April 18, 2004, Updated September 13, 2012

Every one in two Israeli families has made use of Yad Sarah’s wide-ranging services.Almost thirty years ago, a young Jerusalem high school teacher lent a hot-steam vaporizer to a neighbor with a sick child. Others asked to borrow the device too, and the teacher – Uri Lupolianski – purchased additional vaporizers geared for lending purposes to the large families in his neighborhood.

Today, Yad Sarah – the organization that rose from those modest beginnings – lends out tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment each year, and saves the economy some $300 million a year in hospitalization and long-term care costs. And it is spreading its unique model to the rest of the world.

Yad Sarah serves as a paradigm for health and welfare professionals in many other countries, who have sought to replicate its unique approach in their own communities. The organization was recently approved by the United Nations for association with the Department of Public Information (DPI). The UN approval, which enables Yad Sarah representatives to attend all open meetings of UN bodies as observers, will facilitate the efforts to bring Yad Sarah’s activities to the attention of other countries and similar organizations around the world.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve met with health professionals in Jordan and Korea,” Yad Sarah spokesman David Rothner told ISRAEL21c. Representative of Jordan’s Red Crescent also visited the organization’s national headquarters in Jerusalem to learn about Yad Sarah’s welfare services and how they can be adopted in the Hashemite kingdom. Yad Sarah has also helped set up similar ‘helping centers’ in the former USSR, Cameroon and Angola.

“There isn’t anything like Yad Sarah anywhere else in the world,” added Rothner.

Yad Sarah’s best-known service is the lending of medical and rehabilitative equipment on a short-term basis free of charge to anyone who needs it – from a stock of over 250,000 items, from crutches and wheelchairs to oxygen concentrators and electronic monitors. The organization also provides equipment and services for new mothers, infants, recently discharged hospital patients and others in need, and a wide range of volunteer-run creative, recreational and rehabilitative activities for homebound people.

With over 100 branches and an annual budget of $13 million, Yad Sarah also provides a an additional wide variety of services – including running rehabilitation centers, drop-in centers for the elderly and chronically ill, low-cost geriatric dental clinics, exhibition centers of equipment and an enrichment center for disabled children.

“According to a survey that was conducted, every second family in Israel has utilized our services,” said Rothner. “Now I don’t think in the whole world there’s a volunteer organization where half the population has made use of it. But with Yad Sarah, we provide equipment you need when you give birth, when you break a leg, and when you’re elderly. Eventually, you need us.”

A walk through Yad Sarah’s headquarters confirms that statement. Israeli citizens from all walks of society – Jewish, Arab, Christian, young and old, can be seen at the equipment center, in the rehab courses and in their clinics. Over 350,000 Israelis annually make use of Yad Sarah’s services

According to Joram Seela, Yad Sarah’s Director of Marketing Communications,
the organization not only provides assistance to Arab residents with Israeli identity cards in the greater Jerusalem area, but has also assisted bodies within Palestinian welfare organizations in setting up a similar service to Yad Sarah in Ramallah.

“It proves that when you have a humanitarian cause that is basically beyond the conflict and nonsectarian, you can come together – it doesn’t make a difference who you are. We’re proud of that at Yad Sarah we’re a paradigm of how to connect people wherever they are,” said Seela.

When someone arrives at Yad Sarah to borrow equipment or get advice, the first place they’re usually brought to is the resource center, run by Shani Rosenfeld. She calls her department-store spacious showroom a “supermarket of ideas.”

Various models of wheelchairs, orthopedic chairs, bathtubs, and beds dot the room, along with countless aids ranging from slanted tables and grab bars to adapted kitchen and bathroom utensils.

“The whole concept is to show equipment, ideas, and what’s around on the Israeli market, as well as from our lending department. For instance, we don’t lend out chairs. But people come in and say ‘my back is sore’, or ‘it’s hard for me to get up.’ So we went to stores, asked them to donate various models of chairs and we put them on display. So in the end, people don’t have to run to 10 stores,” said Rosenfeld.

Even choosing the right kind of wheelchair can be a daunting experience, but the staff at Yad Sarah provide their expertise based on the patient’s size, injury, and preferences.

“One patient was having trouble making up her mind until she saw a model in our showroom that had a drink holder on the side, and she said ‘that’s the one for me'” said Sylvia Wallis, a visitor’s guide who is one of the thousands of senior-aged volunteers that help Yad Sarah function.

On another floor of the headquarters, immigrants from the former Soviet Union are working in a sprawling workshop, repairing damaged equipment, doing quality control, and devising new ways to help patients in need. One innovative product that has derived from this effort is portable machines that produce an unlimited supply of oxygen for homebound patients.

Until recently, patients with respiratory diseases who needed a regular supply of oxygen at home had to get gas tanks delivered regularly by Yad Sarah volunteers. Today, most of the tanks have been replaced by the oxygen concentration machines, based on a German model but including Israeli ideas. Compact and on wheels, the electrical device takes ordinary air from the room and isolates the pure oxygen. Many of the immigrant technicians are engineers who are otherwise unemployable because of their age and inadequate Hebrew. According Wallis, even in their retirement, many of the technicians continue to come in and work on the project.

The aims of all these elements of Yad Sarah are to keep the ill and the elderly in their homes and out of institutions as long as possible. According to Yad Sarah’s mission, home care in the natural environment of the family is most conducive to healthy recuperation, both physically and emotionally. And as an extra benefit, it saves millions of dollars.

“We save the Israeli economy over $300 million annually in hospitalization costs.
If someone can be released from the hospital and recuperate at home with equipment provided by Yad Sarah, it saves the hospital money and it saves the state money,” said Rothner.

From lending one vaporizer to the huge non-profit enterprise it is today, Yad Sarah has made a difference. And Israel has recognized its contributions, awarding the organization the prestigious Israel Prize in 1994. And what happened to the young high school teacher Lupolianski? Today, he’s the mayor of Jerusalem.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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