Hamodia, Israel – September 2013 Section 2
The Chessed Doers
Sharing the Burden
A glimpse at Ezer Mizion’s world of chessed. Volunteering with all their heart, with dedication and consistence
Serious illnesses, trying situations — There are those who immediately step forward, the minute they hear about such things * They are called Ezer Mizion and anything connected to illness and coping with it is their department * Ezer Mizion is the address for patients and their families * They stretch out a hand, ease the pain, calm the fears, and provide assistance, enveloping everyone coping with medical challenge in a soft blanket of ahavat Yisrael * Avinu malkeinu, our Father, our King, send a full recovery to the ill of your people!
By S. Yaakovson
Thousands of people, each one with his own story. Each individual is a world in himself, each family — a complex system that enters a difficult and painful period. Each family and its particular battle. But there is one common denominator uniting them all: Along with the sorrow and the pain, a ray of light broke forth from the darkness shrouding them, a ray of light in the form of an Ezer Mizion volunteer or professional staff member , who stepped up, showed interest, and offered help and support.
Ms. Willner, director of the Division for Support of Families of Cancer Patients at Ezer Mizion, speaks about the Division and its work: “For quite a few years now, thirty three to be exact, Ezer Mizion has been at the frontlines of support for patients and their families. At first the organization was small and local. With time, it grew, both in the areas of assistance under its command and in the scope of its deployment. Today, Ezer Mizion’s services reach the entire country and anyone who finds himself needing help receives it here with a smile, with a full heart, with all their soul.
“At Ezer Mizion, new areas of assistance are constantly developing and new divisions open to keep up with the needs that arise on the field,” Ms. Willner describes. “Every area that we enter brings additional ones on its heels. That is how the need arose to establish a special division to support these patients and their families and envelop them in a full range of services in all necessary areas, so as to enable them, as much as possible, to maintain some semblance of routine during these difficult times.
“You have to understand that a family that suddenly finds itself in the hospital needs help in many areas. In general, even the family itself does not realize what exactly it needs, until we offer them specific types of assistance: meals, transport, babysitters, medical counseling, and more. That is why we established this division – to remove all concerns for the peripheral details from the family’s shoulders and enable them to focus on the main thing — caring for the sick family member.”
A Burdensome, Oppressive Secret
Zevi Freund, the Division’s activity coordinator, brings up another aspect of need that led to opening the Division: “A very common phenomenon in our community is concealment. For a number of reasons, many of the families prefer to keep the fact that someone in the family is sick a deep, dark secret. The problem is that this secretiveness usually takes a heavy toll that piles additional difficulty on the already existing difficulty, inestimably complicates matters, and drains the family of physical and emotional energies that are so necessary for coping with the problem itself.
“We encountered extreme cases in which the children did not know that their sibling was sick until the situation was almost hopeless. We have also had people who changed their family name before entering the hospital so they won’t be identified. Part of the motivation for this concealment is connected to a deep fear of the disease, which they avoid even calling by name. Many times, it flows from a lack of clear knowledge of the subject. This is where our role comes in: To give people real facts from the field about thousands of patients who, thank G-d, recovered, about families that went through the raging storm and resumed blessed routine, about the abundant help we can offer them in every area.
“When we address the family members, we say to them: ‘Hashem gave you a unique task. It is not at all easy, and nobody would willingly change places with you. We are here to enable you to devote yourself completely to the relative who needs your help. Try to pass on to our responsibility every other onus weighing on you: who will watch the children at home, who will do the laundry, cook, learn with the children…’ We also offer help in matters directly related to the sick family member. For example: A family that was always thrifty and avoided using taxis is told that the sick child may not use public transportation. ‘Don’t worry,’ we assure them. ‘Our volunteer network is set up for that very purpose. The volunteers will drive you to treatments and will bring you home afterwards.
“‘You can obtain any necessary medical counseling from Rabbi Shimon Rogoway, Ezer Mizion’s medical counselor. Our staff can also help you move up appointments, reach the right doctors, and assist in whatever you need from this angle.’ Slowly but surely, the people find that Ezer Mizion encompasses them in an enveloping cushion of services. Relieved of these extra burdens, they can focus on the primary goal of caring for their sick family member.”
Each One Helps His Fellow
One of the wonderful services the Division provides for patients and their families is a network of support groups. Ms. Porat, the Division’s community social services mentor for adults, discusses this aspect of the service package:
“Every day, I am at the adult oncology wards in Tel Hashomer hospital. On specific request, I also come to Beilinson, Ichilov, and Asuta. The shock, panic, and confusion are evident. I come over, introduce myself, strike up a warm, close, personal connection, and offer them any help they might need.”
How do these people react when they see a stranger coming over and trying to strike a connection?
“If a stranger would come over and try to initiate a relationship under other circumstances, it could very well be that they would recoil. But here, it is precisely the opposite: In the hospital, where they feel they are strange and out of place in their surroundings, someone comes over to them and introduces herself as a representative of Ezer Mizion, an organization that everyone has heard about. Yes, there are still some cases where the people back off, but most are very happy that someone they consider “one of their own” is coming over to them, speaking with them about their feelings and their difficult situation, and offering them assistance in many of the areas concerning them, including who will pick up the younger child from preschool and who will watch the children in the afternoon, while they are here, awaiting critical test results.
“Sometimes, at the very earliest stage, people don’t even grasp yet what awaits them, how much physical and emotional energy they will have to drum up in order to sit in the ward for hours upon hours, be available for their family member and support him. But after a few days pass by and they comprehend the reality of the new situation, they open up, share their feelings, show readiness to accept the help being offered, and understand that our only interest is to make things easier for them.
“There are some people who wait for me even before I have a chance to go over to them. They already heard about us from the veterans of the ward or from hospital staff members and are eager for me to approach them.
Why does the hospital staff tell them about you?
All hospital wards employ social workers, whose job is to speak with the patients, see what they need, calm them, and help resolve the peripheral issues. The problem is that most of them are not from our circles, and with all their good intentions and readiness to help, they are not aware enough of our unique needs and necessary sensitivities. As a result, patients from our community naturally resist their attempts to help. After they present irrelevant suggestions that are not aligned with our value system once and again, that is enough to repel people from listening to them.
“Since we entered the ward, this problem has been resolved. When a Torah-observant family enters the hospital, the staff tells them about us and refers them to us on their own initiative. The staff watches with amazement how people of our community are open to receive help and happy to get support when the help that is offered does not contradict halachah or clash with Torah values, and when it meets the needs unique to our sector.”
What do you offer them besides technical assistance – with the housework, with the children, and with shifts sitting with the patient?
“There are two additional extremely important areas of assistance that our Division offers —support groups and the “Friend for Life” project. You have to understand that even when the family circle and the circle of friends extend a helping hand, offer support, and are ready to lend a listening ear, the patient and his family still may have the feeling that “Anyone who wasn’t there will never really understand.’ As a result of what happened, they are exposed to countless new terms. They enter a new, different world, with unfamiliar concepts and doings that fill their entire day. People who are inside this world find it difficult to impossible to share their feelings with people on the outside and to feel that they really understand them. It’s a different story when Ezer Mizion people come to give support. These volunteers devote big chunks of their lives to support patients and their families, and they are regarded by patients and their families as ‘someone on the inside,’ someone you can speak to freely, without concern that he does not know what you are talking about…
“Another source of profound support is the mutual help provided by support groups. We opened two separate groups — for men and women with cancer, and for parents and spouses of patients. The groups meet once every two or three weeks. Each time, we prepare a different program. Some of the sessions are of a light, experiential nature. Others carry a more professional tone and guide the members to proper coping tools, such as a psychodrama workshop, a lecture given by a clinical social worker, and talks by rabbanim who provide counsel and inspiration to help them get through this period.
“The most significant aspect is what the group members give each other. They discover that many other people are coping with a challenge similar to theirs. They share dilemmas and struggles and give each other strength. All the participants feel that the group turned them into one big family and created a unique closeness between them. Women report that they regard their fellow group members as close relatives, with whom they can share the deepest parts of their lives.”
How do people react the first time you suggest that they join a support group?
“Naturally, some are put off at first, as they would be by anything unfamiliar, especially when there is also the concern about exposure. But soon enough they discover that a feeling of mutual responsibility runs like a thread among all the members of the group, and nobody talks outside about anything said within the group circle.
“I was particularly surprised by what happened when we opened a support group for men. We were kind of skeptical when we started the group and didn’t know how much cooperation we would get from them. To our surprise, the group fleshed out, and a remarkable dynamics of mutual support and openness developed among them. The members of the group feel that these sessions give them a lot of strength to continue the battle.”
Companion in Battle
“Another project initiated by the Division is the ‘Friend for Life’ project, which matches up sick women with a supportive mentor and coach. The mentor forges a close, personal relationship with the patient and serves as a sister, friend, mother, and also daughter. The volunteers in this project are trained by us for the role in a professional training course that gives them the tools to fill this friendship in the best possible and most effective way. It is touching to see the bonds formed between the friends. The volunteer accompanies the patient in whatever way necessary, as the patient wishes: To outpatient visits, vital outings, and needed assistance, as the situation demands.
“One of the patients, who married off her daughter, breathed a sigh of relief when she saw how her ‘friend for life’ helped her technically move along the preparations for the wedding, and at the same time, gave her emotional support during these emotion-laden days, wrought with excitement, tension, and many heartfelt prayers. Another, who suddenly felt that the world was collapsing on her entire family, was grateful to see that her ‘friend for life’ was devoted to her for the duration to an indescribable degree.
In conclusion, can you share with us an authentic, moving story?
“Sorry, but all of us, the entire Division staff, are committed to absolute confidentiality. The patients and their families trust us and we have no license to share their stories with others. Be that as it may, it is clear that all the cases touch the heart. In any case, until He Who creates cures and generates salvations shall banish all sickness from the world, we will always be there for the struggling patients and their families to help them get through the difficult trial sent to them from Above.
(מסגרת בעמוד 2)
Ezer Mizion — Is Our Family!
After Mrs. Klein, mother of 12-year-old Yitzchaki, describes to us everything they went through and the needs that suddenly became so vital to them, she goes on to say how encouraging and important it was that Zevi Freund was there at their side, with a warm smile on his face and a flow of good words.
“When he came over to us, it was a breath of fresh air. He calmed us down and filled us with a sense of tranquility. The help from Ezer Mizion that followed at the heels of our conversation gave us the warm feeling that someone was carrying the burden with us and would be there at our side for the harrowing journey.
True, we did not have any small children at home, so we did not need the services of a babysitter. As far as meals were concerned, we also managed more or less. But the few times that we did need food for Shabbat – all it took was one telephone call, and it was all arranged. Knowing the help was there if we needed it, knowing that there was someone to turn to for any need that may come up — from medical issues like counseling and escort, to technical matters like cleaning help — imbued us with a sense of calm. This enabled us to direct our best energies to the most important thing — caring for our child and coping with the difficult challenge.
In my opinion, the most special aspect of Ezer Mizion’s support is that they make you feel as if they’re not doing us a favor, but rather the opposite — we’re doing them a favor by accepting their help. Batsheva, the Division secretary, reminds me from time to time that all the abundance they pour upon us is not charity or social service assistance, but something that is coming to us. Why? Because Hashem gave us a test and we have to cope with it, but everything else is their department. That is what Ezer Mizion is there for.
In addition to all this, we can still feel the energy that was injected into our limbs at the wonderful retreat arranged by Ezer Mizion. They were days full of exciting experiences, fun, relaxation, and blessed release. We were able to remove ourselves from the hospital and from everything connected to the illness and simply enjoy a vacation together, the whole family, in a special atmosphere. Words cannot express our appreciation to Ezer Mizion for this retreat!
Can you define the most special aspect of the assistance you received from Ezer Mizion?
In general, in situations like this, you reveal the beautiful side of the Jewish people. Dozens of chessed organizations encompass the patients with assistance: One sees to the food, another to the transportation, a third helps out with medical counseling, and a fourth – with educational advice. Ezer Mizion spreads its long arms of help and chessed over all of these areas together, and with these loving arms, it embraces the patient and his family and enwraps them in an encasement of services that includes countless areas and sub-areas, all provided with tremendous devotion and sincere concern that cannot be matched.
Ezer Mizion was always perceived by us as a chessed organization that looks out for what the community needs. Today, Ezer Mizion is our family. I am waiting impatiently to put this period behind us and to rally with all my strength to volunteer work at Ezer Mizion. Because Ezer Mizion will forever remain our extended family, and we hope, with Hashem’s help, to have the opportunity to contribute our part to this remarkable family.
(מסגרת בעמוד 3)
Teachers Also Request Support
There is no end to the areas dealt with by the Division for Support of Cancer Patients and their Families. Most of these arose from the field. The reality revealed the need and Ezer Mizion adopted another area as “requiring care.”
One of the new areas that has come to the fore is assistance to teachers and rebbes when a student or a student’s parent becomes ill, may Hashem send them all a refuah sheleimah, a speedy recovery. “Every call of this kind that comes to us is dealt with by professionals and educators who have accumulated experience in this painful field. We are also planning a seminar dealing with the subject to guide the teaching staff on how to cope correctly with such unfortunate cases that they may encounter in their schools. The seminar swill take place in the near future, and notices will be sent to the schools. In addition, we have an orderly counseling telephone station. Proper guidance definitely helps and eases the struggle and is another important addition to the comprehensive support system that Ezer Mizion seeks to provide.