Dr. John and Eva Mames were the backbone, heart and soul of Magen David Adom (MDA) in Detroit for decades
You may have read in recent issues of the JN that Magen David Adom (MDA) is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Established in 1930, MDA, the “Red Shield of David,” is Israel’s national emergency responder and the nation’s primary blood bank for both civilians and the IDF. It was recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2006 as the national aid society of Israel. The American Friends of Magen David Adom’ (AFMDA) was formed in 1940.
Any organization that lasts 90 years and is still going strong is worth exploring. So, I went into the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History to see what I could find on local connections to the MDA and AFMDA. There were 2,076 pages that cited “Magen David.” A few of them had content related to the Star of David itself, such as an article from the Oct. 1, 1948, JN that explained the origins of the Israeli Flag, but the content of the vast majority of these pages have articles that demonstrate the Detroit Jewish community’s substantial support to MDA over the decades.
Many Detroit Jews have been, and still are, active supporters of the local AFMDA chapter. However, two names do stand out — Dr. John and Eva Mames. The two of them were the backbone, heart and soul of MDA in Detroit for decades. Indeed, the Michigan Chapter of the AFMDA is named after Dr. John J. Mames.
The story of the Michigan Chapter began in 1967. The Shaarit Haplaytah Organization of Michigan, led by John Mames and his brother-in-law, Larry Brenners, initiated the purchase of an ambulance for the MDA at a meeting at the home of Miriam and Fred Ferber. The group raised $4,000. The Michigan Chapter of the AFMDA was then established in the wake of the Six-Day War when there was a great need for medical services in Israel. Mames was president of Michigan chapter for the next 22 years until his death at the age of 87 on Dec. 1, 1989.
Born in Poland and a survivor of Russian labor camps, Mames not only led efforts to assist MDA, he was also supporter of many causes such as Israel Bonds, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills and, with Dr. Sidney Bolkosky, was a founder of the Voice and Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. However, he was only one-half of a dynamic partnership.
Eva Mames, John’s wife, was also a leader of the Michigan Chapter of the AFMDA. Born in Hungary and a teenage survivor of the Holocaust, Eva was a 4-foot 9½-inch tall giant of energy and determination, well known for her kindness. After John’s death, Eva served as president of the Michigan chapter until her death at the age of 81 on Dec. 10, 2011.
There are many stories about the Eva and John Mames, as well as the MDA and the Michigan Chapter of the AFMDA, in the Davidson Digital Archive, and they are wonderful stories of great volunteers and tremendous success. This is good reading about the best of Detroit’s Jewish community.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.