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How did a charitable organization known internationally for its medical equipment lending service par excellence become also an organization that records the life stories of elderly Israelis as a legacy for their families? * Yad Sarah volunteer Charna Duchanov tells the story behind the story

Yad Sarah’s evolution is the inevitable consequence of devoted volunteers identifying a need and acting on it. One of Yad Sarah’s other services – the Home Visiting Service – sends volunteers into the homes of those who can’t get out on their own, volunteers who in turn bring to the participants different projects to engage the mind and raise the spirits. As the project evolved, volunteers noticed that some of the participants in the program, in particular Holocaust survivors, felt the need to talk about their difficult life experiences with the volunteers, who were only too glad to listen. The personal rapport that had blossomed between the volunteers and the participants in the Home Visiting Service set the stage for the sharing of painful memories and heartbreaking secrets. Someone had the idea that it would be nice to write down these conversations and perhaps share the finished product with the families. Rivka Avi-hail took the lead and turned the idea into another project with a soul. And the Life Story Project was born. It too evolved slowly over time. At first, the stories were typed and printed on the computer in black and white. Later, photos were added and a printer hired. Today, each participant receives a finished product in color, designed by a graphic artist to his specifications. Each volume is the work of a team of volunteers who give of their expertise. One volunteer interviews and tape-records the stories over several sessions, another types and transcribes the recordings, another edits the material and yet another determines how the book will look. At the present time, some 300 volunteers operating out of more than 25 Yad Sarah branches produce about 120 volumes a year in Hebrew and several other languages, including English, French, Russian, Yiddish, and Farsi. The program is ably run by Hagit Schiowitz, who brings both empathy and impressive professional credentials to the job.Hagit’s team of regional coordinators and volunteers are hand-picked by her and trained by Yad Sarah. They come from all walks of life and usually come to the project by word of mouth. The training involves one-on-one sessions as well as quarterly group meetings where volunteers can find answers to the questions and issues that arise during the course of interviews. At least twice a year, volunteers participate in all day workshops, hearing lectures by professionals on a variety of relevant topics aimed at personal enrichment. In addition, Hagit and her team are always available to handle problems that arise and answer questions from volunteers. A manual prepared for the volunteers guides them through the process of interviewing and includes suggested topics and questions as well as tips on how to gently steer the interviewee through what is often an emotional process. In some cases, certain distressing topics cannot be dealt with at all and sometimes they need to be left for a later visit. Sometimes interviewees feel relief at sharing a painful topic with their volunteer, but prefer to leave it out of the final version as they don’t want their family to know about it. The storytellers are always the final arbiters of what will be included in their own book. In addition, editing is minimal as the idea is for the voice of the storyteller to shine through. Unlike other such programs that record the stories of Holocaust survivors as a way to preserve the memory of those who died and to record the experiences of those that survived, the Life Story Project’s main objective is not documentation only but personal empowerment. The program gives people with stories to tell the opportunity to leave a written legacy for their families even if they have no writing talent of their own. Over the course of their meetings, volunteers and participants form an emotional bond that encourages the sharing of confidences. This sharing reminds the storytellers of who they used to be and what they accomplished in life before the sometimes harsh realities of aging made them and others forget. They are able to reconnect with their younger selves and the people they knew in the past as well as their own strengths and accomplishments. The process is very meaningful and empowering and improves cognitive skills as well. What attracts volunteers to the Life Story Project? The project first of all allows volunteers to build a meaningful relationship with an interesting individual they would not otherwise have met in their daily lives. The volunteers come away from the experience feeling they have accomplished something in a relatively short period of time that is both rewarding and tangible not only for the storyteller, but also for their family and community. In addition, both volunteers and storytellers may use the process to express their own special talents. One volunteer, a talented artist, sketched pictures of the Holocaust as experienced by a survivor who had virtually no photos from before the war. The two chose one to decorate the cover of the storyteller’s book, with amazing results. To date, more than 1,000 stories have been told and recorded for future generations by the Life Story Project’s very dedicated and talented group of volunteers. At the end of the process, when the book is bound and ready, the team encourages the families to hold a celebratory event. The volunteer presents the finished product to the proud storyteller in the presence of the family, sometimes at home, sometimes at the Yad Sarah branch involved. The evolution of the Life Story Project has been a natural progression and again demonstrates Yad Sarah to be a wonderfully innovative organization, constantly seeking new and original ways to serve the Israeli community in the 21st century.

 
 
Third Graders Collect 500 Coins for Yad Sarah
The children wanted to help others less fortunate

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A Day at Yad Sarah
Chanukah is over and winter is upon us, but at Yad Sarah it is business as usual. See photo gallery above. Read more...

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Giving Stays in the Family
Elisheva Printz, lending director of the Jerusalem region, writes about Yad Sarah's newest branch in Kiryat Ye'arim (Telz- Stone) under the direction of the Felheimer family. * The family is continuing its own tradition as well as that of Yad Sarah's, and has established a local branch in their home * Photography: David Rothner *

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Hagit Yasu Gives Back
Customers who come to the Yad Sarah branch in Sderot are surprised to see Hagit Yasu sitting in front of one of the computers. (pictured) Hagit is well known as the winner of the "Kochav Nolad" program six years ago and received lots of publicity following the win.

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Where Does a Family from Oklahoma Turn When They Need Help in a Medical Emergency? Why, to Yad Sarah, Of Course!

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Yad Sarah is Now Part of the Fun in Jerusalem Family
When Fun in Jerusalem owner and creator Joanna Shebson was looking for a venue to host her family event, she chose Yad Sarah and became a fan

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Our Young People Also Give Back
Thanks to Shmuel Friedman, a high school student who has been volunteering at Yad Sarah's Givataim branch this summer. Helping out in the computer department,Shmuel also helps people carry borrowed equipment to their cars. We wish him the best of luck in his studies next year at a Jerusalem yeshiva. To volunteer, please call *6444

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Beit Safafa: Amina Aliyan speaks the Yad Sarah language
YS site reporter Sumiya Al Nabari talks with the director of the Jerusalem Beit Safafa branch

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As the Music Played, the Patient with Parkinson's Stopped Shaking
Hamutal Ben Or, director of the Day Rehabilitation Center at Yad Sarah House in Jerusalem, talks about a moment when music became therapy * Thanks to Musethica from all of us at Yad Sarah * Photographer: David Rothner

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