I will never, ever, ever forget my first visit to the oncology ward. It was a traumatizing place to be for a young high school girl but how could I not have visited my little sister, Chevy! So I stared at all the children with bald heads. ‘That won’t happen to Chevy, will it?’ i whispered to myself, still blissfully unaware of what no young girl – or even adult – should know about. When I got home, I pulled out a picture of Chevy and, with my fingers, covered up her long, dark wavy hair, still pretending it will never happen but preparing myself just in case.
It happened. After the second treatment. Chevy said she feels as if she is carrying her hair. When I tried to brush it for her, big clumps came loose. We ended up with an immense pile of hair which Chevy thought was funny. ‘Lets make a funeral’, she giggled. ‘What should we use for a talis?’
Oh , Chevy, if you would only have known what is to come. But none of us did. The treatments ended. We were so happy. Chevy’s numbers were good and things looked bright. It had been such a difficult time for the whole family. Without Ezer Mizion, I don’t see how we could have made it through. They were everywhere. They gave us rides to the hospital, let us live in this really nice apartment that was near the treatment center so we couldn’t have to travel. There was therapy for all of us kids – such fun therapy with music, sand play, crafts, and even a petting zoo. There was psychological help, hot, delicious meals, parties and trips. And most of all they enveloped us with such love. They seemed as happy as we were that it was almost over.
I am the grandmother of Uri who — thanks to you — celebrated his bar mitzvah in the Corona hotel.
I cannot begin to describe the difficulties of this period— the difficulty of planning a bar mitzvah for a boy who is so looking forward to his big day, and then, a week before the occasion, he, his parents and his siblings experience symptoms of Corona, test positive, and are compelled to evacuate to a Corona hotel… All we could do was to focus on praying for their recovery and strengthening our faith that this is G-d’s will and that all is for the best.
None of us dreamed that so many good people would rally on our behalf and organize such a stupendous, lively event! What a fantastic job!!! What efforts to make one boy happy on his big day! You thought of everything: a huge “Mazel Tov” sign; balloon arrangements; a dessert table with fancy cakes, chocolates, petit fours, candies and more and more; a big festive meal for all the patients at the hotel; music, including a keyboard player and singers; and behind the scenes — all the planners, the cooks, the electric technicians, helpers, coordinators — you name it!
And as for us? We will never be able to sufficiently thank you for the joy you brought to Uri and the entire family.
In 1979, Rav Chananya Chollak, then newly married, founded a small organization of 8 volunteers because he saw a need and wanted so much to give. His attitude has filtered down to the thousands of Ezer Mizion staff and volunteers of what is now known as an empire of chessed. New departments crop up as a new need is identified. The above letter is one of hundreds received in response to help given during the corona crisis.
The Cancer Support Division provides a variety of professional, emotional and practical assistance. Like the planters. A group of children whose mothers are battling cancer needed an emotional outlet. Emotions are funny things. They don’t always make sense. The children have a powerful need to give. But what can they give? It must be something meaningful. A frustrated need brings bitterness. A need properly channeled can bring fulfillment and positivity into the family relationship. And so the children were taught the rudiments of carpentry and produced planters, each filled with seedlings of love, watered by a tearful prayer for a speedy cure. Can one begin to imagine the joy of the child presenting the gift to his mother, her joy at receiving a ‘piece of his heart’ both culminating in an overflow of family togetherness!
It’s catchy, that feeling of giving. At age 15, Moshe Israeli was diagnosed with bone cancer. During those incredibly trying times, Ezer Mizion was there to help Moshe and his family with food deliveries, medicine runs, hospital visits and so much more! Fast forward almost 30 years and Moshe now manages Ezer Mizion’s Petach Tikveh branch.
Due to COVID-19, many high risk patients are left with no support or help for their everyday needs. Moshe has organized some 2,800 volunteers to help the elderly, the immuno-compromised and those in desperate need as the pandemic continues its disruptive path. Food has been packaged, medicine has been delivered so those in need can receive practical support as well as equally important emotional support, all from a distance.
“Think, everyone, think!” she cried out. “There has to be something! Something we can do even in the midst of corona.” We all sat there. We’re normally a creative bunch but the ideas were just not coming. Every year we hosted a retreat for families dealing with cancer. It was the highlight of the year for them, a time to bond with their family, good food, fun entertainment – a vacation from cancer. Away from hospitals and tests and treatments. Something to put a smile on faces that almost forgot how. It meant everything to the families whom, in addition to the medical situation, were suffering so much emotionally with many family relationships on the verge of collapse. Continue reading Think!
A non-profit holds a Chinese auction. Employees are asked to go above their job description and contact friends and relatives to purchase tickets. And what is their reaction? Eye rolling? Whispered complaints at being put upon? Attempts to get away with a minimum? Or none of the above? The Ezer Mizion staff would be shocked at such suggestions. Each request sent out by employees to friends had a note attached, many entitled ‘Why We Work Here’. Here are some samples:
At Ezer Mizion, somehow, cancer always takes center stage. The bald head, the boy with the bulging eyes, together with the fear that lurks deep in the heart of every one of us. My job is coordinating rides. Not front page material. But for the young mother spending months in the hospital with her preemie, it meant a breather every so often, time to spend with her other kids.
Running such a system of transport, meals— costs money. And this money has to come from people like me and you. From people who can understand why the transport system is a lifesaver, and how, with a hot meal, you can give someone life and hope.Continue reading Why We…
We all have learned the words way back in primary grades. We heard the stories. We know it’s true. We know whatever Hashem does is for our good. But do we really know it? Inside, where it counts? Miriam A’H really did. Miriam fought the battle with cancer for five years. During that time she developed unbearable sores in her mouth. She called them diamonds. “Imagine having diamonds in your mouth. They’re sharp. They hurt. But how precious they are!”
If a miracle is defined as something above nature, Miriam was a walking miracle. Her difficulties began at age 25 after the birth of her third child when she received the news. Her response? “If Hashem wants me to live, I’ll live.” All of life is His will.” The disease spread. The pain was beyond endurance yet Miriam did endure it, strengthened by her deep understanding: “The pain is a gift to cleanse me of my sins.”
Ezer Mizion was privileged to provide assistance to this incredible young woman. Her family vied to stay with her during her hospital stays and it was Ezer Mizion’s Transportation Division that drove family members to and from the hospital. The Food Division provided hot, nutritious meals for those staying with her to enable them to give their all to someone they loved with all their heart. Very gently, oh so respectfully, as befits this angelic human being, its Ambulance Division transported Miriam herself for treatments. Ezer Mizion’s Guest Home for the Family, where fun and smiles abound at every corner, provided Story Hour, crafts, music, even a petting zoo, all run by trained therapists, enabling the family to eliminate travel for treatments and garner much emotional support. Help with the children, help with the housework, trips, retreats and fun days to give strength to a young family whose lives had been turned upside down …all these were part of the package offered to help them win the battle against that monster named Cancer that had entered their home.
But we lost.
Three days before her passing, she was discussing Hashem’s ways with a close friend. Her friend said that here in this world, it often appears to us that something is bad, is painful… like stitches that must be done so that we may heal. Miriam, felt otherwise. “No, it’s not like stitches. It’s like a whipped cream cake. A delicious cake delivered by a loving Father.”
The next night, she read her precious children a story, said Shma (bedtime prayer) with them and tucked them in for the last time. Her condition deteriorated after that and the doctor recommended sedation. “How long will the sedation last,” she asked. “Maybe forever,” she was told. In complete control, she asked forgiveness of her father over the phone since he, a Kohen, was unable to be with her in the hospital. She wrote letters to her children, asking her daughter to always dress in a modest manner, her sons to continue to learn Torah with all their heart and to always know that she loves them and is watching over them all. She wrote a list of items she had borrowed that had to be returned to neighbors and then, like a daughter whose job was done, she said Shma and vidui (confession), asked her husband to be sure she is covered properly after she falls asleep and to sing together with her ‘V’ani b’chasdecha batachti, …’ (a song of belief in Hashem)
It was a day that no Jewish heart can forget. From the time of the Romans to the Ottomans to the British—strictures had been placed on what Jews could and could not do at the Western Wall. Benches and tables were mostly banned; at times it was the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) or the mechitza that divides men and women at prayer services. For two decades, the Western Wall had been in Jordanian hands and completely inaccessible to Jews. And then came the Six Day War and suddenly, the Western Wall was in Jewish hands. Every Jewish soul responded – from the Hasidic Jew to those with no Jewish identity at all . Some understood. Others did not but their souls did. In a scene that was repeated many times over, the inner soul cried out:
“I want to say a prayer. What should I say?”
“Say Shma!” (universal Jewish prayer)
“But I don’t know how!”
“I’ll help you. Shma…”
All eyes were filled with tears. These hardened soldiers were unable to speak. They had one desire only to grab hold of the Wall and hold on tight. And there it was, in all its splendor. They were overcome and bowed their heads. Many of those heads had never been graced with a yarmulka (skullcap) but somehow knew that this…this was real.
The alley in front of the Western Wall was barely 15 feet wide. Even before the war was over, a group began clearing the area in front of it for a plaza. They began immediately after the Sabbath on June 10, and finished bulldozing the Mughrabi Quarter at 3 a.m., thus creating the Kotel plaza as we know it today which accommodates 60,000 people.
Eliyahu, a holocaust survivor, was one of those men. He was young and vibrant, sitting on top of his tractor doing his part as a loyal son. Today, 52 years later, he is no longer young, no longer vibrant. But that glorious day in history is as clear in his mind as the day it happened. And he yearned to visit the kotel once more, to witness the thousands that congregate on the area that he helped clear. His voice was wistful as he expressed his desire to the Ezer Mizion volunteer who had been visiting him regularly. On his own, it was impossible but with the help of the varied Ezer Mizion divisions, it all fell into place. An appropriate companion was found, all logistical hurdles were overcome. And there he is waving to us as his wish is about to come true.
It all began with a video. I don’t believe too many positive stories begin this way, but I’m proud to say this one does. This was an Ezer Mizion video of IDF Major Maor Cohen’s special mission for nine years: to help children with cancer escape into the world of Lego. His message spoke to me immediately. In the video, one mother explains “Cancer broke my family apart and Lego rebuilt it anew.”
My son always made a beeline to the Lego area at Mommy and Me each week. For his second birthday, I decided to buy him a big builders’ box of Lego. He got croup shortly before his birthday so I decided to give him the present a little early. I remember the miraculous sound of clicking and clacking and the total absence of the scary cough he had beforehand. While STEM educational models point to the mathematical and engineering benefits of Lego, I had forgotten the mindfulness aspect of it until seeing this video.
I contacted Ezer Mizion to see how we could be a part of it for Michael’s bar mitzvah project. Hadassah Somosi, an incredibly warm, caring, devoted, and capable director of Resource Development at Ezer Mizion, connected all the dots for me and we had our date set and plans in place of which Lego sets to bring for our Israel trip.
Can there be a more appropriate location for Ezer Mizion’s Oranit cancer patient guest home and center for its cancer support services than Petach Tikvah—defined as “opening of hope?” Built in 1996, with the generous assistance of the Bracha & Motti Zisser Foundation and the Rosinger Family, Oranit is located amidst three major hospitals that treat pediatric cancer and provides them with an oasis while enduring difficult treatments. The Andrew and Margaret Rosinger Residential Wing provides housing for children and families for short-term stays as well as endless options for recreation at the Donald Berman Rehabilitation Center—the Rinat Bakshi Wildlife Pavilion, the cleanest petting zoo around, arts-and-crafts including a full ceramics studio, music therapy including a recording studio, a movie theater, snacks, slushies and meals, indoor and outdoor spotlessly clean Malka Lazarus playgrounds, and, of course, what drew us there: the Lego room. As Hadassah explained on our tour, “We want to make them happy in the hope it will help make them well.
Thanks to import taxes, in Israel Lego can cost triple the price as in the United States, so many children do not have any Lego sets. At Ezer Mizion – Oranit, they have weekly Lego workshops and their projects are stored while under construction and displayed once completed. Families usually do the projects and escape into this alternate world together, letting the cancer suffering vanish for a precious hour or two. Maor writes about his personal connection to family illness: “Ever since I was five, my father, may he live and be well, has been a heart patient. I never had the security of knowing that just because I saw my father at breakfast would he be there at supper … Through the years, Abba got better and then was sick again, and that cycle kept repeating itself. As a family, we learned to live with this reality.”
As my family took it all in, Hadassah had more special plans for us. As some of the children actually walked in to join the Lego workshop, Michael had the rare opportunity to give a set to a few children in person. They exchanged hugs and warm words. The only dry eyes in the house were on the Lego figures.
I can’t daven (pray) now without thinking of these special families and hoping for a refuah sheleimah (complete recovery) for everyone. I hope to continue supporting Ezer Mizion and I encourage our readers to do the same.
Cancer is frightening. It’s a nightmare that even Mommy’s hug can’t make go away. The child, and often his siblings, are often paralyzed with fear. A relaxed, happy frame of mind, so vital to the battle he must wage, seems so far, far away. Even an itty bitty smile becomes a distant stranger to the tiny face that mirrors only terror and pain.
Ezer Mizion cannot cure the cancer but we will move heaven and earth to create a giggle. Professional staff and volunteers spend hours creating programs that bring happiness to the cancer patient and his whole family, to lighten their burden both practically and emotionally. Ideas abound. Birthday parties, trips, story hour, music clubs, lego sessions, even a petting zoo. And recently balloons. Continue reading Cancer Support with a Vro-o-o-m
“His face lit up” – a phrase so often found in stories of someone who received something he never expected. What does it mean? How does a face light up? Surely it is the spirit inside him that is generating the electricity.
If that is the case, then joy would be the prescription to raise the spirits of those demoralized by serious illness. Rx: fun. Happiness and chemo working in tandem. Body and spirit together engaged in the battle for life.
Ezer Mizion’s Cancer Support Division incorporates this truism into its Battle Plan with fun days for mothers, trips for kids, birthday parties, make-a-wish outings and so much more.
Harel was a case-in-point. Close to his father, the two enjoyed doing things together. One of his father’s favorites was running. Feeling the wind, the rush of adrenalin, the flush of reaching the finish line. Pure joy. And sharing it together was the icing on the cake.
The Annual Petach Tikva Run was scheduled. His father was one of the first sign up. But this time, there’d be no young son beside him, sharing the elation. Harel longed to be there. Oh, how he longed to be there. But a monster had taken over his life in the form of an illness, curable only with a bone marrow transplant. The transplant had taken place recently and Harel was beginning to mend. But running? Out of the question!
Out of the question but feelings don’t ask questions. They just feel. And Harel was feeling miserable. An emotion not very conducive to strengthening his body.
Enter Yumi, one of the most beloved members of the Cancer Support team. Yumi never sees ‘no’. He just sees ‘how’. How can it be made possible for Harel to join the race together with his father? Nothing is simple when it comes to a transplant. But Yumi is used to that. He met with Harel’s father. Tossed out possible plans. Brought the plans to a meeting with physicians. Changed, refined, re-did. Met with the race organizers. Back to the physicians. And soon. There it was. A real plan. One that he hoped would work.
The day arrived and there is Yumi. As excited as Harel and his father. Video camera on hand, recording every moment. Cheering, cheering, cheering! The lanes are filled with runners. And there is Harel’s father also running, pushing a wheelchair in front of him. Grinning behind his face mask sits Harel absorbing the excitement in the air. They’re almost there. The finish line is in sight. They stop and Harel exits the wheelchair, stands behind it and begins to push. The wheelchair supports him. His father’s shouts support him. And Yumi’s continued cheering supports him. There he is crossing the finish line with the rest of them. Way to go, Harel!
Keep running, young man. Keep running until you reach the finish line, until you reach perfect health and can do all the things you long to do. We’re all behind you, cheering you on, Harel. Keep running!