Philip Bendheim

Home for the Holidays: How Yad Sarah helps people celebrate the seder at home

Yad Sarah Volunteer Delivering Home Hospitalization Equipment - Courtesy of Yad Sarah
Yad Sarah Volunteer Delivering Home Hospitalization Equipment - Courtesy of Yad Sarah

One of the most important themes of Passover is home. It is a holiday that started in the homes of the Israelites while they were still enslaved in Egypt, when they were commanded to mark their doorposts, and, ultimately, flee those homes. It also celebrates the journey of Am Israel to our promised homeland, a homeland our armed forces and allies are working around the clock to protect in these, especially difficult, days. And it is a holiday traditionally celebrated at home, with extended families gathering around their Seder tables reading the Haggadah. 

For us at Yad Sarah, these weeks leading up to Passover are always busy, as we strive to ensure that as many people as possible can celebrate the holiday in the comfort of their homes, surrounded by loved ones. Amid the flurry of ongoing initiatives and projects, this year holds particular significance as we have extended our services and programs to help those evacuated from the north and south of the country and those suffering injuries from the ongoing fighting. Our commitment to enabling people to be at home – in spite of illness or injury – is at the heart of our mission.

As the holiday approaches, we have an increased number of requests for all of the services that make this possible. We arrange extra volunteer drivers to accommodate the high demand for our accessible van service, taking those in wheelchairs or with other disabilities to Passover seders at the homes of relatives and friends. Passover eve is the busiest day of the year for our volunteer drivers.

In the weeks leading up to Passover this year, we have seen a nearly 50% increase in requests for at-home medical equipment loans compared to last year. This includes hospital beds, oxygen machines, lifts and other devices that allow people to leave hospitals and other medical facilities to return home. In some cases, the return is temporary, just for the holiday. In others, the return is the beginning of a period of healing, recovery or rehabilitation at home. And, in some cases, the return home is part of the road to a comfortable end of this life, through compassionate hospice care.

But whatever the needs are, and however long the stay at home will be, Yad Sarah works with families to make sure they have what they need. This entails that we keep our supply rooms full. That has been especially challenging this year, as demand since Oct. 7 has been three times what we normally see. The challenges of maintaining a sufficient inventory of equipment are further complicated by the ongoing attacks on Red Sea shipping routes by Iran-backed Houthi terrorists in Yemen. These have caused many transport companies to halt or reduce operations, with alternative shipping options up to four times as expensive. With the generous support from our donors we, thankfully, have been able to keep pace with demand by airlifting in crucial equipment, bypassing the sea routes.

This equipment inventory and distribution requires substantial logistical operations. Each year, we handle about 385,000 medical equipment loans. This, along with other services, including facilitating the donation and distribution of about $400,000 of prescription drugs each year, is an operation that amounts to saving the government-funded healthcare system about  $1 billion annually.

We do this effectively by running several distribution hubs. Once we established our main distribution hub in Jerusalem in the 1970s and got the model working well, we recreated the system in multiple other locations. We also use those to supply other satellite locations. We track all of the equipment and equipment requests in a central system. Not only does this help us keep track of equipment and needs, but it provides data that helps us predict and meet future needs. For example, we at Yad Sarah knew – even before the government realized it – that there had been an uptick in a COVID-19 wave, because we got increased requests for oxygen concentrators. We not only alerted the authorities, so hospitals could prepare for an influx of patients, but also increased acquisition of other equipment, like oxygen tanks, along with increasing services COVID patients would likely need. 

In a similar way, in recent months, as warnings over more attacks from Iran and its proxies have grown, we have been acquiring more portable, battery-powered oxygen equipment that people can use in case of power outages related to possible military attacks.

In addition to well-organized logistics and constant strategic assessments for future needs, we also rely on those who have used our equipment in the past to return it when they no longer need it. That way we can often lend it out to others. In many cases, we are able to refurbish and repair used equipment in our service department, allowing us to meet the needs of more people. 

Anyone with Yad Sarah equipment who returns it to us should know they are likely enabling someone else to get the care they need, and, maybe, enabling one more person to spend this upcoming Passover at home. This is especially important this year, as the ongoing war reminds us of both the price and blessing of living in our homeland.

About the Author
Philip Bendheim is a dedicated second-generation volunteer in the Yad Sarah family. He is a director of Yad Sarah's International Board of Overseers and USA Friends of Yad Sarah
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