Nancy Strichman
Spotlight on Civil Society

United Hatzalah unites with Pittsburgh

(Courtesy of United Hatzalah)
(Courtesy of United Hatzalah)

Average response time within Israel to emergencies? 3 minutes.

Average response time outside of Israel to emergencies, including Pittsburgh’s tragedy? 30 hours.

Quietly, with little fanfare, a few visitors arrived in Pittsburgh the day after the synagogue shooting at Tree of Life. They were members of an Israeli delegation from United Hatzalah (“rescue” in Hebrew) who came to help provide psychological and emotional support to Pittsburgh schools, families and individuals.  This group came as representatives of a 5,000 member volunteer force, known as the  “life-saving flash mob,” which has been developed and trained over the years  to provide immediate emergency medical assistance anywhere in Israel, and increasingly, outside the country as well.

United Hatzalah is often referred to as the “Uber” of emergency medicine because it sends out an alert to those members of its national network who are the closest in geographic proximity to the dire situation. Members of this “flash mob” flew 6,000 miles to Pittsburgh to help and show their support for a city which had suffered a terrible blow.

I visited their headquarters in Jerusalem last week, a meeting scheduled a while ago as part of my research on Israeli nonprofits that bring Arabs and Jews together on shared goals. It happened to be right after the group had come back from Pittsburgh, my hometown, and so the visit was especially poignant. With its commitment to healing, to shared humanity and to community resilience, United Hatzalah reflected so much of what Pittsburgh has epitomized for many of us.

(Courtesy of United Hatzalah)

Like the strong relationships in Pittsburgh between Christians, Muslims and Jews, United Hatzalah has its own diverse base with secular and religious Jews, Arab, Druze, Bedouin, and Christian medics who serve all individuals regardless of religion or nationality. As Eli Beer, the founder, always emphasizes, “What connects all of us is that we are about saving lives.” This was showcased recently to the world, when Nas Daily created a Facebook video on their work that has been seen by 25 million viewers and still counting. Indeed, this mantra  of helping people and saving lives underscores the work of health care practitioners in Israel whatever their background, a reality that was noted in research published by Israel Religious Action Center last year.

How He Built…The Fastest Ambulance!

This is one of the most impressive things I've seen in a while. It's worth your time and your friends' time. The people at United Hatzalah of Israel are doing incredible work. All for free. All to save lives. Here is how they did it. Thank you Eli Beer and the team of volunteers for reaching out to Nas Daily and letting me film your operations. All around impressive.INSTAGRAM: @NasDailyGROUP: Nas Daily Global

Posted by Nas Daily on Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Eli Beer’s personal experience with emergency care led him to found United Hatzalah over 20 years ago. As he explained in his widely viewed Ted Talk,  one key initiative is to use GPS tracking technology to deploy a team of EMTs, paramedics, and/or doctors to quickly arrive to the scene of a medical emergency.  A second exciting innovation is the ‘ambucycle’, a motorcycle equipped with emergency medical equipment that can weave through traffic, park anywhere, and thereby shorten the response time of a volunteer. This community-based emergency care response with its innovative solutions is now being adapted all over the world.

Once regarded as an emergency service geared to the Haredi Orthodox community, United Hatzalah is now the largest all volunteer emergency medical services organization in Israel with trained medics in communities all over, including in Arab cities and towns. The reach of the United Hatzalah model continues to expand from the time in 2007 when Murad Alyan, a Jerusalemite Arab reached out to Beer, a Jerusalemite Jew, to open a branch in Arab East Jerusalem. There is an ongoing effort to broaden their diverse network, with specialized training underway to increase the number of volunteers in certain target populations, such as with Bedouin women and religious Jewish women.

And the volunteers who travel to emergencies abroad? After becoming involved in disaster relief in 2010 in countries such as Haiti and Nepal, United Hatzalah began a Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit in 2016 to aid in the healing and support process post-trauma. Last year, for example, these teams were very active on the ground after two major large hurricanes (Irma and Harvey) struck the United States.

So following the tragedy in Squirrel Hill, four volunteer mental health practitioners arrived in Pittsburgh, as part of a cooperative effort with the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Dream Doctors, and the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh.  This psychological first- aid team sought to offer assistance, while also expressing solidarity with the Pittsburgh community.  The CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Jeff Finkelstein, spoke about the efforts of the team and how appreciative the community was for the Israelis’ expertise, and especially for their heartfelt outreach to a grieving city: “They are unfortunately very experienced with terrorist activity and hate crimes… They were able to provide emergency support, on the ground, right away.”

United Hatzalah and Dream Doctors in Pittsburgh ( Courtesy of United Hatzalah)

The assistance that United Hatzalah provided in Pittsburgh was just another example of the fulfillment of its mission to strengthen communal ties, bridge divisions in and between communities, and build on the resilience and volunteer spirit within all of us. Whether the need is across borders or within borders, we can remember to applaud those organizations that remain focused on what unites us all, that bring hope and healing in a time of so much political divisiveness. And these days, that’s a message and an effort more important than ever.

About the Author
Dr. Nancy Strichman teaches graduate courses in evaluation and strategic thinking at the Hebrew University’s Glocal program, a masters degree in International Development. Her research has focused on civil society, specifically on shared society NGOs and gender equality in Israel. She lives in Tivon, Israel with her four children and her very patient husband.