Although they married young 24 years ago, Eli Beer introduces his wife, Gitty, as being “my second wife,” and she presents him as “my second husband.” The competitors for their spousal devotion are the organization United Hatzalah (UH), which Eli founded in 2006 and that Gitty joined recently as an authorized medic who took a 200-hour course in first aid and resuscitation. He has saved many lives over the years – and delivered 41 babies – and she already has several successful events under her belt. Many of their five children and other close relatives are also involved in saving lives by riding specially equipped UH ambucycles and other emergency vehicles to reach people speedily.
The voluntary rescue and firstaid organization has 4,000 UH volunteers – (3,600) men and (400) women; ultra-Orthodox, modern Orthodox and secular; and Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druse (450 non-Jews). They drop whatever they are doing at the drop of a hat and go out to save the sick and injured within three minutes, any time of the day or night, 365 days a year.
The eventual aim is to do so in 90 seconds or less.
And unlike Magen David Adom (MDA), which is required by law to charge for their services, UH’s services are and have always been absolutely free.
Eli has received numerous awards and honors, including the President’s Volunteer Prize, but they do not motivate him. “I love what I’m doing,” he says. “I would never choose anything else. I couldn’t do anything better with my life than saving lives.”
Incredibly, the UH head travels abroad an average of 200 days a year to raise funds to meet the organization’s NIS 100 million annual budget and to teach other countries – India, Brazil and Panama, Mexico, Argentina, India, Rwanda and more than a dozen others plus US cities – to adopt the UH lifesaving model.
Sometimes, such as at the 2015 convention of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee attended by 16,000 participants – he zooms onto the stage with his orange-and-black UH vest on his ambucycle to catch attention. Even Dubai in the United Arab Emirates has asked Beer to teach them how to run such an emergency volunteer service. “My children – the oldest aged 21 – joke by calling me ‘Our father in heaven’ because I am so often in the air.”
HE ESTABLISHED the organization in 2006 after remembering his frustration and fear at the age of six watching terrorism victims in his Jerusalem neighborhood crying out for help after their Egged bus was blown up.
“My parents came on aliya from the US in 1969, and I grew up in Jerusalem,” he recalled. “I decided to join an MDA ambulance team at the age of 16, but even though I helped people, I didn’t manage to save even one life because the vehicle arrived too late.”
Beer realized that ambulance motorcycles were needed to reach the victim faster and treat him within minutes, even though it couldn’t evacuate the patient to hospital.
Not long after, he used a scanner and learned that a 70-year-old man around the corner had been seriously injured in a road accident, bleeding even more profusely because he was taking anticlotting drugs. Beer removed his kippa from his head, folded it up, applying pressure with it onto the hole on the man’s throat, and was able to save him.
The organization began very modestly, renting 100 square meters of space in a building constructed almost 50 years ago, at 78 Rehov Yirmiyahu at the western entrance to Jerusalem.
Today, UH volunteers around the country treat 300,000 people per year – some 900 to 1,000 on average each day and over 2.6 million cases since its founding.
Beer recently managed to raise $18 million to purchase, renovate and equip the whole building, even mining into a solid rock foundation to create several floors below for a total of 3,000 square meters. The Jerusalem Municipality has granted UH permission to build four additional stories on top of the building, so the national headquarters will have even more room to expand, including space to teach large numbers of people first aid and resuscitation techniques – for free.
Today, anyone who walks into UH’s Jerusalem headquarters after not having seen it for a year will think he is in the wrong place.
Except for the original tiny room in which a handful of volunteers took calls sitting on worn chairs in front of old computer screens – which has not yet been renovated – most of the edifice has been transformed.
The Helmsley Charitable Trust helped design an impressive large dispatch center where dozens of ultra-Orthodox (haredi) young men doing two years of civilian service work shifts facing ultra-modern plasma screens. Each assigned a specific region in the country, they are able to zoom in to any of UH’s 4,000 volunteers to send them in seconds to help people. Other screens list each volunteer, the location and a description of each medical problem involved. Only 10% of his budget is covered by government ministries and other public institutions; Some 30% of our budget is donated by Israelis.”
There is also a smaller, separate room where young religious women on national service sit to answer calls and serve as backup. Rooms below are used for various purposes, including the safe keeping of the organization’s computer brains that allows communications between the headquarters and volunteers and records and saves each conversation.
There is an auditorium where lectures and first-aid classes are given, and on the roof, a large area with artificial grass and views of Jerusalem allows volunteers to wind down during their time off.
“We have become close collaborators with the Helmsley Charitable Trust, including trustee Sandy Frankel, and his wife Ruthie,” Beer said in a three-hour interview with the Jerusalem Post.
Anonymous donors from New York and elsewhere have helped us.
UH recently received recognition from the Internal Security Ministry as an official national emergency and rescue organization just like MDA. This will provide scores more doctors, paramedics and medics to the scene to provide lifesaving treatment. The recognition came about two months after the Health Ministry ensured that UH would receive MDA’s emergency calls automatically instead of people calling directly to UH’s emergency number. UH will also be invited to take part in coping with natural disasters and mass catastrophes.
After years of conflict with MDA management, UH – which has agreed not to advertise its 1221 emergency number but which is still answered round the clock – is pleased with the arrangement. “It is working, but we want it to be better. We still have a long way to go. Calls to MDA are now shared with our volunteers, who will rush to the scene, treat and stabilize them so that ambulances can evacuate those who need hospitalization.
We work with MDA and 100 private ambulance companies and arrive quickly. We are not there to compete,” said Beer.
“We have 25 ambulances on our own, mostly for training our volunteers in the field in different cities and to evacuate people such as tourists who don’t have money to pay for private ambulances. Each of our new Mercedes ambulances cost $150,000.”
Beer and his extended family also donated $175,000 to purchase a well-equipped mobile intensive care ambulance in memory of his cousin Alan Beer who was killed in a terror attack in Jerusalem some 15 years ago.
“The fact that United Hatzalah exists today and serves as competition has made MDA much better.
They adopted some of our ideas and now have some ambucycles.
The way we spread volunteers, our communications technologies and other things were copied by MDA.
We provide an example how to be faster and reduce bureaucracy,” Beer continued.
The latest innovation in UH’s emergency medical service is called the “Mini-Lance” – a narrow, light electric-powered smartcar equipped with a defibrillator for treating cardiac arrests, an oxygen tank and other basic or even advanced life support equipment that allows two responders to quickly arrive at emergencies inside metropolitan areas. Fully packed, it costs $45,000 each, and UH has bought four of them; one is parked in front of UH headquarters.
The first of its kind in the world, the non-polluting Mini-Lance is only 200 centimeters long and 130 centimeters wide, and can cover 100 kilometers without recharging and easily climb up curbs. It can also been driven by volunteer medics who due to disability are unable to ride ambucycles.
Also parked near UH headquarters are several open tractors with large wheels and thick-treaded tires that can help volunteer medics go over rough outdoor terrain to reach victims. In addition, 100 electric bicycles are ridden by UH volunteer medics to reach the sick and injured quickly.
ANOTHER UNIQUE UH service is its Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, aimed at helping relatives and passersby who have been witnesses to terror, accidents, sudden infant death syndrome, heart attacks, suicides and other tragedies. “We have 250 trained volunteers – psychologists, social workers and others, and their number is growing – who are ready to go out to any event to calm them down and prevent them from developing more serious emotional stress and trauma related injuries.
For those who don’t respond to talk therapy, they use a ‘tapping treatment” on specific parts of their body,” said Beer. Dr. Gary Quinn, an Israeli-American therapist, developed it, and it has been proven effective. It involved bilateral stimulation through connecting the left and right sides of the brain. For example, I witnessed the case of a woman whose car hit a young man on a motorcycle three months ago in Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood. She thought she had killed him, even though she hadn’t. She was hysterical.
I called Miriam Ballin, head of the Psychotrauma Unit, who came with some of her other volunteers.
After 15 minutes of treatment, the woman snapped out of it and came back to reality. We are now collecting data on such cases and collaborating on it with a research team from Tel Aviv University.”
UH also runs a free service called Ten Kavod (Give Honor) involving 500 volunteers who visit lonely and aging Holocaust survivors with no relatives. “They could suddenly fall or take sick. In addition to Yad Sarah emergency beepers that detect falling – and our responding in minutes – we also have 500 volunteers who visit the survivors once a week, chat with them, check their pulse and blood pressure. This can prevent them from reaching the hospital,” Beer related.
To encourage children on wheeled objects from bikes to hoverboards to protect themselves, UH distributed 50,000 helmets – on condition that they signed a document stating that they will always ride with them. A sponsor covered the cost, and kids all over the country are wearing them.
The organization is also determined that at least one out of every two Israelis learn first-aid and resuscitation in free, four-hour courses it is holding. “Last year, we trained 30,000 people. They know what to do is a child or adult is choking, goes into cardiac arrest or suffers from another emergency condition. Clalit Health Services and the makers of the pain reliever Nurofen sponsored many courses.
Beer is also on a mission to get people to stop smoking. “I like clean people and places, and I love to hug people.
When some of our volunteers and building staffers who smoke stank so much that I couldn’t get near them, I called them into my office. Some had been addicted to tobacco for 30 years. I asked each to make out checks for NIS 5,000 each. They promised to kick the habit on the spot. I said that if in another year, any had smoked even a single cigarette, I would cash the check; if they were still clean, I would give the checks back plus another NIS 3,500. We gave them emotional support. Three years later, none of them are smoking, and one of the wives told me that it had changed her marital life completely,” Beer said with satisfaction; another way to save lives – even without an ambucycle.