As Houthi attacks disrupt Red Sea shipping, Yad Sarah flies in critical medical equipment

With funding from the Jewish Federations of North America, the medical nonprofit is bringing in dozens of containers' worth of oxygen generators, physical therapy machines and other gear

A plane carrying hundreds of vitally needed mobile oxygen generators and rehabilitation equipment touched down in Israel this week to help the Yad Sarah medical nonprofit replenish its stores as attacks on container ships in the Red Sea have limited sea routes, the organization said.

In addition to the first flight that landed in the early hours of Tuesday morning, dozens of planes are scheduled to land in Israel in the coming weeks as part of an airlift effort dubbed “Operation Breath of Life,” which has received significant financial support from the Jewish Federations of North America, according to Yad Sarah, which is best known for providing free loans of medical and rehabilitative home-care equipment. 

Since Oct. 7, Yad Sarah has been scrambling to provide such equipment to the nearly 200,000 Israeli who were displaced by the fighting — in most cases leaving their medical equipment behind — and to the thousands of people who were injured in the initial attacks and the hundreds of soldiers, and a smaller number of civilians, who have sustained physical wounds in the four months of war, Moshe Cohen, the nonprofit’s CEO, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

The organization, which typically operates offices inside hospitals, opened a new store near the Dead Sea to lend equipment to the displaced people who were moved to hotels there.

The organization noted that in the first three months of war alone, it lended a full year’s worth of inventory. “The organization has extended support to over 13,000 Israelis directly impacted by the war by providing essential medical services, housing and equipment loans,” Yad Sarah said in a statement.

In order to keep up with the growing demand, in the first weeks of the war the organization ordered $3.81 million worth of “additional emergency equipment” from around the world, notably Europe and Asia, Cohen said.

As the Houthi rebels in Yemen began attacking container ships traveling through the Red Sea, it has become increasingly difficult for Yad Sarah — as well as hospitals and other organizations — to import goods by sea. As this equipment is critically needed, that left Yad Sarah with no other choice but to bring it in by air, a far costlier venture, Cohen said.

“So earlier this week we sent a plane — with the generosity of the [Jewish Federations of North America] — to bring over the first five containers of equipment,” Cohen told eJP on Friday.

This included some 500 rechargeable mobile oxygen generators, as well as hundreds of Continuous Passive Motion physical therapy machines, which are used for rehabilitation after limb injuries. Another 500 mobile oxygen generators are expected shortly, Cohen added.

These generators, which have a rechargeable battery, are critical for people who rely on oxygen machines as the models that they are currently using must remain plugged into a wall to work. “So no electricity, no oxygen,” Cohen said. “You can see why this makes people stressed.”

Flying the equipment instead of shipping it by sea is roughly four times as expensive, and there is an additional tax, Cohen said, adding, “which is absurd.”

The Houthi attacks significantly delayed the delivery of 64 containers of critically needed medical supplies, by three to five months, according to the organization. “There’s still a lot more equipment that needs to be brought over,” Cohen said.