United Hatzalah president and founder Eli Beer's aim is to double the number of volunteers and ambucycles.

United Hatzalah (photo credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)
United Hatzalah
(photo credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)
There’s an Israeli app that might change your life, if not save it. Heaven forbid: you’re knocked over, or knifed, or your heart suddenly goes on strike.
Someone puts through a phone call to 1221 and the app locates the closest five Hatzalah emergency medical technicians (EMTs) through their GPS coordinates. Once alerted, these trained volunteers jump onto their specially equipped ambucycles and whiz to the scene, arriving within three minutes of the event. They administer oxygen, defibrillate, monitor blood sugar and stanch bleeding until the MDA ambulance arrives through the traffic and takes over.
Eli Beer, president and founder of United Hatzalah (and a volunteer EMT himself), is proud of the 3,000 men and women – haredi, religious, secular, Jewish, Arab and Christian alike – who are on call 24/7 and respond to about 800 events each day, free of charge.
Obviously, the quicker the response to trauma, the higher the chances of successfully treating it. Thus, teachers zoom out of classrooms the second they are beeped, lawyers leave clients mid-sentence and businessmen desert board meetings to don Hatzalah’s distinctive orange vest.
“Our volunteers never go off duty,” notes Beer, “and deal with an average of one emergency a day. Even when they’re on the beach in Eilat they remain on call.”
And yet there is a long list of would-be medics lining up to take the intensive twice-weekly six-month course.
It’s preferable for volunteers to own cars. A goal is to fit out 5,000 private cars with lifesaving equipment to add to the fleet of healers-on-wheels.
Beer’s aim is to double the number of volunteers and ambucycles. Six thousand medics on 1,000 motor bikes would reach victims of accidents and terrorism within 90 seconds, saving even more lives. Each ambucycle costs $36,000 and is on the road for at least three years, responds to around 1,500 calls and saves around 360 lives.
Hatzalah started 30 years ago; Beer, then a teenager, was already heavily involved.
In 2006 he united the various teams spread around the country. Today two of his five children and his wife are also EMTs. But it’s not only a family affair; Hatzalah reaches every segment of society and provides those only-in-Israel scenarios that keep stand-up comedians in business. You can imagine for yourselves some awkward situations when someone suddenly has to leave – now! – no matter what. And, of course, this is the Middle East, which always adds that extra frisson.
Take the case of Murad Alian, who raced to save a baby being strangled by his umbilical cord. The grateful father, a newly religious Sephardi, fell on the EMT’s neck and was determined to name his baby after him. “Tell me your name,” he kept insisting. “I need it for the brit [circumcision].”
“Just buy my wife flowers,” suggested Murad.
“No, no, no,” repeated the new dad. “I want my boy to carry your name.”
“Buy my wife flowers,” said Alian.
Eventually the stalemate had to end.
“I’m an Arab,” explained Alian. “I’m not sure you’ll want your baby boy to have my name.”
“What’s your address?” replied the father, still hugging the savior of his son. “I’ll send your wife flowers.”
Uncomplicated Israel isn’t. But full of amazing people it certainly is.
One of them is Ruth Oren, president of Lion of Judah-Israel (LOJI), who has been volunteering in the medical field since her teenage candy-striper days as a nurse’s aide in a New York hospital.
“I wanted to be a doctor,” she explains, “but my parents said it wasn’t a profession for a woman. So at age 31 I went to medical school in Israel to become an occupational therapist.”
LOJI’s brief is the empowerment of women, and on a recent visit to Hatzalah’s headquarters Oren saw an opportunity to merge her passions for medicine and helping women to achieve their dreams. Her suggestion was unanimously accepted by the LOJI board. Working in close cooperation with Beer, LOJI funded a course to teach 30 women from low socioeconomic backgrounds to become EMTs.
“Low socioeconomic” doesn’t adequately describe the penniless new immigrant from France, married at 19, whose first child was born autistic and second suffers from a rare genetic disease. Or the very religious woman whose five children are all sick with various conditions and whose husband has taken to his bed with depression.
“This course has saved her,” says Noa Zohar, director of training at Hatzalah.
“She says for the first time in years she has friends again, and she even baked a yeast cake for Shabbat – something she hasn’t felt up to for the longest time.”
According to Zohar, meeting friends is an important element of the course.
“Many of these women come from a dark place,” she explains.
Not only are they very poor, they also have other terrible challenges. One haredi woman has a handicapped child and two sick grandchildren; this course gives her something for herself, something for which she can legitimately leave the house and meet others to laugh and learn. And, of course, eventually make money: Graduates of the yearlong course will have a source of income as instructors in CPR for bus drivers and kindergarten teachers, for example, or could work in schools or clinics. For women who have never worked, and for whom every shekel counts, this is lifesaving in itself.
For more details about Hatzalah: or
The writer lectures at Beit Berl College and IDC Herzliya.