Philip Bendheim

Israel’s Long Road to Rehabilitation: Following The Yad Sarah Model

Yad Sarah Physiotherapy Volunteers helping a Man Walk
Yad Sarah Physiotherapy Volunteers helping a Man With a Walker - Courtesy of Yad Sarah

Since Israel was forced into war with Hamas in Gaza after the horrendous Oct. 7 attacks, the country faces an unprecedented need for humanitarian aid: 200,000 people have been displaced from their homes, hundreds of thousands of households have a family member called up to serve in the military, thousands of wounded are undergoing life-dependant treatments and recuperating, and survivors of the attacks plus millions of others who continue to suffer from air-raid sirens and rocket attacks are struggling with mental health.

Israel has also seen an unprecedented effort in the civilian sector to meet these needs across all parts of society. Civilian volunteers have stepped up to make food for soldiers, donate clothing and other items to people evacuated to hotels, and do agricultural work in the place of foreign laborers who have left the country. Non-profit organizations involved in these efforts have seen an influx of funding; this includes both established organizations as well as new ones formed to deal with these new needs. For example, the Jewish Federations of North America has raised $638 million for Israel since Oct. 7, surpassing its initial $500 million emergency fundraising goal for Israel.

At Yad Sarah, we have also added and adjusted services, while continuing with routine activities. For example, our drivers helped evacuate dozens of Israelis from the north and south of the country; our fully-accessible wellness hotel in Jerusalem is hosting hundreds of elderly evacuees and those with disabilities; and we are preparing for a growing demand to borrow medical equipment, as more soldiers and civilians who suffered injuries are released from the hospital to recover at home.

Clearly, these efforts are critical to meeting these needs now. What is less clear for many non-profit organizations is how to maintain this momentum, and how these efforts can result in long-term improvements and needed changes. 

While many organizations are dedicated to taking urgent action on Israel’s emergency needs today, it’s time for NGOs and charities to start thinking not just about the day after war ends, but the years to come. For example, already, we are preparing to provide refuge potentially for months to the evacuees with disabilities and their caregivers who are sheltering at Yad Sarah’s Yirmiyahu 33 wellness and rehabilitation hotel in Jerusalem. And we are not alone in this task. 

While this understandably changes our routine services at the hotel, we are more than happy to meet the urgent needs of the people in Israel. Our team is working night and day to not only enable this to happen, but ensure that, after the war, we can continue operations in whatever format they will then take.

In fact, adjusting and growing with needs—both expected and unexpected—has been at the heart of what Yad Sarah has done since it was founded more than 47 years ago initially to lend out nebulizers to children during a particularly brutal winter of respiratory illness. Now, we have more than 120 branches around the country, we lend out more than 300,000 pieces of medical equipment a year, and provide a large variety of services, including an emergency hotline, mobile dental clinics and pro-bono legal advice for elderly people, all with the support of more than 7,000 volunteers. Here are some insights we’ve learned about how to make a long-term impact:

Engage in real-time: It is important to engage with donors now to tell stories of the impact of their donations, as they unfold during the current crisis. Now is also a good time to show how critical these donations are, and to set up regular giving programs. This helps donors feel more closely connected to the help they are enabling and opens the door to building a more long-term relationship.

Anticipate unfolding needs: Organizations should identify all the needs current projects are fulfilling, even if they are focused on meeting immediate, war-related needs. For example, as we have opened our accessible rehabilitation & wellness hotel to the elderly and people with disabilities who have evacuated from their homes near Israel’s borders, we also see that in addition to meeting this immediate need for housing and food, we see we are also meeting other needs, including for more social interaction among this population. These other needs could lead a non-profit in a new direction, or to maintain new services, even after the immediate war-related needs subside.

Account for uncertainty: When nonprofits plan for the future, they should be thinking with flexibility top of mind. In fact, they should focus not only on likely scenarios, and how the current emergency may shape or change needs long-term, but on how to deal with uncertainty and unexpected needs and events of any kind. Part of this planning also entails how to maintain protocols and resources for routine-time services during times of emergency. 

Promote public awareness: People receiving services should also be made aware of other services the organization provides, and be ensured that prolonged and future assistance is available to them. This should not just focus on efforts to aid their physical needs, but also to imbue a sense that they are not alone, and someone is there for them, during hard times, whenever they may come.

It is beautiful to see so many organizations striving to meet the immediate needs connected to the Oct. 7 attack and resulting war, and it is especially heartwarming to see the number of volunteers involved and the number of donors supporting these causes. While the goal is to help in the present moment, organizations should also start thinking about tomorrow, next month, next year and beyond. If nonprofits can maintain the current momentum and drive, there is no doubt that Israel and the world in general will be a stronger and better place in the future.

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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