Yulia Karra
March 5

Yad Sarah is Israel’s largest volunteer organization. Established by former mayor of Jerusalem, Rabbi Uri Lupolianski, in 1976, the organization provides more than 20 different healthcare services to people from all walks of life and of all backgrounds. 

Its biggest specialty is lending 150 kinds of medical equipment at its 126 branches, in exchange only for refundable deposits. 

Post-October 7

Unfortunately, many Israelis only come to know the organization when they are faced with a personal tragedy. 

“If you haven’t yet been served by Yad Sarah, the likelihood is that you will be,” Yad Sarah’s Board of Trustees director Phillip Bendheim tells ISRAEL21c. 

Yad Sarah’s Board of Trustees director Phillip Bendheim. Photo: screenshot
Yad Sarah’s Board of Trustees director Phillip Bendheim. Photo: screenshot

Indeed, thousands of Israelis discovered Yad Sarah after the October 7 attacks and the subsequent war in Gaza

Bendheim says that since its establishment, Yad Sarah volunteers had operated through a host of tragedies and crises, but even they were surprised by the scope of what was to come. 

“On October 7 we knew what we had to do before anybody called us,” says Bendheim, who lost two great-nephews in the war and also volunteers for the organization. 

“We filled container loads of equipment from our inventory and moved them. We set up the containers outside of hospitals where we didn’t already have a branch.

“Normally we plan a year in advance, but we moved a years’ worth of supply in three months,” he explains. 

Soldiers with Yad Sarah equipment in Beersheva. Photo courtesy of Yad Sarah 
Soldiers with Yad Sarah equipment in Beersheva. Photo courtesy of Yad Sarah 

“We ran out of our inventory of certain equipment and couldn’t get the new supply on time,” he says, referring to shipping delays caused by Houthi attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea. Right now, some of the supplies purchased by Yad Sarah from China are stuck in transit, and the organization is raising money to buy anew and ship by air. 

Rehabilitation services

Recently the organization opened “The Soldier Rehabilitation Unit” to aid hundreds of soldiers wounded in the Hamas-controlled enclave over the past three months. 

Wounded IDF soldier at a Yad Sarah branch. Photo courtesy of Yad Sarah
Wounded IDF soldier at a Yad Sarah branch. Photo courtesy of Yad Sarah

“We have an arrangement with the army — the soldiers get a special voucher so there’s no requirement for a deposit,” explains Bendheim. 

Soldiers can show up at any Yad Sarah branch with the IDF voucher and borrow any equipment they need. 

The volunteers at the branches — who are split into different divisions — can advise which equipment is best suited for a specific injury, and even provide help to the families of the soldiers. There are some 7,000 volunteers working for the organization across Israel.

“We also offer free legal services [to the wounded troops],” says Bendheim. “Sometimes these fellows get into problems because they have been away in Gaza and haven’t paid their rent, for example. As crazy as it sounds, there are people who go after them over this, including the government.”

Wounded soldiers and civilians can also receive light rehabilitation at Yad Sarah’s “one-of-a-kind” Health and Wellness Center in Jerusalem. 

With the help of government ministries, the center has recently been repurposed to accommodate the war wounded as well as evacuees from the south and north. Some of the evacuees are disabled or wheelchair-bound and the center offers them accessible rooms.

“Our mission is to allow people to get out of the hospital the minute they are able to get out,” and to help them return to being “productive members of society for their own sake, and for their country’s sake.” 

20,000 disabled Israelis as a result of war

The organization’s primary income is donations. The government provides just under four percent of Yad Sarah’s overall budget. In light of the challenges brought on by the war, the organization has been stretched very thin. 

“Regular people who had nothing to do with the war and need our equipment are still there, Covid is coming back, and there are going to be some 20,000 permanently disabled Israelis as a result of the war, who will require our help for years,” Bendheim notes. 

To donate to Yad Sarah, click here

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