The Gift of Unity between Arabs and Jews

I grew up in a home where I was exposed to every religion, ethnic origin, race, color and language. No, I didn’t grow up in the UN lobby, I grew up in a house where my sister needed 24/7 medical care. The nurses that entered my house were from everywhere — India, Jamaica, Haiti, Croatia — you name it. We had Muslims, Christians, Jews and even a woman who practiced “Salem Witchcraft” as her chosen religion. We accepted who these nurses were no matter what their background was because there was only one concern: the health of my sister. Nothing stood between us. We, the Orthodox Jewish family with the medically fragile daughter, and the nurses, with a dramatic spectrum of beliefs, the caretakers of the medically fragile girl.

I used to joke that I was the only Orthodox girl who grew up with a pile of Christmas presents stacked in the corner in December, as my mother made sure every nurse, that celebrated Christmas, received a green and red packaged gift from our family. My mother raised me as accepting, open, and totally not judgmental or G-d forbid fearful of people that were different than me. Different color skin didn’t faze me, and I loved these nurses and had close relationships with many of them over the years. Etta, Anna, Kay, Sandra, Anima – these women shaped me into who I am.

Fast forward.

With a BA in Psychology and an M.Ed. in special-ed, I somehow find myself working for an organization called United Hatzalah of Israel and not (actively) using either degree I worked so hard for. Hatzalah, or Hatzolah as it is sometimes spelled, has been around for decades and many Jewish communities around the world have their own local Hatzalah’s (ambulance agencies) for their Jewish Orthodox community. I can’t even count the amount of times Hatzalah was in my own home when we had medical emergencies and my sister was rushed off to the hospital.

But what is UNITED Hatzalah? The word United originated from how the organization came about. In 2006, while the Second Lebanon War was unfolding, there were many Hatzalahs spread across Israel. Each, independently, came to the ‘front line’ to help with medical assistance. Along came Eli Beer, a man who had already helped start the main Jerusalem Hatzalah team with a goal to arrive at a call immediately in the form of “community first responders” (saving people the frustration and risk associated with waiting for an ambulance stuck in traffic to arrive). He called upon all the many disparate Hatzalah organizations in Israel to unite as one cohesive United Hatzalah. He offered a seat at the table for any unit (large or small) that wanted to unite to save lives quickly and efficiently. Surprisingly, nearly all Hatzalah organizations in Israel agreed to become United Hatzalah of Israel. This was way before there were 750 ambucycles across Israel, an international dispatch center and the 5000 volunteers the organization has today.

Where “Hatzalah” had once been a service enjoyed solely by the Chareidi communities, United Hatzalah started added another far-reaching dimension. The organization began accepting Arabs, Christians, Druze and Jews from all walks of life. Men and women, Jews and Non-Jews, Religious and Secular along with everyone in between united to form an organization with one goal: saving lives. The goal of the organization is to arrive at the scene of an emergency in 90 seconds or less. Today medics are showing up at calls in 3 minutes or less and in metropolitan areas, such as Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, the response times already are reaching 90 seconds or less. This is because of the Uber-style system (which United Hatzalah created even before Uber existed) alerts closest responders to emergencies occurring in the communities where they are already situated. More important than any other detail you can learn about this hugely impactful organization is this: United Hatzalah is about uniting people to save people. Period.

What has happened over the last few years in the organization has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, unbeknownst to them in the original coining of the name, and United Hatzalah now is one of the main establishments in Israel that defines unity at its roots. Want to see Jews and Arabs working together side by side? Praying together? Making each other birthday parties? Going out together to save lives and to just hang out as friends? Come look at UNITED Hatzalah.

It is a privilege and honor to be working for an organization that puts such a strong emphasis on co-existence and unity. I have friends on Facebook whose posts I do not understand because they post in Arabic. I have spoken to several dozens of Arab medics and I have gone to their homes, interviewed them, filmed them and have had beautiful and touching moments with them talking about the lives they have saved or just life in general.

It is no coincidence that I am working for an organization such as this. I am not accusing others of being racist, but there is a very large amount of people out there, in Israel and outside of Israel, that fear Arabs. I am not making a political statement, but I live in the “west bank”, “over the green line”, “in occupied territory” –and all of these terms make me roll my eyes because I live on the land that my fathers and mothers walked on and this is my home. I do not fear driving through places that people warn me not to drive because fear will not stop me from driving on land that is ours. I am not fearful of standing at “Tzomet Hasgush” each morning and I certainly do not live in fear of Arabs.

Because of the way I was brought up, I have an open heart and open eyes to humanity, to people, to individuals. I hope people do not judge Judaism by Jews who make bad decisions and I certainly do not judge Arabs by terrorists. I have learned to care for and cherish friendships with people named Achmad, Saana, Madj, Muhamed and the like. I hope for a day where the stigmas, fears, and judgments will melt away and people can look at one another as humans.

Watch this security video footage, caught on camera by coincidence, of a Jew and Muslim praying on their break side by side at the dispatch center at headquarters. This, maybe from all the videos we produce, might be the video I am most proud of.

About the Author
Sarah Bechor is a freelance writer in addition to her full-time job at United Hatzalah. She made Aliyah in 2007 and now lives with her husband and children in Gush Etzion.