“We can’t find our 79-year-old mother, help us!!” a caller pleaded over the line to the Yad Sarah emergency center as the atrocities in the south of Israel unfolded on Simchat Torah morning. The caller was hoping that our center, which is connected to a GPS-enabled fall-detection device her mother wears, could help her family figure out where she was located and send help, if needed. This was not the only call like this that day. With the help of the police and Homefront Command, we helped locate several people with these devices, and sent drivers to transport them to a safer area of the country.
This is just one example of how people are relying more than ever on our volunteers and services in these difficult days.
Israel has suffered enormous loss since the heinous Hamas attack on the south on the morning of Oct. 7. More than 1,400 are dead, mainly civilians, murdered by terrorists in their homes, communities and at a music festival. At least 212 people are missing, held by Hamas in Gaza. Sirens blare all over Israel, warning of incoming missile and rocket fire from both Gaza and Lebanon. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes, seeking safety in the center of the country. Everyone’s world has been turned upside down and we fear for what lies ahead.
Although the conditions are challenging, we are continuing to provide our usual services, plus additional efforts to meet the constantly-changing needs. Yad Sarah continues to provide home medical equipment, prescription medications, transportation services for those in wheelchairs, psychological counseling, and an urgent-care center in Jerusalem.
This is really only possible because of our volunteers. Volunteers are at the heart of what we do all the time, but it is at times like this that I am especially in awe of our volunteers. It is their stories that keep me going in such a time of fear, sadness and ever-expanding need.
In the days that followed the attack, and even now, as rockets continue to pound the area, our volunteers are working to evacuate the elderly and those with disabilities out of the line of fire. We have also stepped up efforts to deliver life-saving medical equipment, including mobile oxygen units, to those who are undergoing evacuation or preparing for that possibility.
Eyal, a volunteer driver who delivers medical equipment for Yad Sarah, has made several trips within the Gaza border region.
“I’m not scared. I am going to help. We will fight by fire and water,” he said as he left on a recent drive to take home hospital beds to residents in the south. “We will go everywhere in Israel and help everyone.”
Yad Sarah has also made sure branches in the south stay open, even if they have moved to buildings with better protection.
“The situation is unpleasant and very difficult, and we are receiving a huge influx of requests,” said Moishe, who helped reopen a Yad Sarah branch in Sderot, a town hit heavily by the Hamas attack.”But Gd willing we are working to together to operate all of our 126 branches across the country.”
These efforts extend to the northern border area of Israel as well, as the Homefront Command has ordered and advised certain communities to move out of the way of escalated fighting with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist organization. As I write, Yad Sarah volunteers are working with the IDF to transport the elderly, sick and those with disabilities from a growing number of northern communities to safer areas of the country.
Volunteers have also followed those in need. With thousands of residents from communities in the south being housed at hotels on the Dead Sea, Yad Sarah has set up operations there, too.
As the country mourns, volunteer drivers everywhere have been instrumental in making sure elderly and disabled people get to the funerals of their loved ones.
Last week, a driver in Jerusalem picked up Elkanna Federman, who was recovering from surgery in Hadassah Hospital after being shot by terrorists at the music festival near the border during the attack. Federman’s best friend was killed—and this driver was able to make sure that he could attend the funeral.
“This trip was so important to him,” Federman’s sister, Sapir, said. “I want to thank the driver with all my heart.”
So do I. I want to thank all of the volunteers—all 7,000 of them. They are saving lives by taking people out of danger, and delivering essential medical equipment, which in and of itself keeps people alive, and also allows more people to recover at home, freeing up hospital beds to save the lives of others. We are also making sure that life goes on; that people are getting to where they need to go, whether it’s the grocery store or a funeral; that lonely elderly people have volunteers visiting them; and that new mothers are receiving bassinets and breast milk pumps.
Despite the war — because of the war – life must go on. We believe that as Jews, and as human beings. The Hamas attack began on Simchat Torah morning, as synagogues around the world read both the end and the beginning of the Torah. This is yet more proof that all of us in Israeli society must go on. And Yad Sarah volunteers are making that possible.