As Israel approaches its 70th birthday, let’s care for the country’s builders


Leading up to the momentous occasion of this year’s 70th anniversary of Israeli independence, what is the best way for Americans to show their solidarity with the Jewish state?

Many will support pro-Israel legislation in Congress, take a trip to Israel, buy Israeli products, or pray for peace and security in the Middle East. These are all crucial forms of support for Israel and they should not be discounted.

Yet, we can also demonstrate our solidarity by standing behind the women and men who built the modern Jewish state. The current generation of Israeli builders — soldiers, farmers, rabbis, nurses, teachers and so many others — have devoted their lives to shaping and bolstering the modern Jewish state as we know it today. And far too many have been left behind, and in need of outside support.

Indeed, the pressing everyday needs of Israel’s builders are not at all different from the needs of at-risk populations in the United States. Even as it has emerged as a high-tech powerhouse, Israel continues to have one of the highest poverty rates in the developed world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Twenty-one percent of the Israeli government’s total spending is devoted to social welfare expenditures, which represents that figure’s highest point since the start of the 21st century, according to the most recent report on Israeli society from the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies.

In other words, Israeli society needs to support its builders by expanding access to social services and ensuring that nobody is left behind.

Addressing this crucial priority, Yad Sarah is virtually the only organization whose primary mission is to care for Israel’s caretakers — to build up the builders to the point where they are whole again.

Who are these builders, and how does Yad Sarah — Israel’s largest volunteer-based social services nonprofit — contribute to their vitality?

There is Holocaust survivor Chaya Sela, who found a new life Israel as a nurse, building the country through years in the hospital.

Today she bears witness to the Shoah for tourists from around the world. Dentists’ repeated efforts to save her teeth all failed.

Unable to afford proper treatment, Chaya thought she was out of options. But then she discovered Yad Sarah’s geriatric dental clinic, which restored her mouth — and the ability for her to use it to deliver lectures as a volunteer at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center. “Every time I came for an appointment, I felt at home and was received warmly,” Chaya says.

There is Marjorie Seal, who built Israel with her hands — through agriculture. She made aliyah in 1954 and embraced the kibbutz lifestyle, working in greenhouses. Like so many other Israelis, she helped transform the Jewish state’s desert into thriving farmland. Now, at 85, kidney and heart problems as well as low blood pressure mean she needs lifesaving medical equipment. The best option for Marjorie, and ultimately the only option, was Yad Sarah, which provided her with a wheelchair, walker and portable oxygen tank — enabling her to continue living at home comfortably.

There is Yoram, who suffered leg damage in a car crash and found himself in great pain even after he was discharged from the hospital. At the Yad Sarah House in Jerusalem, volunteers patiently showed him the medical equipment he would need, and how to use it.

The lobby and other parts of the facility bustled with activity, lifting Yoram’s spirits and allowing him to heal emotionally, not just physically. “If these walls could talk,” he says, “they would sing.”

Then there are Yad Sarah volunteers like Samira Abu-Rukun, who provides culturally sensitive services to minority populations such as the Druze. The Druze all serve in Israel’s military, routinely reach highest ranks in the country’s security forces. By serving the Druze community in the village of Isfiya, Samira is supporting some of Israel’s most important builders.

These are just a few examples of the heroes of Yad Sarah — the 380,000 Israelis who use the organization’s services each year, and the 6,000 volunteers who support them. For Israel’s 70th birthday this coming April, what could be a more meaningful gesture than providing for the Jewish state’s builders?

Adele Goldberg is executive director of Friends of Yad Sarah.

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