S.F. student aids Magen David Adom, one dime at a time

Like most teenagers, Alik Shandrovsky has automobiles on the brain. Unlike most teens, the vehicles Shandrovsky obsesses over are ambulances. Magen David Adom ambulances, to be exact.

The 17-year-old junior at San Francisco’s Hebrew Academy thought he could get his fellow classmates to give their hard-earned money to Israel’s paramedic service because “I’m crazy, I guess.”

Well, perhaps he is. Seven months later, Shandrovsky’s “crazy idea” has spread from Hebrew Academy to Lowell High School and raked in more than $1,400 for MDA. He now hopes to establish a branch at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, also in San Francisco.

“Let me show you my pride and joy here,” said Shandrovsky, removing a blackened photocopy of $1,295 worth of checks he’s sent to Israel.

Back in October, when the lanky Moldovan-born teen with the all-American smile pitched the idea to his classmates, he’d brought a huge cookie jar of quarters to school. He figured if he gave his classmates some money, they could symbolically give it back in an act of tzedakah.

But before he could even whip out his jar of change, classmates bum-rushed him waving dollar bills, $5 bills and fistfuls of quarters. When the melee was over, he’d raised about $70.

“That’s when I realized, OK, this crazy idea is going to work.”

Shandrovsky, who bears a slight resemblance to the actor Edward Norton, stands about 6-foot-2 and sports a large, Israeli-made knit kippah and tzitzit dangling in front of his corduroy pants and soft gray fleece sweater. He speaks rapidly in what could be described as a “big city” accent, injecting frequent humorous asides into his narratives, and only betraying his Russian-speaking roots with the occasional flattened-out vowel.

Any success of his organization, Students for Magen David Adom, isn’t due to him, however. He was clear about that.

“I have the right people with me who are much smarter and better than me,” he stressed. “Please put down that my friends are smarter than me and this is the only way that we have succeeded.”

One such smart person is friend Mike Levin, who established an SFMDA branch at Lowell High. Rather than receive any birthday gifts, Levin asked friends to make out checks instead to Magen David Adom. In one day, he raised more than $200.

Shandrovsky chose MDA as the beneficiary of his efforts because he believes the ambulance service is the living embodiment of the talmudic passage “He who saves one life, saves the world entire,” utilized so famously in “Schindler’s List.”

Also, it’s an easy sell. Who wouldn’t support the paramedics who save the lives of Israelis and Arabs, Jews and Muslims?

“It’s easy to pitch, right? If I was pitching Meir Kahane or a left-wing extremist, that’d be hard. I feel a lot of people can respond to this. A Jew should have it in him that he wants to help another person,” said Shandrovsky, who has sunk about $150 of his own money and countless hours into his charity.

“This is something everyone can agree on. And those who can’t are weird, in my opinion.”

So far, Shandrovsky has eschewed bake sales or similar fund-raising methods because he’d rather people give to SFMDA solely because of the pure rewards of giving to charity, with no ulterior motives.

He’s decided to break that mold — sort of — in hosting a Jewish discovery seminar at Hebrew Academy on Sunday, April 18, with all the proceeds going to SFMDA.

Speaker Eliyahu Bergstein, a Wall Street systems analyst, will speak of a different perspective on Torah study at the Aish HaTorah-presented seminar.

Meanwhile, like the Marines, Shandrovsky is looking for a few good men — and women — to bring SFMDA into their schools.

“Kids have amazing talents which they keep inside or use for foolish reasons. There’s so much talent wasted every day. It sucks!” he said with a laugh.

“I need to find some more smart people much better than me.”

The Aish HaTorah Discovery seminar will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 18, at Hebrew Academy, 645 14th Ave., S.F. Tickets: $5 students, $8 adults. Reservations: (888) 883-4726. Information about Students for Magen David Adom or to donate: (415) 239-0587 or sfmda.hebrewacademy.com

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.