When Martin Karlin of Union attended South Side High School in Newark in the early 1940s, he already showed remarkable acuity as a fund-raiser.
“I sold football tickets that benefitted the team,” he said. “For every 25 tickets sold, I got a free one. And since I was on the cheerleading squad, I didn’t need the ticket, so I sold that one too.” At graduation, the principal announced that he had sold the most tickets in the history of the high school.
Although he did not know it at the time, Karlin, now 85, was on his way to a lifetime of success at raising funds: for Congregation B’nai Ahavath Shalom in Union and as fund-raising chair for the Union Emergency Medical Service, for which over the last 30 years he has raised over $2 million (“I’m working on the third million”).
But last winter, while watching a CNN telethon for victims of the earthquake in Haiti, Karlin was so moved by their plight that he decided to use his skills to solve an international problem.
“I sent a check to Doctors Without Borders, but I couldn’t get the Haitian people out of my mind,” he told NJJN in an interview in his home. “I am a very emotional person. Their situation pulled at my heartstrings.”
So he called on his vast network of local contributors, including business owners, doctors, dentists, attorneys, all of whom had given generously over the years to the Union EMS. Using his persuasive skills, he asked them to donate to his latest cause. The results so far: He has raised $15,000 for Doctors Without Borders.
Karlin said he chose Doctors Without Borders because 87 percent of the money goes directly to medical care in Haiti. Plus, the physicians are volunteers.
“After selling my wholesale grocery business in 1980, I became a certified emergency medical technician and volunteered with the Union EMS just to keep busy. I rode in the rig for 20 years. I have delivered a baby, administered CPR, and even witnessed death.
“But I did it under the best of conditions,” he said; the people volunteering in Haiti “are working in a third-world country that’s been completely devastated. It is imperative that we support them.”
Karlin also said that the Haiti project has helped him fill the void left by the death of his wife, Eileen, in 2009 after 59 years of marriage. “I miss her terribly, but staying busy is the best medicine,” he said.
The Union EMS, the Knights of Columbus, and St. Barnabas Medical Center have all honored Karlin and his achievements over the years. In 1995, the Township of Union issued a proclamation declaring April 25 “Martin Karlin Day.”
Karlin said asking for money, never easy, is especially hard in today’s uncertain economic climate. Still, he noted, he has a leg up on other fund-raisers. “I have people programmed. When I call, they know they have to write a check.”
When asked if he thought his work was a good example of tikun olam, the Jewish mitzva of repairing the world, Karlin replied that he wasn’t familiar with the expression. After a minute or so, however, he nodded and smiled. “Yes,” he said, “that phrase is very apropos.”