“To tell the truth,” says Rabbi Chananya Chollak, “I never imagined that this was how my life would look.” He planned it entirely differently. Forty years ago, he was a kollel yungerman (married Yeshiva student) in Bnei Brak, a talmid (student) of Ponovezh Yeshiva, one of the closest disciples of Maran Harav Shach, and he was sure that the course of his life would remain forever within the walls of the beit hamidrash (Yeshiva).

But hashgachah (Divine guidance) wrote him an entirely different life story.

“Just two months after I got married, my father-in-law had a stroke,” Rabbi Chollak relates in a candid interview. “For a young couple, just starting to build their life, this was a real earthquake. We started coming and going in hospitals and were exposed to an entire world that we never knew existed. We saw people coping with terrible suffering. I’ll never forget the girl with cancer that we saw there, alone in the ward, because her mother was busy taking care of the other children and couldn’t stay with her…

“These sights shook us up. We went home, my wife a”h and I, and I said to her that we had to do something. We could not remain apathetic and say that there’s nothing we can do. We organized a meeting of the neighbors and told them the story. We suggested to neighbors to relieve the mother and take shifts, so that she could take care of her other children and the sick girl would not remain alone. This lifted a heavy load from the mother’s shoulders. Beyond the technical help, she suddenly felt that she wasn’t alone. Someone else was with her, understood her, felt her needs.

“Other families saw the help and they, too, asked for assistance in the hospital. And the pool of volunteers kept growing.

At the second stage, we opened the first club for children with special needs, adding more opportunities for volunteer work. When the number of children in the club grew, we were given space by Talmud Torah Zichron Meir (name of school) and there we opened a relatively large club. This club was a great relief for the parents. Thanks to the club, the parents were available to give attention to their other children. That is actually how the Special Children’s Division was born — the biggest division at Ezer Mizion, offering help in everything connected to child development and to children with special needs.”

Throughout this time, everything was being managed from the Chollak home. “The secretaries sat in the kitchen and the dining room. The office equipment stood in the hallways. Everything was run from our home, and the door was always open. True, we only had a 1½-bedroom apartment, but there was a sense of mission, and that is what kept us going. Later on, money was collected to set up permanent offices. When the next door neighbor sold his apartment, the first branch of Ezer Mizion in Bnei Brak was founded.” to be continued