetually tan Rahr hoping to give away much of his fortune rather than split it. Their 43-year marriage, which began without a prenuptial agreement, broke down in December and the pair recently settled for an eye-popping $250 million.
For United Hatzalah president and founder Eli Beer, however, what mattered was the boost in the organization’s ability to provide emergency care. Noting that the ceremony came one day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day and that Rahr had also paid a visit to Auschwitz before coming to Jerusalem, Beer said, “At United Hatzalah here today, we are doing the exact opposite of the Nazis — fighting for human lives.”