Rebecca Palmer -- From Organic Chemist to People Chemist[ 17/07/2005 ]
Rebecca Palmer --
From Organic Chemist to People Chemist

Thank God for Yad Sarah for getting me out of the smelly lab and away from all those toxic chemicals. Not that I didn't like working as organic chemist, but how can you compare it to running a Yad Sarah branch?

Here every day, I get to work with great volunteers, meet all kinds of different people and best of all, I'm getting to help people in very concrete ways. Plus, managing the Beit Shemesh branch has given me gifts and skills that I never even thought I would receive.

Let me back up a bit and tell you a little bit about myself. I was born in England. My parents were Zionist. We made aliyah when I was a teenager. I did my national service in the police forensic labs. I loved it. When I finished I went to study chemistry at the Technion. I got my Masters degree there and then started to do work for my Professor. After a while we moved to Bet Shemesh and I wasn't working.

At the time that I was asked to volunteer and take over the branch, I had already dropped working as a chemist for quite some time. I had three children by then and my youngest was just over one. (I have since had number four.) The job sounded like a challenge and since the branch was only open twice a week, it sounded manageable. And indeed it was a challenge. The place was old and run-down. It wasn't an aesthetically pleasant place to work in or to visit. It was poorly lit and we had no computers. We were just doing the basic lending of equipment. Then, as I took over, little by little, we made improvements. First, we renovated, put up walls, lowered the ceilings and put in more modern lighting. We computerized the branch, making the administration easier. Then slowly, we increased the days that the branch was opened and I started recruiting more volunteers. I publicized the branch to the different communities here in Beit Shemesh. A lot of people didn't even know that we were here, or what Yad Sarah does. We introduced more services. There now are eight volunteers every week going to visit people that are home-bound. We have a lawyer coming every month for free legal advice. There is now our own volunteer technician installing emergency assistance alarm in homes and we have a volunteer who installs handrails in people's homes. Oh yes, we also have a visiting dental service and a taxi service for people in wheelchairs (nechonit). So now I think that there are only a few services missing here that would make it necessary for someone from here to have to travel into our main branch in Jerusalem.

Five years after I started here, I am very proud to say that the branch is open six days a week. We have 50 volunteers. From ultra-orthodox to secular. From high school students, to our vibrant 85 year old, Chava (who comes in three times a week and is always willing to fill in when someone is away or sick!) Last year we helped around 1500 people. We would like to reach out to the Ethiopian community Ė they donít seem to be aware of our services. And it's all possible, because of this incredible staff that's so dedicated. I have one volunteer in charge of each activity. They are so good, that most days I can work from home and only have to pop in for a few minutes. And if I get bored, it doesn't last, my boss Elisheva makes sure of that. Right after we start a new service going, she's right there, pushing me into another project.

So now instead of inhaling the odors of organic chemicals, I'm inhaling the smells of lubricating oil as its being applied to wheel of walkers. I prefer the smell of lubricating oil at our Beit Shemesh branch. It's much, much sweeter.

[photo: Rebecca, at right, celebrating a birthday of one of her fellow volunteers]