Israels largest volunteer agency runs on retiree power

After many years of working in public management, Tel Aviv native Rachel Ben Gedalia finally retired. The mother of five and grandmother of 20 deserved it.

But now she’s giving a big chunk of her time to Yad Sarah, the largest voluntary organization in Israel, with 103 branches and more than 6,000 volunteers.

Rachel Ben Gedalia

Ben Gedalia is the manager of the Yad Sarah branch in Rishon Le Tzion, Israel, which has a population of 225,000. The branch has 300 volunteers and is one of Yad Sarah’s only full-service branches, so her hands are full. “We need everything here, so if a volunteer wants to paint, there is something to be painted,” Ben Gedalia said.

Yad Sarah is one of Israel’s largest providers of health and social services, and the organization claims to save the Israeli economy about $320 million a year in hospitalization and medical costs. Its mission, according to its Web site, is to keep the ill and the elderly in their homes and out of institutions as long as possible.

The organization is managed by volunteers like Ben Gedalia, many of whom are retirees with long work histories and varied skills. They have become the backbone of the organization since its founding 30 years ago.

Yad Sarah’s best-known service is the lending of medical and rehab equipment on a short-term basis free of charge to anyone who needs it — from a stock of more than 250,000 items (from crutches and wheelchairs to oxygen concentrators and electronic monitors). The agency also has day rehab centers designed to assist the elderly, homebound and people with disabilities.

The agency has become so much a part of the health care system in Israel that people who are injured or ill seek its assistance as a matter of course.

Michal Pri-Har is another retiree who is a member of Yad Sarah’s volunteer force. A registered nurse from the Tel Aviv area, she was preparing to retire as the manager of the pediatric emergency room at Ichilov, Tel Aviv’s largest hospital, when she was approached to run the Yad Sarah branch within the hospital. So now, after 35 years of working at Ichilov, she’s approaching her 70th birthday and managing 20-plus volunteers.

Moreover, her husband, Ephraim Pri-Har, who is retired as finance director of Israel Aircraft Industries, runs the Yad Sarah branch in Givatayim.

“It feels so good when you tell people they don’t have to pay,” said Michal Pri-Har, whose branch assists everyone from sick or injured adults and children, to women who have been discharged after giving birth.

For more information about Yad Sarah, call Friends of Yad Sarah at (212) 223-7758 or visit