Campaign reaches its goal of six million pennies

ORANGE - We hear them every day cruising down our roadways. But did you ever stop and wonder just how much money ambulances cost these days? They're certainly not cheap. Just ask Joey Russell

ORANGE - We hear them every day cruising down our roadways. But did you ever stop and wonder just how much money ambulances cost these days? They're certainly not cheap. Just ask Joey Russell.

Since Nov. 1998, Russell has been the driving force behind a community wide effort to raise money for the purchase of a new ambulance for Israel. But as he explains, the idea first evolved while he was speaking to a group of students at Congregation Or Shalom.

"I was explaining to the youngsters that under Hitler's leadership, six million Jews lost their lives during the Holocaust," said Russell, a Milford resident who is also founder of the Golan Chapter for the American Red Magen David of Israel. "During my lecture, I noticed a young girl in the back of the room using a calculator. When I asked her what she was doing, she explained that she was trying to figure out what six million pennies added up to. She was surprised to learn it was $60,000."

The startling revelation inspired Russell to begin a campaign to collect six million pennies, one for each victim and use those donations to purchase a state-of-the-art emergency vehicle.

While many organizations throughout the area have contributed with sizeable donations, a significant amount of money was collected from individual pushkehs (which comes from the Hebrew language meaning canisters) that are located at numerous synagogues from Madison to Milford. Students who were present during Russell's lecture also participated in the effort, including Sarah Jones.

Last June, Jones, a student at Amity Jr. High School in Bethany, donated $300 that she received from her Bat Mitzvah.

"Listening to Joey, I realized that we are so fortunate for everything that we have in our lives," said the 14-year-old Woodbridge resident. "The people of Israel will certainly benefit from this money a lot more than I would. It's definitely for a very good cause."

Manufactured by the Ford Motor Company in Nanticoke, PA, the emergency vehicle will boast all the latest features in modern technology, including a one-man stretcher and a paramedic monitor.

Alvin Wainhaus, rabbi at Congregation Or Shalom has praised Russell's efforts, particularly for taking a negative subject such as the Holocaust and putting a positive spin on it.

"Joey's efforts have been truly spectacular," said Wainhaus. "The idea that originally germinated in a Bar Mitzvah class quickly became a community effort. Even more inspirational is the fact that this ambulance will serve not only Jews, but Christians and all other faiths in Israel."

Manny Strumpf, publicity chairman for Congregation Or Shalom and a close friend of Russell's for more than three decades added, "In Hebrew there's a word called tzadeek, which means a kind and giving person. In English, that word translates to Joey Russell."

This is not the first ambulance that is being sent to Israel under Russell's direction. Since 1980, he has been responsible for shipping 13 emergency vehicles overseas, two of which were donated exclusively by Russell and his family.

"I don't do this for the recognition or the praise, I do it because it's something I believe in. Like I tell all my friends, I take my bows on stage," said Russell, who is also a stand-up Yiddish American Ethnic Humorist and formerly appeared as Happy the Clown from 1956-84 on two prominent Connecticut television stations.

On April 30, the new ambulance will be unveiled during a dedication ceremony. The event will take place at Congregation Or Shalom, located at 205 Old Grassy Hill Rd. in Orange at 11 a.m. and feature numerous dignitaries and event organizers. Following the ceremony, the vehicle, which will carry the inscription "Presented to the people of Israel through the generosity of the school children of Greater New Haven, Connecticut, USA," will be sent to Haifa, Israel where it will be used to care for those in need.