Dear Rabbi Rick Jacobs,
We read with interest your open letter opposing the nomination of David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel — a letter signed by the leaders of other Reform organizations.
We have known David Friedman for more than a decade. My wife Erica is a rabbi. I am the chairman of United Hatzalah, the crowd-sourced network of volunteer first responders in Israel that enables victims of trauma (such as from choking, bleeding, heart attacks, and strokes) to be treated before an ambulance arrives, in the moments that often separate life from death. United Hatzalah volunteers are now responding to more than 800 emergency calls a day, saving (by a conservative estimate) 40,000 lives a year in Israel.
One of the seminal moments in United Hatzalah’s history occurred in a small group that gathered in David’s office in Manhattan, where we often met. Eli Beer, the extraordinary visionary behind United Hatzalah, told a story.
Eli said that he had been with an Arab citizen of Jerusalem (named Murad) and this person was stunned (in the most positive sense) by how Eli rushed out of a meeting to respond to a victim in need. Upon returning, Eli explained that was what he, a United Hatzalah volunteer, did many times a day — leaving whatever he was doing to rush to treat someone whose life or death might be determined by how quickly he could arrive.
Murad told Eli that Arab citizens of Jerusalem had to wait a long time for ambulances as political and geographic considerations often delayed treatment. Eli knew this was the case, as these same considerations made it difficult for Jewish volunteers to go to Arab neighborhoods with the speed and security they needed.
Murad had an idea for Eli: Could you train and equip Arab citizens to provide emergency treatment in the same way that you do for Jewish citizens? Eli said “of course” — the idea profoundly resonating with him as he and his colleagues had often treated and saved Arab trauma victims, and expanding the United Hatzalah system to treat the Muslim and Christian citizens of Jerusalem would fulfill his dream as a Jew and as a medical professional.
It would require finding Arab volunteers, which Murad assured him would be no problem. It would also require money, a lot of it, to buy equipment (including medically equipped motorcycles, defibrillators, and more), to support training, dispatch services, and much else. Would the American-Jewish donor base write checks to support a program that would exclusively benefit the Arab population?
Eli shared the proposition with David, us, and several others. The “yes” was immediately and universally agreed upon and our discussion moved quickly to why and how. David was the most senior member of the group, and I think the only Orthodox Jew there. He led the group in agreeing that this was a magnificent opportunity for us to fulfill our Jewish obligations to save lives, to love the stranger, and to improve life in Israel for all its inhabitants and visitors. We agreed to a significant expenditure for the exclusive benefit of the Arab citizens of Jerusalem — with many of us (including David) making additional pledges to fund this work.
Fast forward to the present. We now have several hundred Arab volunteers in Jerusalem and throughout the country. In the field and in the dispatch center, Arab and Jewish volunteers work closely with each other to save lives.
We were at the Knesset with David over the summer in celebration of United Hatzalah’s 10th anniversary. MKs from the across the political spectrum came to the ceremony to express their appreciation for the life-saving work of United Hatzalah and the social solidarity that the organization created by uniting Jewish, Muslim, Druze, and Christian citizens of Israel around saving lives.
One of the speakers was Muawia Kabha, an Arab United Hatzalah volunteer from central Israel. A young mother was driving on the highway near Muawia’s village when a horse darted across the highway, causing her car to crash. She was bleeding profusely when Muawia arrived on scene. Using his equipment and training that David and others had paid for, he saved her life.
The woman surprised Muawia by coming to the event with her young son, who (but for Muawia) would have been orphaned. We were sitting next to Yehuda Glick, a Likud MK from a settlement who had been saved by United Hatzalah following an assassination attempt by Islamic Jihad. MK Glick leaped from his seat, jumped on the stage, and embraced Muawia in what became a photograph that ran throughout Israeli media for days.
This is the David Friedman we know — the David Friedman who from the earliest days when this vision of a Jewish-Arab, life-saving partnership was only a dream helped to make these relationships (and the lives saved) possible. There is nothing political about United Hatzalah. Perhaps previous attempts at peace failed because debates about the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration and UN Resolutions 181 and 242 and Oslo will never end in agreement — while the bonds of friendship, fellowship, service, and love being formed and inspired by people like Eli, Murad, and Muawia are the necessary preconditions for sustainable political comity.
David chose without any publicity or recognition for himself, to make the Arab and Druze communities in Israel the recipients of his generosity. It is because of that spirit that we believe he will be an outstanding ambassador of the United States to Israel, and hope that you will reconsider your opposition.
Regardless, we hope that you, with him as ambassador, will visit the Jews and the Arabs of United Hatzalah on your next trip to Jerusalem. Many of your colleagues in the Reform rabbinate have taken groups on that trip and have emerged as some of the organization’s most devoted supporters, articulate proponents, and inspired spokespeople — and it would be wonderful for you to know David as we have, and to see this sacred Jewish-Arab partnership in action.
Rabbi Erica and Mark Gerson