JERUSALEM – Not in his wildest imagination could United Hatzalah of Israel (UHI) founder and chief coordinator Eli Beer have pictured himself giving a speech to global business leaders at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – while simultaneously starring in a documentary about the unprecedented cooperation between Jewish and Arab UHI volunteers broadcast last week across the Arab world on the al-Jazeera satellite TV network.
But that is exactly what happened last week to the 38-year-old emergency medical response innovator who is on the verge of creating a global revolution in the way nations deal with medical crises via cutting-edge volunteerism that transcends race, religion and politics.
“There were some great and euphoric moments for me last week,” Beer told The Jewish Press. “So many people approached me and said that ‘what you guys have accomplished in Israel with United Hatzalah, no one has done anywhere.’ The fact that we are an identifiably Jewish organization and receiving that type of personal reactions made the whole experience a real Kiddush Hashem. There were so many fascinating moments and responses in Davos I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Some of the most positive feedback came from prominent Arab business people, whose countries do not have formal relations with Israel. Many of the Arab business elites at Davos took the opportunity not only to hear Beer’s presentation but also to make personal contact with him afterward.
“One Arab businessman from Kuwait who saw the documentary on al-Jazeera came up to me and said what we are doing is ‘tikkun olam’ – and he said it using the Hebrew words,” said Beer.
“When I asked him how he knew what ‘tikkun olam’ was, he replied, ‘I went to Harvard.’
“Then one of the wealthiest women in Saudi Arabia approached me and said, ‘You know that nobody knows about these things. I think the time has come to show the Arab nations the good things that the Jews are doing. This is a great tool to break the negative images the Arab leaders try to project.’
“I explained to her that what we do has its roots in the Torah and the issue of ‘pikuach nefesh’ and has no political connotations.
“And it turns out that Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for creating a bank that provides microcredit to help poor people establish financial efficiency, knows everything about United Hatzalah and proudly displayed our organizational pin on his jacket.”
During the course of his presentation, Beer briefed world business leaders on how he took the concept of distributed computing and applied it to saving lives in Israel. The innovative downloadable mapping app (a small program installed on a modern mobile phone) developed by Beer to assist volunteers in the field is known as the Moskowitz Life Compass.
The technology, which uses proprietary GPS identification, communication and deployment technologies to minimize response times, allows volunteers to establish a life-saving bridge of medical care to more than 190,000 people each year, within two to three minutes of a distress call, at no cost to those in need. UHI’s 1,700 volunteers treat an average of 500 people each day and individually respond to an average of 360 calls per year in Israel.
Conventional ambulances, Beer explained to The Jewish Press, have plenty of fancy equipment but they start from a central location and often struggle to squeeze through traffic jams. So they often arrive after the most gravely injured have already died.
Under the UHI system, anyone who sees an emergency can call a central number (1221 in Israel). The Moskowitz Life Compass app instantly alerts the nearest volunteer, who may be only a block away, standing behind a deli counter, or dozing in a meeting. He stops whatever he is doing, races to the scene and tries to stop the victim’s bleeding or start his heart (most volunteers are equipped with defibrillators). Most have motorbikes to zip through the traffic. When the ambulance arrives, the volunteer goes back to his day job.
“When I was a young boy growing up in Jerusalem,” said Beer, “I witnessed a horrific bus bombing on my way home from school and watched people dying as they waited too long for medical services to arrive. The horrific images were emblazed in my memory and ultimately lead me to the idea of United Hatzalah – a group able to save lives, Jew and Arab alike, no matter the place or circumstance.” Beer formally established UHI as an independent non-profit organization in 2006.
“The common thread of life itself can create a bond that runs deeper than any religious, political or racial association,” he said. “When a Jewish volunteer responds to an emergency in an Arab community, or vice-versa, and helps save a parent, child or loved one, that volunteer begins to gain the trust of the community. When people recognize we all share the same basic elements of life, they are willing to come together for a common good.”
Beer said people “are anxious to hear about diversity, whether it was in Davos or via the al-Jazeera documentary. While it’s fascinating that Jews and Arabs are working side by side, it was just as fascinating that Jews from all walks of life were cooperating with each other as well – secular, haredim, etc. That’s a dynamic that few people outside of Israel understand.
“Even more importantly, I spoke about – and people saw it on TV – how settlers from Judea and Samaria who are UHI volunteers run into Arab villages in order to save lives. I mentioned that these are the kinds of stories CNN doesn’t want to show its viewers. We are not in the business of changing people’s personal political views; our volunteers are working to save Jewish and Arab lives, no matter where they are.”
Beer said he was captivated by the festive Shabbat dinner at Davos that featured the likes of current Bank of Israel Chairman Stanley Fischer; former Bank of Israel Chairman Jacob Frankel; Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Said Beer, “There was great kosher food, singing, as well as a relaxed atmosphere where people were able to speak with each other freely. I mean, there I was walking down the street when I saw the former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, and we said ‘Good Shabbos’ to each other. That doesn’t happen every day.”