When 50-year-old Moshe was stuck in the middle of a busy Tel Aviv highway with a flat tire he couldn’t fix because of he suffers from severe back problems, volunteers from the Yedidim (Friends) organization were happy to help him change his tire.
Within 15 minutes of Moshe's call, three motorcycles arrived at his location and in less than five minutes they had affixed his spare tire. Just the start of a typical day for volunteers in the country's busiest assistance organization.
"For me, it all started with a demonstration when there were huge traffic jams all over the country," says 44-year-old Jimmy Modzgurishvili, who volunteers for the organization in Ashkelon.
“I saw people from Yedidim passing and giving drivers water bottles. I was touched and wanted to join. After leaving my details I was contacted by another member and asked if I knew how to fix a car and if I had tools. I said yes and got in,” he explains.
After two years as a volunteer, and two months in the new motorcycle unit, Modzgurishvili has many interesting rescue stories to share. “I saw a bride and a groom with a flat tire and knew I had to save their special day. I fixed their tire and they made it in time. I also fixed a blown tire in an ambulance with a patient in it.”
Yedidim is considered the largest volunteering body in Israel, with over 56,000 volunteers. Israel Almasi, the founder and head of Yedidim, says all volunteers come in wanting to help those in need.
“We’ve rescued over 5,000 children who were locked in a vehicle in the last year. We also rescue people from elevators or help in cases of animals being stuck in cars’ motors,” he says.
Almasi adds that the organization aims to arrive at a call in a maximum of 13 minutes, which Yedidim’s new motorcycle unit is helping to make a reality. “The motorcycle unit answers mainly to emergency calls, like someone stuck in traffic who forgot his medications back home and needs it,” he explains.
Yedidim volunteer Yossi Surya, 42, is heading to help a woman who can’t start her car, but tells us he met his wife thanks to the organization.
“I met her through Yedidim three years ago,” he says. “She volunteered in the call center while I was a standby volunteer. Every call you get ends with a smile and satisfaction when you see how excited people get when you help them. People come up to the windows and tell us ‘You’re the best.’”
Surya arrived to help 77-year-old Michal, who says that ever since her surgery and the death of her husband, she doesn’t know who to turn to when the unexpected happens. She cries when help arrives. “Someone saw me struggling and told me to call you, and here you are. It makes me happy to know you exist,” she exclaims.
Reut got stuck in Tel Aviv due to a blown tire, and 38-year-old Itamar Amar, head of Yedidim’s Safety Guidance Department, arrived at her location in 20 minutes. After another ten minutes, her tire was replaced.
Amar then instructs Reut on exactly what to do in case of an emergency and emphasizes that the most important thing is to keep safe while changing the tire.
“Always put your reserve tire under the car to prevent it from falling on you in case the carjack gets loose. You also have to remember to replace the tire, most issues we see come from people who just forgot to do so,” he tells her.
Amar explains that after he began to help people as part of the organization he realized that it was completely voluntary and was shocked at how much it aided his personal development. “We give and we receive back. We’re all friends who help each other when we need to,” he says.
The phenomenon of road rage has not escaped the volunteers for the organization. Leizy Stern, Yedidm’s deputy head, says he experienced a violent incident in which a driver punched out his window because Stern allegedly “cut him off.”
“I understood I was dealing with a dangerous and violent man, and decided dealing with him further wasn’t worth the risk. I got in my car and drove away,” he says.
Meanwhile, Amar has arrived to help 35-year-old David, who is locked out of his car and doesn’t know where his keys are. While helping him, two other Yedidim volunteers arrive to say hello and help out. After opening the car’s doors, David’s keys were found in the trunk.
Do you ever feel like you’re being taken advantage of? “There are a lot of times we do. People call us because they don’t want to replace their own tires. But we know how to detect that and use the opportunity to teach them again. We want to be called when we’re needed,” Surya says.
Their last call comes from Ben Gurion Airport, where two kittens got stuck in a car’s engine. They arrive waving cat food and playing meowing sounds on their cellphones. “We get calls like this all the time and know how to handle them, but this issue looks more complex,” Almasi says.
After two hours and a halfway dismantled engine, the two kittens are extracted safely, and the volunteers return to their homes.
“We now have 16 motorcycles that were donated to us, and our goal is to have 5,000,” Almasi explains. “Our volunteer goal is 500,000 – which is 10% of all drivers in Israel.”