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The volunteer medical aid organization Yad Sarah is responding to increasing demand for its services by opening a new multi-service center in Ashdod, home to one of Israel’s largest Russian-speaking olim, or immigrant, communities.

In addition to this community, the 32,000-square-foot space will serve elderly and disabled people in need of medical equipment, legal aid and social welfare.

The new building will include a spacious lending center, offices and classrooms, an exhibition and guidance center, a day rehabilitation center, an emergency call center and an equipment repair area.

While just a half-hour drive from Tel Aviv, the city is considered part of Israel’s periphery because of its low-income and other vulnerable populations.

Yad Sarah opened its Ashdod branch 30 years ago, with volunteers working out of a small public shelter situated between two low-income housing units. As the population of the city grew, the branch has tried to meet the population’s growing demand, according to Adele Goldberg, executive director of Friends of Yad Sarah.

Ashdod’s branch currently handles 20,000 unique visits for equipment loans per year, lending out hospital beds, patient hoists, wheelchairs, oxygen equipment, home necklace alarms and breast pumps.

Despite the facility’s physical constraints, the branch still offers caregiver support groups, free legal aid and other services that help the elderly and people with disabilities live more independently.

“After the influx of nearly 90,000 Russian immigrants in the 1990s and 2000s, our Ashdod branch needed to scale quickly to continue offering residents Yad Sarah’s life-changing services,” explained Goldberg. “The old branch space had barely enough room for volunteers to work and process medical-equipment loans, much less to store it. Volunteers often had to work outside to repair equipment. Now, in addition to meeting these vital needs, this branch will be able to offer new programs.”

These programs include physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy, music and art therapy, support groups, legal advice and community services. The center will also include vans for transporting people in wheelchairs.

About one in five of Ashdod’s Russian olim are older adults, many of whom are not fluent in Hebrew. To better support them, an outreach campaign will be geared to raise awareness of Yad Sarah’s offerings and gain more Russian-speaking volunteers.

Ashdod also has the largest Georgian-Jewish community in the world, the largest Romanian-Jewish community in Israel, and communities that include Jews from France, South America, Ethiopia, India, Iran and South Africa.

Construction is anticipated to begin October 2019.

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