‘I Can’t Prevent Death Completely But I Can Really Help People’: Founder of United Hatzalah from Israel Discusses Future of Lifesaving EMS Volunteer Group

United Hatzalah of Israel Founder and President Eli Beer with one of the ambucycle organizations. Photo: United Hatzalah.

Eli Beer, founder and president of United Hatzalah for Israel, had high hopes for the national emergency rescue organization he started as a local community project in Jerusalem as a teenager.

“I want to make sure Israel has the quickest and most professional rescuers. I want to make sure every street in Israel has a [United Hatzalah] volunteers and defibrillators,” he said The Algemeiner. “Whenever someone needs help, someone will come right away. That is my goal, securing the country this way. I try to [make Israel] a place where no one will die unnecessarily. I can’t prevent death completely but I can really help a lot of people.”

Beer, 49, was five years old when he witnessed a bus explode during a terrorist attack in his Jerusalem neighborhood while on his way home from school. He decided in that moment that he wanted to do something to help save lives.

“There was chaos in our neighborhood,” he recalls. “Everyone heard the bombing. The people heard the screams. We smelled flesh, and it affected me a lot, seeing people on the floor… It was traumatic for me and instead of seeking revenge it led to something beautiful: saving people’s lives.”

When he was 16 years old, while volunteering with an ambulance in Jerusalem, Beer started a neighborhood-based medical volunteer service that would arrive on the scene and initiate first aid until an ambulance arrived. The goal was for these volunteers to arrive within 90 seconds, just around their Jerusalem neighborhood, because if someone suffers from a lack of oxygen for longer than that, brain damage can result.

The local community project Beer started as a teenager and has 15 volunteers and now United Hatzalah Israel has more than 6,500 volunteers from all backgrounds. Volunteers come from various religions, cultures and professionals; some are lawyers, accountants, dump truck drivers, and handymen. They arrive at the sites of terrorist attacks across Israel before ambulances and last month a United Hatzalah volunteer gave birth to a baby boy blocks away from a Palestinian terror attack in which two young Israeli siblings were killed.

With the help of unique peer-to-peer GPS technology and innovative ambucycles — which are motorbikes used by United Hatzalah volunteers throughout Israel to ensure that they arrive on site in minutes — the organization’s average response time is less than 3 minutes throughout Israel and 90 seconds in metropolitan areas, according to its website.

Beer said that last year alone, United Hatzalah of Israel cared for nearly 800,000 people and since its founding in 1989 has cared for more than 6 million. Her volunteers save more than 150 people in Israel every day. Beer also travels to help communities around the world build their own emergency response systems based on the United Hatzalah model and is currently working to do so with the state of Iowa.

That evolution is chronicled in Beer’s biography, 90 Seconds: The Epic Story of Eli Beer and United Hatzalah.

“We see United Hatzalah as a shining example for the world to emulate,” he said. “As tikkun olam.”

International response

Although based in Israel, United Hatzalah also helps in global emergencies. A team of volunteers living for over a year in Ukraine helping those affected by that country’s war with Russia and they were recently in Turkey to help after last month’s deadly earthquake.

Beer said that while locals in Turkey greatly appreciate the help, United Hatzalah volunteers also face security threats from residents who are frustrated that their family members are still missing.

“Five or six days later [the earthquake] they lose hope and they see the Turkish government giving up and they get very upset,” Beer explained. “We had a situation where our guns were drawn – not because they wanted to hurt us, but they threatened us that if we didn’t help them, they would do something.”

Beer says despite the threats and hardships that accompany the job, it’s the life-saving work United Hatza does is what drives him to keep going and grow the organization further.

The father of five had a near-death experience of his own in March 2020 when he was diagnosed with the coronavirus and induced into a coma and then intubated – twice. He was hospitalized for a month and was told The Algemeiner that his fight against COVID-19 is giving him the push he needs to keep going with United Hatzalah.

“I almost died and said goodbye to everyone,” he said. “I was billed after what I went through and I said I would continue for another 50 years.”

He later added: “After I’m 100, I’ll retire and just sit on the beach.”

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