Yad Sarah: From a Borrowed Vaporizer to an Adviser to the UN

September 18, 2018

4 min read

It all began over 40 years ago when a religious Jewish high school teacher in Jerusalem named Rabbi Uri Lupolianski and his wife, Michal, borrowed an electric vaporizer from a neighbor when one of their children suffered from a winter cold.

Upon hearing that such items were hard to obtain in those days, the rabbi decided to start his own charity by buying a few vaporizers to lend to others. People who heard about his project began dropping off other items that are used only temporarily by sick people such as crutcheswalkers and wheelchairs.

With seed money from his father and guidance from Prof. Kalman Mann, director-general of Hadassah Medical Center, Lupolianski turned the lending activity in his small apartment into a nationwide non-profit organization and named it Yad Sarah (Hebrew for “Memorial to Sarah”) in memory of his grandmother of that name who had died in the Holocaust. Lupolianski later served as mayor of Jerusalem for five years, after which he returned to Yad Sarah as its president.

The organization based in Jerusalem now has more than 7,000 volunteers and 110 chapters around Israel, providing a wide variety of free and subsidized services to Israelis and foreign visitors. According to an independent survey, one out of every two Israeli families has been helped by the organization, and a million people were assisted by it in the past year.

Its lending of medical equipment gradually expanded to include equipment repair shops that employ new immigrants, an oxygen balloon and oxygen-producing machine service, a national emergency-alarm system, services for the homebound, legal aid for the elderly, geriatric dentistry, gardening clubs, day rehabilitation centers, a play center for special needs’ children, and an education and recreation club for retirees.

Yad Sarah has provided cooked and frozen meals through a catering company and delivered them to the home for a nominal fee. A laundry service picks up soiled bedlinens and bedclothes from the homes of incontinent patients and returns them cleaned and ironed. Volunteers even teach the elderly how to use computers and the Internet, to be in contact with the world and in touch with their families.

Vans with equipment to take wheelchairs are available to transport disabled people doctor’s appointments, Yad Sarah center activities, social occasions and errands. These vans also bring disabled individuals to and from polling places on election day and to the largest military cemeteries on Israel’s Memorial Day for the Fallen.

A very unusual project is documenting and recording more than 1,000 personal stories of Holocaust survivors in a race against time. The life stories, heard by volunteers with journalistic skills, are then edited, printed and given to the survivors and family members.

Unique in the world when it was established, Yad Sarah has attracted the interest of numerous countries, including AngolaCameroonEl SalvadorRussiaSouth Africa and Jordan that sought to establish their own such facilities. A recipient of the Israel Prize, Yad Sarah has also been awarded advisory status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Yad Sarah assisted the rehabilitation center in Cameroon following the request of that government, sending dozens of medical items. It was also asked by the International Red Cross and the Angolan ministry of health to teach locals how to rehabilitate medical equipment and set up a local workshop. In Uzbekistan, Yad Sarah established a community center in Tashkent to serve 10,000 special needs’ children. In South Africa, it helped set up medical equipment-lending centers in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

In Jordan, it helped set up a lending and presentation center at Amman’s Jordan Red Crescent Hospital. A research project for the recruitment and operation of professional volunteers for the control of disabled persons was initiated by Yad Sarah at the Yansai University Nursing School in Seoul.

Yad Sarah sees its mission as making it possible for the chronically ill, disabled, infirm, lonely and terminally ill people of all religious, ethnic backgrounds and races to to live at home either on their own or in the care of their families or caregivers, with dignity and as independently as possible. This is for most in these situations preferable to being kept in a hospital.

Keeping patients at home and out of the country’s crowded hospitals saves the Israeli government – which does not provide Yad Sarah with any funding – a great deal of money.

So that people can see what medical equipment Yad Sarah lends out and how they are used, it has established several exhibition centers.

Friends of Yad Sarah helps arrange services for tourists with special needs and guided visits to Yad Sarah House, the organization’s headquarters in Jerusalem.

There have been many foreign delegations coming to Jerusalem to learn how to adapt Yad Sarah’s services to their own country. Recently, eight people from Taiwan came for this purpose. As some of the guests didn’t understand English, one member of the group translated the conversation into Mandarin.

Yad Sarah has expanded its assistance to disabled tourists by setting up a one-stop shop that helps them coordinate all arrangements at the airports, accommodations, transportation, hospitality and specially trained guides used to catering to tourists with movement and function difficulties. Yad Sarah can even supply the hotel room with a bed and an electric crane, breathing equipment and more. One can reach the Yad Sarah Tourist Services Department at (02) 644-4618 in Jerusalem; by e-mail to tourism@yadsarah.org.il or via its English website at https://www.friendsofyadsarah.org.

Not long ago, a group of Jewish tourists from abroad, all aged 18-30 as part of Birthright tours to see Israel needed help from Yad Sarah, as all the participants had disabilities. Prior to the visit, the organizers contacted Nadia Alalo, the director of its tourist service and asked to borrow medical equipment that would accompany them during their stay in Israel. She arranged for seven wheelchairs and four bathing chairs that they used during the visit.

Shiri Rosenbaum, an Israeli who joined the group, wrote: As a guide in the project for disabled visitors, I always felt that something was not fair in that it was impossible to bring handicapped young Americans to Israel. They read the words: ‘And you will come to the land which God gives you,” and now they too can use their right to come to the land for the first time.”

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