For many, war isn’t over

For Many Southern Israelis, the War Isn’t Over Yet

Yad Sarah staff and volunteers struggle to reestablish normal routines

Press Release, Yad Sarah, January 21, 2009

It became a common occurrence. You hear the Red Alert warning siren announcing that a rocket has just been fired. You have fifteen seconds to run and seek shelter in a safer environment. If you can do that, then you’re one of the lucky ones. But what if you can’t? What if you’re too ill, or too old, or too young, or recuperating from surgery, or confined to a wheelchair, or injured? Then the routines of daily living that have been merely obstacles or challenges in the past have now become threatening, impossible, and intolerable. So what do you do? You call Yad Sarah. If you are unable to use a telephone, then you press the button on your emergency alarm system.

Yad Sarah is one of Israel’s largest non-profit social service agencies. Its primary focus is to provide mobility services and assistance with activities of daily living. So if it has become a challenge to move around the house, maintain personal hygiene and nutrition, or even to just go to sleep, then you call Yad Sarah. Their extensive network of service centers staffed mainly by dedicated volunteers, provides an assortment of assistive devices and supportive services. Those that need a customized wheelchair, or just a special pillow, or perhaps only a little experienced advice, are frequent callers to Yad Sarah. If they are unable to manipulate a telephone, then they can get an emergency communication system. A press of a button reaches a trained operator at the Jerusalem control center.

Ahuva Nyman opted to do national civil service in lieu of the required military service. It wasn’t an easy way out. Ahuva was assigned to the emergency communication system at Yad Sarah’s main building in Jerusalem. At a young age, Ahuva was trained to be part emergency medical technician, part social worker, and part psychologist, all rolled into one. The emergency control center is staffed 24/7 to service the needs of the 18,000 clients who have been equipped with the specialized communication system. A press of a button on a wireless device worn by the client, activates a two-way audio system. Ahuva is fluent in both Hebrew and English. When she receives a signal, her communication with the client, or lack of communication, will determine whether she should call an ambulance, a local service center, or just lend an ear for some friendly advice or support. During the Gaza war, when the rockets kept falling, the calls were almost incessant. “People didn’t want to go out, they were scared, they didn’t know what to do,” observed Ahuva. Often Ahuva and the other operators had to call Kulanu B’yachad, an umbrella group of over 40 organizations that helped provide transportation, shelter, food, volunteer escorts, hygienic needs, and other supportive services. When the operators weren’t answering calls, they initiated calls to the clients to ensure that they were safe and reasonably comfortable. Ahuva is glad that a cease-fire is in effect. “Operations are getting back to the usual,” she noted.

When Shlomit Schweitzer was asked where she works, she responded, “All over.” Where is your office located? “In my car.” Shlomit is a social worker for the southern region of Yad Sarah, which includes the entire area from Rechovot to Eilat. During the war, Shlomit was part of a network of staff and volunteers that visited residents with special needs, provided transportation services, mobility services, medical equipment, food, and hygienic needs. About 70 people required specialized transportation services to get to a safer environment. About 100 extra emergency alarm units were distributed without cost to the clients. Volunteers visited homes and shelters regularly to determine the needs. This was all accomplished by a total staff of about 30 people. So the workload, the time devoted, and the stress, were enormous. “It’s not finished yet,” lamented Shlomit, “people are still afraid to go back, they don’t believe that it’s over.” Shlomit and the rest of the staff are still busy transporting southern residents back to their homes and getting them the medical equipment and assistive devices that they need.

One of Shlomit’s contacts at the Yad Sarah’s main building in Jerusalem is Shani Rosenfeld. An occupational therapist who immigrated from the United States, Shani is one of the directors of Yad Sarah’s Exhibition and Guidance Center which advises clients on the use of over 250 types of equipment that Yad Sarah either provides or obtains when needed. During the war, she received calls from all around the country from people concerned about their family and friends living in the South. Often she had to provide duplicate equipment for those that were temporarily located to a safer environment with family or friends. For those that had to go to the cramped and deficient shelters, Shani had to arrange for special hygienic or nutritional needs. Sometimes she just had to provide sleeping or comfort aids to those having difficulty adjusting to life in the cramped shelters or coping with incontinence. Shani is still busy helping people return to their homes and adapting to a different environment. She tries to ease their discomforts and help them adjust gradually. She has to provide assurances to clients, family, and friends that readjustments take time so they don’t feel anxious and guilty if the adjustments aren’t immediate.

Needless to say, the Gaza war has put a strain on Yad Sarah’s budget and facilities. Already financially burdened by the costs of expanding and renovating the main building in Jerusalem, Yad Sarah had the additional burden of providing specialized transportation, duplicate equipment, novel equipment for shelters, and replacement equipment. But the staff of Yad Sarah seems undaunted by the upcoming challenges. After all, meeting and coping with challenges is what they are all about.

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