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Super drivers

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Volunteers come out of the woodwork and get the job done

Uri Talnir, interviewed November 1, 2023 By Eli Lederhendler

Usually Uri wears many hats, including tour guide, employee of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and university student. After the outbreak of the war, he became a volunteer leader of the Jerusalem Civilian Command Center’s Transportation Team.

Uri started volunteering his services as a driver during the first week of the war, going into and around Jerusalem. Realizing the scope of what was involved, he asked the JCCC if they might also need staff work done to organize and expand the extent of the transportation services. He came on board on a Friday, found his place quickly as a team member, and took responsibility as one of the team leaders.

How does it work?

As of today, well over two hundred drivers are involved each week—including “super drivers” who have been doing multiple hops in Jerusalem and taking assignments going throughout the country each and every day. Looking around the country at people who have been similarly active in volunteering transportation assistance since the war started, and who are being networked through similar volunteer teams in cities like Tel-Aviv, Haifa, and Be’er Sheva, the numbers multiply into thousands.

People bring parcels to the JCCC for delivery to soldiers in forward bases, or call in offering hot meals in bulk, which are intended for evacuees in temporary quarters. Soldiers register for rides to and from their bases. All this requires drivers willing to undertake such tasks. Drivers are all ordinary people from every walk of life who sign up online, and the work of the transportation team involves matching up available drivers with requests for travel or deliveries.

Teams work in three daily shifts, round the clock, including weekends. Being a team leader means interacting with team members as well as other teams in and around the JCCC. The team is instructed in the use of management software: spreadsheets where requests for assistance are logged and trips are scheduled. At the same time, rapid-fire notifications about new drivers signing on for service or urgent new requests for transportation assistance are passed around the team via Whatsapp messages.

One of the remarkable things about this volunteer effort, Uri says, is that the infrastructure is very basic and everyone just learns how to work with complex management tasks on the job. People show up for their shifts with their own laptops and mobile phones, sit down, and get to work. It’s all about people—they are the true resource. Volunteers come out of the woodwork, not out of some pre-planned organization. The great wonder is that, despite all this, everyone manages to work together effectively. This is what’s so important: it’s a spontaneous model of a working civic society.

How does it reflect on Israeli society?

Uri is struck by the amazing stories at the human level. People have been willing not only to take others along in their cars for a ride to where they were going anyway, but also to drive completely out of their way, accepting assignments to far-flung parts of the country—simply out of a sense of public spiritedness. It’s also amazing how many people—individuals, businesses, organizations—are eager to donate food and supplies of all kinds, willing to be recruited, and to help in big and small ways.

This crisis began with the Hamas attacks that started on October 7 as well as the hostilities in the north stemming from Hezbollah in Lebanon. That was the spark that got people to act.

But the notion of creating a volunteer organization overnight reflects something larger. On the one hand, in Israel there is a long-standing idea of doing your share, and that is what is being mobilized. On the other hand, there’s an expectation that public institutions and government offices ought to deliver physical, economic, and health security to people in need, yet it became clear very quickly that it wasn’t enough, and that we are in an unprecedented crisis. Individual initiatives are essential at every level if Israel is to recover and rebuild for the future.

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