Written by Daniel Latto in Latest News

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This is an ambucycle. This is the fastest way to reach any medical emergency. It has everything an ambulance has except for a bed. You see the defibrillator. You see the equipment.

We all saw the tragedy that happened in Boston. When I was looking at these pictures, it brought me back many years to my past when I was a child. I grew up in a small neighborhood in Jerusalem. When I was six years old, I was walking back from school on a Friday afternoon with my older brother. We were passing by a bus stop. We saw a bus blow up in front of our eyes. The bus was on fire, and many people were hurt and killed. I remembered an old man yelling to us and crying to help us get him up. He just needed someone helping him. We were so scared and we just ran away.

Growing up, I decided I wanted to become a doctor and save lives. Maybe that was because of what I saw when I was a child. When I was 15, I took an EMT course, and I went to volunteer on an ambulance. For two years, I volunteered on an ambulance in Jerusalem. I helped many people, but whenever someone really needed help, I never got there in time. We never got there. The traffic is so bad. The distance, and everything. We never got there when somebody really needed us.

One day, we received a call about a seven-year-old child choking from a hot dog. Traffic was horrific, and we were coming from the other side of town in the north part of Jerusalem. When we got there, 20 minutes later, we started CPR on the kid. A doctor comes in from a block away, stop us, checks the kid, and tells us to stop CPR. That second he declared this child dead.

At that moment, I understood that this child died for nothing. If this doctor, who lived one block away from there, would have come 20 minutes earlier, not have to wait until that siren he heard before coming from the ambulance, if he would have heard about it way before, he would have saved this child. He could have run from a block away. He could have saved this child.

I said to myself, there must be a better way. Together with 15 of my friends — we were all EMTs — we decided, let’s protect our neighborhood, so when something like that happens again, we will be there running to the scene a lot before the ambulance. So I went over to the manager of the ambulance company and I told him, “Please, whenever you have a call coming into our neighborhood, we have 15 great guys who are willing to stop everything they’re doing and run and save lives. Just alert us by beeper. We’ll buy these beepers, just tell your dispatch to send us the beeper, and we will run and save lives.”

Well, he was laughing. I was 17 years old. I was a kid. And he said to me — I remember this like yesterday — he was a great guy, but he said to me, “Kid, go to school, or go open a falafel stand. We’re not really interested in these kinds of new adventures. We’re not interested in your help.” And he threw me out of the room. “I don’t need your help,” he said.

I was a very stubborn kid. As you see now, I’m walking around like crazy, meshugenah.

(Laughter) (Applause)

So I decided to use the Israeli very famous technique you’ve probably all heard of, chutzpah. (Laughter) And the next day, I went and I bought two police scanners, and I said, “The hell with you, if you don’t want to give me information, I’ll get the information myself.” And we did turns, who’s going to listen to the radio scanners.

The next day, while I was listening to the scanners, I heard about a call coming in of a 70-year-old man hurt by a car only one block away from me on the main street of my neighborhood. I ran there by foot. I had no medical equipment. When I got there, the 70-year-old man was lying on the floor, blood was gushing out of his neck. He was on Coumadin. I knew I had to stop his bleeding or else he would die. I took off my yarmulke, because I had no medical equipment, and with a lot of pressure, I stopped his bleeding. He was bleeding from his neck. When the ambulance arrived 15 minutes later, I gave them over a patient who was alive.


When I went to visit him two days later, he gave me a hug and was crying and thanking me for saving his life. At that moment, when I realized this is the first person I ever saved in my life after two years volunteering in an ambulance, I knew this is my life’s mission.

So today, 22 years later, we have United Hatzalah.


“Hatzalah” means “rescue,” for all of you who don’t know Hebrew. I forgot I’m not in Israel. So we have thousands of volunteers who are passionate about saving lives, and they’re spread all around, so whenever a call comes in, they just stop everything and go and run and save a life. Our average response time today went down to less than three minutes in Israel.


I’m talking about heart attacks, I’m talking about car accidents, God forbid bomb attacks, shootings, whatever it is, even a woman 3 o’clock in the morning falling in her home and needs someone to help her. Three minutes, we’ll have a guy with his pajamas running to her house and helping her get up.

The reasons why we’re so successful are because of three things.

Thousands of passionate volunteers who will leave everything they do and run to help people they don’t even know. We’re not there to replace ambulances. We’re just there to get the gap between the ambulance call until they arrive. And we save people that otherwise would not be saved.

The second reason is because of our technology. You know, Israelis are good in technology. Every one of us has on his phone, no matter what kind of phone, a GPS technology done by NowForce, and whenever a call comes in, the closest five volunteers get the call, and they actually get there really quick, and navigated by a traffic navigator to get there and not waste time. And this is a great technology we use all over the country and reduce the response time.

And the third thing are these ambucycles. These ambucycles are an ambulance on two wheels. We don’t transfer people, but we stabilize them, and we save their lives. They never get stuck in traffic. They could even go on a sidewalk. They never, literally, get stuck in traffic. That’s why we get there so fast.

A few years after I started this organization, in a Jewish community, two Muslims from east Jerusalem called me up. They ask me to meet. They wanted to meet with me. Muhammad Asli and Murad Alyan. When Muhammad told me his personal story, how his father, 55 years old, collapsed at home, had a cardiac arrest, and it took over an hour for an ambulance arrive, and he saw his father die in front of his eyes, he asked me, “Please start this in east Jerusalem.”

I said to myself, I saw so much tragedy, so much hate, and it’s not about saving Jews. It’s not about saving Muslims. It’s not about saving Christians. It’s about saving people. So I went ahead, full force — (Applause) — and I started United Hatzalah in east Jerusalem, and that’s why the names United and Hatzalah match so well. We started hand in hand saving Jews and Arabs. Arabs were saving Jews. Jews were saving Arabs. Something special happened. Arabs and Jews, they don’t always get along together, but here in this situation, the communities, literally, it’s an unbelievable situation that happened, the diversities, all of a sudden they had a common interest: Let’s save lives together. Settlers were saving Arabs and Arabs were saving settlers. It’s an unbelievable concept that could work only when you have such a great cause. And these are all volunteers. No one is getting money. They’re all doing it for the purpose of saving lives.

When my own father collapsed a few years ago from a cardiac arrest, one of the first volunteers to arrive to save my father was one of these Muslim volunteers from east Jerusalem who was in the first course to join Hatzalah. And he saved my father. Could you imagine how I felt in that moment?

When I started this organization, I was 17 years old. I never imagined that one day I’d be speaking at TEDMED. I never even knew what TEDMED was then. I don’t think it existed, but I never imagined, I never imagined that it’s going to go all around, it’s going to spread around, and this last year we started in Panama and Brazil. All I need is a partner who is a little meshugenah like me, passionate about saving lives, and willing to do it. And I’m actually starting it in India very soon with a friend who I met in Harvard just a while back. Hatzalah actually started in Brooklyn by a Hasidic Jew years before us in Williamsburg, and now it’s all over the Jewish community in New York, even Australia and Mexico and many other Jewish communities. But it could spread everywhere. It’s very easy to adopt. You even saw these volunteers in New York saving lives in the World Trade Center. Last year alone, we treated in Israel 207,000 people. Forty-two thousand of them were life-threatening situations. And we made a difference. I guess you could call this a lifesaving flash mob, and it works.

When I look all around here, I see lots of people who would go an extra mile, run an extra mile to save other people, no matter who they are, no matter what religion, no matter who, where they come from. We all want to be heroes. We just need a good idea, motivation and lots of chutzpah, and we could save millions of people that otherwise would not be saved.

Thank you very much.


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