Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

14 Iyar 5764 - May 5, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Some Chessed Organizations in Israel

by M. Chevroni

Why does the weather forecast interest organizations like Ezra Lemarpeh, Ezer Mitzion or Yad Sarah? Every Jerusalem boy knows the answer. The snow.

These chessed organizations were hard at work on the day snow fell in Jerusalem this past winter, helping housebound Jerusalemites cope. It served as a reminder of the special blessing the chareidi community enjoys thanks to its many organizations dedicated to chessed.

To write a comprehensive article about chessed organizations is impossible, for an entire encyclopedia could be written on this topic. Therefore here we will focus on just a few organizations in the area of medical care, to shed some light on the chessed in Eretz Yisroel.

Yad Sarah

When asked what they did on the day the snow fell, Yad Sarah Spokesman Dovid Rotner began to rattle off a list of activities. "There are people in need of crucial medical treatment. On a normal day they can get to the hospital on their own, perhaps with the help of a family member, by taxi or by bus. On snow days, when transportation in the city shuts down almost completely, people get panicky . . . Some of this distress we solve with our special vehicles."

Few taxis were running while Jerusalem was covered with snow, but there were plenty of ambulances on the roads. "We put special snow chains on our ambulances' tires. We transported people to receive treatments and also brought medical staff members to their places of work, for doctors and nurses also had trouble moving around the city. We took a few people who got injured, although we do not have a real ambulance service but rather just transport vehicles. We also took family members to hospitals to stay with their loved ones."

People not usually defined as needy also benefited from Yad Sarah's transportation network.

"Throughout the year people are asked to pay one-third of the cost of a ride, which comes to NIS 25-30 inside the city," explains Rotner. "But on the day of the snow we didn't charge money. This was the organization's decision. Whoever wanted to make a donation was, of course, free to do so."

Did people ask about the cost of the special service they received?

I didn't hear of people asking, but there were people who sent contributions after the snow. They wrote, `You helped us out with the snow.' The letters that arrived were very standard. `You were fabulous.' `You were our only support on the day of the snow. Thank you for giving us a ride to the hospital. A 100- shekel donation is enclosed.'

"True, this was not a matter of life and death, but when you have to relieve a family member sitting at the patient's bedside and there are no taxis or buses, the need is still urgent.

"We also did other things at Yad Sarah. We have devices called oxygen systems. In one of our vehicles we have an oxygen setup. This vehicle's task is to go around the city supplying oxygen services.

"When snow or difficult weather is forecasted we try to publicize our special number, *6444, in the media. This number is always in operation. On regular days callers reach our secretary pool, but on the day of the snow, calls are routed directly to our transportation department. And there were a lot of calls.

"We got many calls from people who subscribe to our emergency push buttons. We have an emergency hotline that operates 24 hours per day, all year round. On the day of the snow the number of calls increased and the hotline [staff] was boosted in accordance. These people were unable to leave the house. Some were in need of medication. Some of them simply asked for support from us or from their family. Suddenly someone discovers there's no food in the cupboard. Somebody has to help them. In many cases they also get panicky simply due to the fact that they are cut off.

How many vehicles do you have? Can you cover the entire city?

Our resources are limited, of course, and therefore on special days like this we activate our volunteers. If, for instance, an elderly man from Sanhedria calls and he needs medicine, we call a volunteer who lives in the area and say, `Your neighbor at this address needs medicine. Is there something you can do to help him?" This is how volunteers are activated throughout the city. It's a big setup."

And this big setup goes on alert when the snow forecasts start to come in. "Snow chains donated by our friends, Yad Sarah of Switzerland, are put on the vehicles, the gas tanks are filled up, assignments are delegated and the hotline centers are sent extra manpower.

"We have people who come to Yad Sarah from outside the city. They arrive in the city before the snow is expected to fall and they stay at Yad Sarah. It's not like at the municipality or other places of work where a snow day is a reason to stay home from work. Here it's the opposite.

"Lending out medical equipment also continues on snow days, although less than on regular days. We must continue to function because even on snow days, or maybe particularly on snow days, there are people who break their leg and are in need of the appropriate medical equipment."

These are paid workers?

"I'm speaking about volunteers, and I stress that they are volunteers. Everybody who comes in on a snow day, including those who live outside of Jerusalem and arrive in advance -- all of them are volunteers. We also have paid workers, but they are extremely few in number. The vast majority are volunteers. In my view, at least, this is chessed at its best."

Yad Sarah, which got started in Rabbi Uri Lupoliansky's little apartment in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sanhedria, is now located in a large, impressive building in Beit Hakerem. If fees are not charged, how is it possible to run such a large array of services?

Yad Sarah has done some very original thinking on this topic. Funding is based primarily on contributions. When people are in need of services they often make a donation.

But that's not all. Some people donate a certain piece of medical equipment they no longer need, and businesses are recruited to help. Tnuvah workers, for example, donated the holiday bonuses they received from the company, Cellcom has a special arrangement to help Yad Sarah, and Visa Call transfers calling points to Yad Sarah. High school students from Tzfas who wanted to contribute to Yad Sarah gathered empty bottles for several days and gave the NIS 100 ($45) in accumulated deposit money to Yad Sarah.

Today Yad Sarah has at least 92 branches around the country. Yad Sarah operates a geriatric clinic and a transportation service for the handicapped, distributes hot meals and provides a variety of services for elderly people living alone. The Dachaf Institute once conducted a survey that showed that every other family has taken advantage of Yad Sarah's services at one time or another.

Yad Sarah has calculated the total value of all its operations if people or government had to pay for them and it came out to over $300 million a year!

Ezra Lemarpeh

Yad Sarah was not the only organization that sent vehicles all around Jerusalem following the snowfall. Surprisingly, ambulances marked "Ezra Lemarpeh," which is known to be a Bnei Brak chessed organization, were also seen frequently.

"We have four ambulances," explains Ezra Lemarpeh spokesman Rav Avishai Bagad. "As you saw, our ambulances worked with chains on the tires on the day of the snowfall, but without public announcements."

Ezra Lemarpeh ambulances operate in Jerusalem every day of the year. "We take patients in need for dialysis, radiation therapy, physiotherapy, and even take the elderly to their grandson's wedding. The ambulances are not used only for those who need an ambulance, but often transport handicapped people confined to their wheelchair. All this, of course, is without charge."

Of course. When one considers the activities of this special organization, headed by Rav Elimelech Fierer, it leaves one awestruck. "Our organization's banner bears the words, `All who turn to us will be attended to free of charge,' " says Rav Bagad.

Consumable items, such as diapers for adults, have to be paid for, but the ambulance service is free. "So are the flights abroad. The same applies regarding consultations with Rav Fierer. We also loan medical equipment, for which the borrower must leave a check as a deposit. We don't use the check and don't cash it even temporarily. At the Ezra Lemarpeh building, no tzedokoh boxes can be found and there are no solicitations for contributions. It's important to us that people do not feel obligated to pay because of the service they receive."

Ezra Lemarpeh's flagship service is Rav Fierer's medical advice, for which there is no substitute. This Jew from Bnei Brak, who never studied medicine, was graced from Above with an amazing ability in diagnosis and understanding of the science of medicine. He knows everybody who is anybody in the world of medicine, knows how to read x-rays with astonishing expertise, and whoever is in need of an operation or treatment turns to him to receive advice and guidance in finding the best doctor in the field.

"Even doctors, and not small-time doctors, often consult with Rav Fierer," says Bagad. "They come to him with x-rays and with medical data asking for a diagnosis, and they trust Rav Fierer's diagnosis without being able to explain this astounding facility of his."

To get through to Ezra Lemarpeh requires a great deal of patience. The phones ring constantly. "When our electronic phone system is turned on [that is, on most regular days] we can get over 10,000 calls," says Rav Bagad. "Not 10,000 callers, of course, but 10,000 calls. Presumably some of them are repeated attempts to call." Nevertheless the load is tremendous.

To get through to the center is not easy, but when one needs to, it can be done. Rav Fierer also meets with people face-to- face. Urgent cases receive priority. "He's just one person," says Bagad, "but he is surrounded by loyal assistants such as Rav Rafael Wolfe, for instance, who focuses on mental and other problems."

Just how is this enterprise maintained financially, if donations are not solicited?

"What else? From donations. I can't recall a single case in which we refused to accept a donation," says Rav Bagad. "Most of the donations are from good Jews in Eretz Yisroel, and some of them come from abroad. But we have a clear limitation. We will not accept donations from somebody who suggests advancing his turn in exchange for $10. Not that."

How can a patient be flown abroad without payment?

"We do not pay for the flight," explains Bagad. "We organize the logistics of the flight. We transport the patient to the hospital in an ambulance. In the ambulance we take care of everything tied to intensive care including incubator, monitors, intravenous fluids, doctor's kit stocked with medications and a life- support system. We organize about 200 flights per year."

Each of these flights involves extensive coordination. It's not easy work. "We have to arrange for a family to receive the patient upon arrival and accompany him in the airport. Arrangements have to be made for a family to host the patient and accompany him during the treatment. In certain cases we pay for the flight. We get donations of frequent flyer miles, allowing us to sponsor the flight in special cases."

Ezra Lemarpeh is renowned primarily for its medical consultations, but its sphere of activity extends to other areas, including a center for child cancer patients. "The center was set up based on the view that a sick child cannot remain in the hospital," says Rav Bagad. "A hospital is a factory for bacteria. For every problem he already has, the child can latch onto several more in the hospital. Hospitalization is also liable to destroy the family unit. Parents have to sit beside the child and in the meantime the home falls apart.

"Therefore we supply many children with full treatment kits outside of the hospital. It goes without saying that sometimes hospitalization is indispensable, such as when the patient undergoes surgery or chemotherapy treatment. But hospitalization should be minimized as much as possible."

By arranging for doctors and nurses, medical care can be provided. But there's more. "We also have didactic equipment, learning programs and games. All of it is checked, of course."

There is even a special department for children whose parents are hospitalized. "When a parent is hospitalized, sometimes the children do not receive proper care. Is there somebody to greet the child when he comes home from school? Someone to see whether he has homework? Someone to make him a hot meal? Sometimes there are relatives or neighbors, but not always. We have a pool of women volunteers who receive the child and take care of [him or her] from 3:00 in the afternoon until 8:00 at night, when [he] returns home after dinner."

Ezra Lemarpeh has its own department for equipment loans. "We have very expensive pieces of equipment," says Rav Bagad. "Automatic physiotherapy devices, for example. Somebody breaks his elbow, for instance. It has to be moved constantly to restore its function. This kind of physiotherapy hurts and people avoid taking it on. We have an automatic physiotherapy device whose speed of operation is slow and set to the patient's needs. The arm is moved constantly, without pain, and this is an excellent solution."

This is just one example among Ezra Lemarpeh's vast array of services, which are run by some 300 volunteers. The organization has only a handful of paid workers, such as the spokesman. "Before I began receiving a salary I worked as a volunteer for four years," he recounts. "And my salary is nothing to envy. Rav Fierer saves money on these kinds of expenses. If someone is thinking of working for us because of the pay, he'd better think twice."

Mogen Lecholeh

In Jerusalem Rabbi Benny Fischer runs a chessed organization called Mogen Lecholeh, whose main mission is to provide consultations for people in need of medical services. Rabbi Fischer knows which doctors to recommend and which doctors not to recommend. He has connections with the city's hospitals and a word from him can sometimes shorten procedures and help get a tormented patient onto the operating table faster.

"Mogen Lecholeh does not raise funds and does not pay to fly patients abroad for treatments," says Spokesman Avi Levy. The emphasis is on advice and guidance. In certain cases, such as brain surgery, suitable medical care may not be available in Eretz Yisroel, and then the patient must be flown abroad. Some brain surgeries are difficult and require tremendous precision and the biggest experts in the field operate in Germany or the US. Rabbi Fischer refers the patient to the right surgeon and then Mogen Lecholeh activates a well-oiled apparatus. Luxembourg, a Bnei Brak travel agency, has developed a network of ties with different airlines and it helps arrange quick flights for urgent cases.

Mogen Lecholeh was founded with the encouragement of HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt"l. The organization had a modest beginning but today it has sophisticated equipment and an ambulance with a life-support system. And most important of all, it has a great deal of knowledge Rabbi Fischer has accumulated during his years of work.

How is the organization run? The service is provided free of charge and callers are never asked to make a donation. Like all chessed organizations in Israel, Mogen Lecholeh receives crumbs from the budget cake. "The major contributions come from abroad," says Levy. "Our outfitted ambulance was donated by a friend of the organization from abroad. Were we to receive one shekel from every person who was helped, we would be millionaires. But we don't even hint to them."

Ezer Mitzion

Ezer Mitzion is truly indispensable. It operates clinics open during hours when most other clinics are closed and runs a summer camp for children suffering from cancer, including a guest house for children from outside of Gush Dan in need of chemotherapy treatments. When the snow fell in Jerusalem, Ezer Mitzion also worked overtime. Thousands of people contacted the organization. Some had been discharged from the hospital and needed a ride home while others needed treatments such as dialysis.

Ezer Mitzion is distinguished as a chessed organization for the range of services offered: mental health care, handicapped vehicles, meals for hospital visitors staying at the patient's bedside and help for sick and elderly people who are housebound. The field of mental health care has been neglected in the chareidi sector and when it began to offer support services for mental patients and their families, even Ezer Mitzion itself was astonished by the level of demand.

"We have psychiatrists who treat people at a subsidized rate," says Mrs. Kosover. "The psychiatrists are paid their fee, but it is lower for those who are referred by Ezer Mitzion. We have a social worker who arranges for rehabilitation benefits the government gives to those with over 40 percent mental disability. Consultation for mental problems is provided by religious and chareidi psychologists and a team of professionals. Since this department began operations, a large number of people have turned to it."

Ezer Mitzion also operates a volunteer section to help in the event of terrorist attacks. Jerusalem has known its share of bombings and other attacks. In the early news reports following an attack, Ezer Mitzion volunteers are often asked to report to the hospitals. Every volunteer knows exactly which is "her" hospital.

In addition Ezer Mitzion offers a range of services for children with special needs, allowing their families a bit of relief. At a special center, seminary students watch over the children and tutor them. The children are brought to the center in Ezer Mitzion vehicles, stay from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., and even eat dinner there. Ezer Mitzion also provides developmental assistants at subsidized rates. Even specialized equipment for these children is available on loan, including small-size reading stands and balls for physiotherapy treatment.

Small Organizations

There are also many smaller, lesser-known organizations, but perhaps they are just as important. Yad Eliezer, known for its food baskets, operates a Unit for Patient Assistance whose goal is to talk with cancer patients, to listen to them and to offer support. It was started by Rav Yitzchok Weingot, a former cancer patient who had a full recovery bechasdei Shomayim. Later he returned to the oncology department at Hadassah Hospital to help patients get through difficult periods.

Rav Weingot is one of the only men on the Yad Eliezer roster. He set up a pool of women volunteers who visit hospitals to offer patients encouragement. Besides talking to cancer patients they also provide wigs for women--mostly secular women--whose hair has fallen out. The wigs are donated by Atara. "But most of all is accompanying the patients," says the unit spokeswoman. "We also obtain bone-marrow contributions through Yad Eliezer. Sometimes a patient may urgently need a bone marrow transfusion and we organize the bone-marrow drive."

The Unit for Patient Assistance sends several volunteers to hospitals every day, and periodically someone--perhaps an accordion player--comes in to spread a bit of joy. This may sound trifling, but those who have been hospitalized in these kinds of wards, lo oleinu, know the importance of human contact, empathy and the willingness to lend a hand. It can even make the difference for patients skirting the thin line between life and death.

An organization called Bikur Cholim, directed by Rebbetzin Raizi Rotenberg, relieves parents staying at their children's bedside in hospitals. This service is also offered by Ezer Mizion.

This brief list of chessed organizations in the field of medicine does not even touch the vast range of chessed organizations in other areas of life. It does not even cover all organizations that can be considered to have a connection with medicine, such as Hatzoloh and Zaka.

Just glance at the many pages of gemach listings in any chareidi telephone book. Then give the chareidi public a little pat on the back. Don't we deserve it every once in a while?

An Ezer Mizion Driver

Yishai, an Ezer Mizion ambulance driver, was driving one day in Jerusalem's Beit Hakerem neighborhood when he noticed an Ezer Mizion ambulance parked in front of a falafel store. Wondering what the ambulance was doing there, Yishai slowed down and saw David, the driver of the parked ambulance. "You came all the way to Beit Hakerem to buy falafel?" Yishai teased David.

"Actually, it's not for me," David answered. "A few days ago, I took a girl to the Alyn Pediatric Hospital and Rehabilitation Center. This girl had undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor, and was going to Alyn for therapy. While she was in my ambulance, I overheard her talking to her friend on a cell phone. She told her friend that she used to love buying falafel at the falafel store in Beit Hakerem, and now she can't go there anymore because of her illness.

"Today, I'm taking this girl to Alyn again," David continued. "So I figured, why not make her happy and buy her falafel from that store?"


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.