Every morning, when Meir Quinn wakes up and glances at his phone, he finds hundreds of messages waiting for him. “I get tens of thousands of messages a day,” he says. “At night I sleep no more than four or four and a half hours max. I can’t. Hundreds of people are waiting for urgent medical help. I can’t leave them unanswered. With the coronavirus raging, the cries for help are soaring.”
When I first walked into Meir’s office in the Har Hotzvim neighborhood of Jerusalem, he was so engrossed it took him a while to look up from his computer to see who had come in. When he saw me, he apologized. “Look,” he said as he pointed to his screen. “I have 630 WhatsApp groups running. I can’t tell someone who needs immediate help to wait a minute because I have a visitor in the office.”
Meir Quinn, a 42-year-old resident of Moshav Matityahu, is the founder of a volunteer group called Refuah v’Simchah. Volunteers field a continuous stream of requests for medical assistance and other urgent calls, which are then posted on WhatsApp groups that are linked together. “There are 630 WhatsApp groups,” Meir tells me. “Three hundred and thirty are Israeli groups, and another 300 are mostly Israelis and Jews living in Jewish communities around the world.” As an example, Meir tapped on “Belgium” and showed me that 39 members were online and ready to respond if needed. “Most of the volunteers are Israelis who live all over the world. There are volunteers in Africa, India, China, all of the countries in Europe and the United States, where there are over 70 groups. We even have a group in Iran with dozens of Jewish members. Although they help with emergencies inside Iran, we mostly help Iranian Jews who need medical help after they leave the country. People from all sectors volunteer: chareidi, dati leumi, non-observant Jews, Arabs, Druze and Bedouin—everyone. Look at my screen. We have an active [Bedouin] group in Rahat, and Arab groups in Kfar Kana, Deir al-Assad, Arara, Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm. We started with chareidim but it slowly kept growing, expanding to other segments of the population. In other countries we have many non-Jewish volunteers. All of these WhatsApp groups connect thousands of volunteers who are ready to provide immediate help to people who need clothing or medicine.
“Since the coronavirus crisis has increasingly paralyzed the country, not all calls are medical related. These days, our volunteers find themselves distributing food to Israelis who are alone with no way to provide for themselves. Some people are in quarantine, while others are dependent on people who are in quarantine and have no one else to assist them. These people need clothes, food and toiletries, especially older folks. Some of them are really alone, with no one monitoring their health and safety. Who is going to take care of their medications? So they turn to us, and we make sure they have everything they need.