A special ceremony kicking off the 18th year of operations of United Hatzalah, Israel’s leading all-volunteer emergency medical service organization, was held today at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. The ceremony is the first in a year-long series of events that will take place in Israel and around the world to celebrate the milestone.

The ceremony was hosted by Israeli President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog. In attendance were hundreds of supporters and friends of the organization from around the world, together with the organization’s branch heads, some of its volunteers, and employees. 

It started with an exhibit of the organization’s vehicles, after which guests moved to the garden, where the main ceremony was held.

Many of the attendees were brought to tears when United Hatzalah CEO Eli Pollak, called to the stage a three-year-old boy who suffered a cardiac arrest about a month ago in a park in Ashdod and was resuscitated by United Hatzalah volunteers. After dispatchers from the organization had begun instructing passersby how to perform CPR, volunteers arrived in less than three minutes, took over the CPR efforts, and saved the boy’s life. The child and his parents were reunited with the volunteers themselves and thanked them for helping to save the boy’s life.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said at the ceremony: “In these eighteen years, you have built United Hatzalah as a dynamic, young, and innovative organization, an organization that lives among the people and is constantly improving, growing, developing, and inspiring similar rescue organizations around the world. In these eighteen years, you have become not only a life-saving organization but a life-building organization.”

President Herzog continued: “When we hear the phrase “start-up nation”, the first image that comes to our mind is of spacious offices, of screens loaded with lines of code, and of business meetings that close huge deals. But when I hear this phrase, I also think of thousands of orange-clad volunteers, who, thanks to advanced technology and a smart and bold vision, abandon their work whenever an emergency alert comes in, and race towards an ambitious and important goal like no other: providing first aid in just 90 seconds, in moments when life and death are decided by the hands on a clock.”

Like other innovative ideas that have changed our lives, the idea behind United Hatzalah was born out of an absence, out of a search for a practical way to prevent suffering and loss, and out of a refusal to accept reality as a matter of course. It was born out of the realization that many lives could be saved – if only we improved our starting point in the crucial race against the clock.”

President Herzog concluded by saying, “I would like to thank all of you, to you – Eli Beer – the living spirit, the founder and president of the organization, we are so happy for the work that you do, and we salute you. To CEO Eli Pollak, to all the men and women who work tirelessly in the field, and to all those who support your important work. Your vision is in actuality a combination of deep faith, Israeli partnership, and a longing for life, at its most existential level.”

President and Founder of United Hatzalah Eli Beer thanked the President and the First Lady for their warm hospitality and said: “When I was a child, I had a dream that at any place and time, there would be medical personnel equipped with the most advanced medical tools capable of saving lives. If you had shown me back then how this dream would come true in 2023, I would have laughed. But thanks to you dear volunteers, angels in orange, the dream came true. Today in Israel there are 7,000 volunteers who drop whatever they are doing when an emergency occurs and save lives. They use helicopters, boats, jeeps, ATVs, ambucycles, and ambulances with the most advanced medical equipment.” 

CEO of United Hatzalah Eli Pollak said: “I want to thank the senior management of the organization, the heads and deputy heads of all 100 branches of United Hatzalah throughout the country, who instill in the 7,000 volunteers this dedication to lifesaving. Thanks to you and thanks to exemplary management and hard work, the lives of about 7,000,000 people have been saved since the establishment of the organization, and all completely voluntarily. Dear volunteers, the citizens of Israel know that they have someone to rely on and that in a time of need God forbid, you will reach them in a matter of seconds and provide the response they need.”

During the event, the organization recognized and thanked 10 of its steadfast supporters who were selected by a committee from United Hatzalah’s board members together with Chairman Mark Gerson. These individuals or couples, were recognized for the difference they have made in partnering with the organization over the past 18 years in the most impactful way. The recipients will be given special awards by ten volunteers who were also specially chosen to present the awards, and who themselves have shown an exceptional level of dedication over the years. The recipients of the awards were: Matan Adelson (Israel), Martin and Lauren Geller (NY), Basheva and Murray Goldberg (Florida), Harel Insurance LTD (Israel), The Kaylie – Yacoby Family (Israel-New York), Amy Korenvaes (Texas), Yaron Lemelbaum (Israel), Menachem and Rut Oren (Israel), Bob Ramsey (Arizona), Gil Sheratzki and the Ituran Company (Israel)

About United Hatzalah:

United Hatzalah was established 18 years ago as a volunteer-based organization, which made it its mission to provide initial emergency medical response to every person regardless of who they are, 24/7, 365 days a year. Today, the organization has 7000 volunteers who are spread out throughout the country and save lives day in and day out.

The volunteers are found in every city, neighborhood, and street, and come from all strata of the population in Israel: Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bedouins, ultra-Orthodox, secular, religious, men, and women.

United Hatzalah volunteers respond to approximately 2,200 emergency calls daily and have treated over 750,000 people in the past year.

Since the establishment of the organization, the organization’s volunteers have provided initial lifesaving medical assistance to approximately 7 million people in the State of Israel.

(Photo credit: Kobi Gideon GPO, Yechiel Gurfein and Dovid Leff/United Hatzalah)