Toronto Mayor John Tory visited Israeli volunteer emergency medical services (EMS) organization United Hatzalah on Wednesday evening and was impressed by what he saw. “It’s remarkable what you do here,” Tory said after receiving a brief tour and explanation of the national headquarters during his seven-day visit to Israel. “I knew a bit about your program and about the Hatzolah teams in Toronto, but I didn’t know how extensive it is and how much good you do here in Israel. It’s simply remarkable.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory sits astride an ambucycle, the signature vehicle of the organization during his visit to United Hatzalah headquarters.
Toronto Mayor John Tory sits astride an ambucycle, the signature vehicle of the organization during his visit to United Hatzalah headquarters.

Tory spent just under an hour visiting the organization that is responsible for coordinating and dispatching over 3,000 EMS volunteers across Israel. The organization, which started out as an ultra-Orthodox volunteer organization has, over the past few years, broken down the cultural and ethnic divides in Israel, incorporating secular Jewish volunteers as well as Muslim, Druze Bedouin, and Christian volunteers. Recently, the organization graduated the first Deaf EMT in the country. “That is what we mean when we say United Hatzalah or United Rescue,” said Dov Maisel, the Director of International Operations at the organization. “We unite all of the people of Israel, no matter their background or walk of life, and they take time out of their busy lives to volunteer and save the lives of others every day.”

United Hatzalah has succeeded in lowering the average EMS response time in Israel to under three minutes across the country and under 90 seconds in populated cities such as Jerusalem and parts of the Tel Aviv metropolis. The formula used is a combination of advanced location technology that dispatches the closest available responders to an emergency and the community-based responders who are fully trained and equipped with advanced medical equipment, able to respond to calls in their communities at any time. “The innovation that we created here is harnessing the power of the community,” said Maisel. “No ambulance service, no matter how good they are, can put an ambulance on every street corner. It’s just not feasible. But harnessing the community, which is already present, training them to respond and giving them the equipment and knowledge, that we can do.”

Present at the visit was former Torontonian Dr. Joyce Morel, who saved lives under fire during the 2014 terror attack at a synagogue in Har Nof. Dr. Morel is a specialist in family and emergency medicine and was involved in Hatzolah of Canada before she immigrated to Israel four years ago. She told the mayor how she got involved in the organization in Israel and how much of a joy it is to volunteer with them. “The organization is very welcoming. Being part of the organization has made the move to Israel and being part of the community here so much easier.”   

Following the visit, Tory went on record to say, “People are always told to be careful when going into dangerous situations. But there is a certain amount of  community involvement that is necessary in any emergency situation. This organization proves that if you do it right, then in can work and you can save lives. If  you have the proper training, equipment, volunteers, and sufficient donor support, you can make it work. Here, you (United Hatzalah) proved that and it is saving lives. At the end of the day, that is what we are all trying to do. I am going to go back to Toronto and take a look at how the Hatzolah works there in the northern sections of our city.”

Tory got a moment to sit on one of the organization’s signature ambucycles and said “This is the highlight of my trip so far.”