Meet the Israeli volunteers giving those in need a helping hand

Today, the nonprofit is run by CEO Israel Almasi and has grown to provide a wide range of non-medical services, from assistance with flat tires to small home repairs.

JUMP-STARTING a car.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Throughout the country, from Mt. Hermon to Eilat, there are 20,000 Yedidim (“Friends”) volunteers at the ready, prepared to come to the assistance of neighbors in need.
Meir Weiner founded Yedidim in 2006. Motivated by a desire to offer assistance to Israelis stuck on dangerous roads, Weiner and a small group of volunteers began assisting drivers on Highway 443 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem who were subjected to aggressive stone throwing on a near-daily basis.
Today, the nonprofit is run by CEO Israel Almasi and has grown to provide a wide range of non-medical services, from assistance with flat tires to small home repairs. Typical calls for help come from people whose car won’t start, or whose keys are locked in the car or who have run out of gas.
Yedidim volunteers also rescue people stuck in elevators, help the elderly or impoverished with small, urgent home repairs, deliver emergency supplies and extract vehicles. And they do it all 24 hours a day, six days a week. (Yedidim does not operate on Shabbat or Jewish holidays, or in territories controlled by the PA.)
Yedidim is a 100% volunteer operation. No one, from the most part-time volunteer to the CEO, gets a single shekel in compensation. In fact, volunteers must buy their own equipment. All funds raised help pay for equipment.
As Tel Aviv branch manager Jonathan Bishansky explained, Yedidim negotiates with suppliers who import equipment and sell to volunteers at a discount. But even providing a pair of 40 NIS jumper cables to 20,000 volunteers is an 800,000 NIS expense that Yedidim’s budget cannot cover. According to Bishansky, the average volunteer spends NIS 800 to 1,000 of their own money on equipment.
Yedidim is organized into four districts. Each district has a manager, as does each city in the district. Below the city manager level are team leaders and then the volunteers themselves. Yedidim’s other departments include technology, communication, financial and legal.
The organization’s national number is 053-313-1310. At any given time, five to 20 volunteer operators take calls in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Russian. People who call should be able to speak to someone in their own language. Assistance can also be requested through Yedidim’s phone apps and Facebook group.
Dispatchers take the address or, if stranded on a highway, callers can send their location through their phone. The call is then forwarded on to local teams of volunteers who are connected through WhatsApp groups or a dedicated app. Any volunteer close to the location can head out to offer assistance.
YEDIDIM DISPATCHERS field an average of 18,000 calls a week. Callers requesting medical or financial help, which Yedidim does not offer, are referred to organizations, like local welfare departments and United Hatzalah, that are better able to provide the help they need.
Across Israel, volunteers are able to respond to approximately 6,000 calls a week from people in distress. To get some sense of the impact the volunteers have, note that, in 2019 alone, Yedidim volunteers rescued 1,500 children from inside locked cars.
Volunteers come from every sector in Israeli society – kids, teens, women, men, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze. According to Bishansky, “If they live in Israel, they can volunteer. My kids come and assist me. We have couples who met during volunteering and couples who go out on calls together. People with handicaps volunteer, women manage teams, and I even have a 65-year-old volunteer in Tel Aviv who does everything.”
Yedidim will find a role for anyone who wants to help. A hearing-impaired volunteer can partner with an operator who will coordinate communication at the rescue site. A volunteer in a wheelchair can bring the necessary tools and direct the recipient on how to use them, or they can take calls.
No one who wants to help is turned away, and nobody is counting how many hours are given. Some volunteers take 10 calls a day. Some take one a month. “Every gives what they can,” noted Bishansky.
There are 500 Yedidim volunteers in Tel Aviv alone. Every volunteer must complete three hours of basic training, which includes technical instruction on changing tires, opening a locked door in an emergency, jump-starting a car and so on. During training, Yedidim places great emphasis on safety, both for the volunteer and for those in need of assistance.
Optional advanced training on rescuing people stuck in elevators and jeep rescue is also available. A select group of Yedidim volunteers recently trained with the army and Pikud HaOref (Home Front Command) to be able to offer assistance in case of a building collapse or other national emergencies.
MOST CALLS are fairly routine – helping someone get home, get to work or get to the airport in time to pick up their parents. But some calls are especially memorable.
Bishansky recounted a call Yedidim received from a burly truck driver who needed assistance removing a bug from his truck’s cabin. The woman volunteer who answered that call rendered the requested assistance, understanding that perhaps the truck driver had a phobia or an allergy to that type of insect.
Then there was the call from a young mother who was stuck for hours on a road that had been shut down due to a bridge collapse. She asked if someone could deliver 180cc of warm water to her car so she could make a bottle of formula for her infant. A volunteer on a motorcycle was able to get to her with the water, enabling her to feed her child.
Another incident involved a man who was stuck on a different highway. He desperately needed medication for his heart condition. A Yedidim volunteer on a motorcycle met him on the highway, took his house keys, went to his home to retrieve his pills and brought them back to the man who was still stuck in traffic on a closed road.
In another heartwarming incident, after making a shiva visit approximately 45 minutes from home, Ashira and Tzvi Edelman of Efrat were unable to get their remote to disarm their car’s alarm. They tried a few things, including replacing the battery, which did not work. Eventually, they called Yedidim.
Ashira referred to the Yedidim volunteer who came as, “such a tzaddik. He spent at least three hours trying to figure out how to disarm the alarm. He got a bunch of people involved. In the thick of it, there were five or six guys on the phone with people they knew, trying to figure out how they can bypass this alarm and start our car so we could go home.
“They were the most sweet, pleasant, nice guys, just interested in helping us. The beauty of the story is that they were so dedicated and they tried so hard to figure out what the problem was. They were just incredible, and they didn’t give up.”
Bishansky related one more story. Recently, a Muslim volunteer came to assist a religious family from Bnei Brak. He told the family, “I drove all the way to you because I know Shabbat is in one hour.”
With Yedidim, “Everybody is helping one another. Politics, dress, none of that matters. This is Israel. We will help each other. This separates us from the rest of the world. Yedidim is Israelis helping Israelis.
“The thank you at the end is worth everything,” Bishansky concluded.