The Other Side part three

Recap: They were there. They lay in the hospital beds, or sat next to family members for long hospitalizations. They know exactly what it feels like — the paralyzing fear, the loneliness, and the helplessness.

Hospital patients and their families become volunteers

They know the importance of a sister’s outstretched hand, accompanied by a genuine sense of partnership and the knowledge that even though you walk in the darkness — you are not walking alone.

We turned to five volunteers who had been on the other side, on the dark, painful side, and who promised that the moment they were able to, they’d help others — and then carried out their promise.

Riva Levi, 39, married, with five children

Riva got to know Ezer Mizion through her father’s  hospitalization. Every day, the Ezer Mizion volunteers would bring her and her family tea, coffee, and pastries “I had no idea how significant this help is. And then, suddenly, I was in that position myself, on the receiving end. That’s when I decided to join to help people who were going through what we went through with my father.” When Riva’s father passed away, she decided to take upon herself to help others, l’iluy nishmato (for the merit of his soul). “I help bring clothing for ironing, drive patients to their doctor, and bring hospitalized patients things that they needs. “Sometimes, when you are in a situation of distress, the only thing you need is to know that you’re not alone.”

Batya Amsel, 35, mother of five sons and a nurse by profession

Batya came to know Ezer Mizion during her husband’s illness. Since neither she nor her husband had a driver’s license, they benefited on a regular basis from the Transportation Division who helped them get to the hospital and back. “It is hard for me to describe the relief and the heartwarming feeling given by the volunteers after a draining stay at the hospital,” she shared.

Over the years, she prayed to be on the giving end.  She learned how to drive and her first trips were for others, via Ezer Mizion. She’s been volunteering for over a year, with a sense of mission. “You cannot take away the pain of the hospital from patients and their families, but you definitely can ease and sweeten the experience.”

Ido Bennett, 25, from Raanana

Ido met up with Ezer Mizion eight years ago, when he was stricken with cancer

He calls Ezer Mizion “my second family.  During treatments, the volunteers were there with him at every given moment. During one of the summer vacations, he joined Ezer Mizion’s retreat, together with his family. “On the last day, Rabbi Chollak got on stage. He told us that his dream is to see us, the patients, coming to the retreat one day as volunteers.. “This sentence buzzed in my head like a bug. I decided that I was going to recover and go over to the other side and volunteer.”

Today Ido volunteers for Ezer Mizion. And this year, he joined the staff and volunteered in the summer retreat, precisely where he’d gone as a patient. His dream had come true. “I joined Ezer Mizion because I know that nothing else interests them beyond doing good. And I knew that through them, I’d be able to give to others, precisely as they gave to me. To know that you have the power to help others — there’s no better feeling than that.”

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The Other Side part one

A hospital stay: Loneliness, helplessness, fear

They were there. They lay in the hospital beds, or sat next to family members for long hospitalizations. They know exactly what it feels like — the paralyzing fear, the loneliness, and the helplessness.

They know the importance of a sister’s outstretched hand, accompanied by a genuine sense of partnership and the knowledge that even though you walk in the darkness — you are not walking alone.

We turned to five volunteers who had been on the other side, on the dark, painful side, and who promised that the moment they were able to, they’d help others — and then carried out their promise. We asked them to explain why it is so important to them to pay back everything they received.

Reut Hershko, 40, had cancer six years ago.

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The Power of a Tuna Fish Sandwich

Volunteering

A volunteer accepts an assignment. What does that mean? In Ezer Mizion language it means to give over her whole heart. Like the middle-aged volunteer asked to help out a mother with MS. The mother was so severely handicapped that her six-year-old son once shouted at her: How can you be a mother if you can’t do anything?! Words that pierced through the mother’s soul. She was hurting and so were her children. They needed caring and she was unable to provide it. And so ‘Grandma’ joined the family. She was not actually related but what difference does that make for an Ezer Mizion volunteer? She took over in the practical details plus all the extras. A new style knapsack like all the other kids have. A new dress for a classmate’s birthday party.  Every single item on the beginning-of-the-school-year teachers’ lists plus a pen that could write in four colors. A Chol Hamoed (holiday) trip. Chanukah gifts. She even bought the six-year-old a scooter. There was a big black, empty hole before she came. Now their days are colored pink, filling the empty spaces as only a grandmother can do. 

Another volunteer tells the story of how she joined Ezer Mizion’s army of volunteers:

“Eat. Just a little.” In one hand she held a sandwich. The other was patting me on the shoulder. With such warmth. Such love. Such caring.

Twenty years ago, my son was critically wounded in a terrorist attack. They brought him to Sheba-Tel Hashomer Hospital, sedated and intubated. I knew that his days were numbered.

“A little more,” she gently urged me.

“I can’t! It’s my son!  He’s in a coma! They say….they say…he’ll never…”

She held me tight. I felt protected in her embrace.

“Eat. You need strength.”

I hadn’t eaten all day. Maybe for longer than that. Time didn’t exist. Only my son existed as he lay there in a hospital bed.  Dying.

“How can I eat?” I sobbed. “Soon my son will be gone.”

“You need strength. Strength to cry.”

She held my hand and fed me. Each bite laced in compassion.   I felt her strength holding me up. I finished that sandwich. To this day I can taste that tuna. And I began to feel stronger. Able to handle come what may.

I made a promise when she left. “Hashem (G-d), if my son wakes up. I promise You. I promise that I will become that volunteer. I will volunteer for Ezer Mizion and be on the giving end. For Your children, Hashem. For all your children who are in pain.

Four hours passed. I sat there. Waiting. Dreading. And praying.

Suddenly were shouts. Nurses. Doctors. They came running. The whole medical team stood there in shock.

I sat there frozen. Numb. Unable to process what was happening right before my eyes. Little by little… my son whom I had already begun to part from…began… to wake up. He looked at me. My precious son. And I remembered my promise to the ultimate Healer. A promise I never forgot. For twenty years, I have tried to give back what I received that day from the Ezer Mizion volunteer. The power of a tuna sandwich when garnished with love.

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Right There With You

Were you ever sitting in the hospital Family Room?  Alone. Terrified. Only yards away is the OR. Your mother is there. Your mother! Scenes flash through your mind. The time she held you tight while you cried because your pet goldfish had died. The time she ran out late at night to buy you the soda you needed for the siyum and had forgotten to mention till the last minute. And now she is lying helpless on an operating table. You’re so scared.  They said it will take only 45 minutes. It’s been almost an hour. What’s going on???! Is she ok? Maybe they were just delayed in starting? Maybe. But your imagination is not letting you relax. You try to go back to your prayer book. But the letters are blurred. It’s hard to see through tears.  You have to know! But who can you ask? The lady at the desk? Surely not her. She bit your head off when you asked her where you can charge your phone.

You look up from the prayer book. There standing in front of you is a kindly looking woman in an Ezer Mizion jacket. With a smile. And a cup of hot coffee in her hand. “What would you like to go with the coffee…a Danish? Slice of sponge cake?”

Coffee garnished with caring and compassion

You extend your hand gratefully and reach for the ever-so-welcome coffee.

“Do you have someone in the OR? Would you like me to check on how things are going for you?” she asks gently.

Is this a dream, you wonder.  In moments she returns with reassuring words. All is fine with your mother. They’re finishing up and the doctor will be out soon to speak to you. They weren’t able to start on time and that’s why they’re a little late. Nothing to worry about. Now what kind of cake can I get you?”

Suddenly you’re starved. “A cinnamon Danish. No, make that two!”

 Recently ten of our new volunteers finished their training and went into action at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. From now on, when a person undergoes surgery, his family members will no longer have to worry alone. Our volunteers will be there to act as liaison between the staff and the family member providing reassurance and the comfort of an energizing snack to take the place of the breakfast you were probably too nervous to eat. We certainly hope none of your loved ones will be in need of surgery. But if they will be, we’ll be right there with you.     

Training as liaisons between family and surgical team

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Wherever, Whatever, Whenever We’re Needed

Giving…with all our heart

Do you know where Kiryat Shemoneh is? Many people have never heard of it.  It’s a-l-l the way up North in Israel. Somewhere out there at the far, far end of the country. Geographically so distant from the nearest metropolis.  A bit lonely, perhaps, but certainly not alone.   Even there, Ezer Mizion’s dedicated volunteer works hard to prepare Shabbat meals for a lonely patient, spiced with lots of love. She does it together with dozens of other volunteers, who share one giant heart. Together they arrange meals for patients and their families for weekdays and Shabbat, feeding dozens of patients, adults and children, dispersed throughout the North, from Netanya all the way up to Kiryat Shemoneh

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A Newborn Meets His Mommy

Volunteer providing TLC until Mommy is ready to accept him

Were you ever in a quandary not knowing where to turn? Did you automatically feel a need to turn to Mommy even though you are a Mommy yourself now and maybe even a grandmother? Of course, you did. A mother seems all-knowing, all-powerful . She can fix anything or so it seemed  in memories of childhood. And how did she obtain such powers?  Through one source only: her great love and caring. And so perhaps that is why hundreds of thousands turn to Ezer Mizion no matter what they need. It begins from above, from Rav Chananya Cholak, the founder of Ezer Mizion, and permeates to each staff member and volunteer…that tremendous love and sensitivity, that outpouring respect and caring. It forms the very fabric of Ezer Mizion.  And so the phone rang.

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Big Numbers Little Numbers

We can say it in numbers. 650,000 hot meals for family of seriously ill. 80,000 medical equipment loans. 4400 special needs children. Big numbers. Impressive, aren’t they? Or we can say it in people. Real people. People with feelings. People who cry.

People like the mother who had been looking forward to a delightful reunion with her family after birth until corona cancelled her plans. Diagnosis: positive. Tremendous tension. Will she be ok? Will she be able to care of the newborn? Will the newborn be ok? Quarantine. For the whole family. No preparations. No family to take her home.  No exuberant welcome. No gleeful hodgepodge of a welcome-home supper put together by small, eager hands. No anticipation of Mommy soon taking over the kitchen providing that homey security that only mommies can do. No joy. Just anxiety, stress and worry. And then… on the heels of her entry –  a warm delivery of 10 falafel portions. A message of caring and support for the difficult days to come. And the sun began to shine.

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Keeping the Eye Away from the I

Volunteering in spite of the heat and weakness due to fast

So very young but they have already learned an important life principle:  that one is so much happier if the eye is not focused on the ‘I’. These young people could have spent Tisha B’Av groaning about how hungry they are, how many hours are left, what they plan to eat when the fast is over…Instead they focused on others. On families living with cancer who are surely having a difficult time fasting as they continue to deal with the nightmare that colors every moment. On parents who are not even home  but are spending the day at what has become  their second home – the oncology ward of the hospital. These Ezer Mizion volunteers cannot cure the cancer but perhaps they can alleviate the burden by keeping the children happily occupied during this most difficult day. And so, in spite of the miserable heat, in spite of their own weakness, off they went – over 40 Ezer Mizion volunteers – to give those kids a fantastic time.

Of course, transportation was needed both for the kids and the volunteers but there was no lack of those who wanted to be part of this project. When a request went out, the replies poured in:

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Searching for Purpose

From the files of Ezer Mizion:

When my eldest daughter, Valerie, died of cancer, I began to seek meaning in life. I refused to accept the idea that our lives are random, that they have no meaning beyond mundane, everyday occupations. I wanted to carry on the path of my daughter, who was a beaming girl, with a huge, giving heart. I wanted to do something really important. I wished to donate not only money, but also of my time and efforts — which seemed to me a more significant contribution. Ezer Mizion gave me the opportunity to fulfill my wish.

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Our Treasured Volunteers

Sometimes we have to wait until the World of Truth to see it. But sometimes it is so clear. Like the Bluestones who are owners of a well-known Israeli firm that manufactures fashionable clothing, makeup and jewelry bags. In spite of their many business responsibilities, they devote a great deal of time to volunteering for Ezer Mizion. One of the recipients of their chessed is a disabled, elderly man for whom Mr. Bluestone delivers meals regularly. Meals are not all he delivers. With the food he brings caring, genuine interest in the details of the man’s day and an upbeat, cheery ambience.

A friendship developed between the two and it was only natural that when the elderly senior was hospitalized with no family support, Mrs. Bluestone cooked a complete array of Shabbat dishes and they both spent Shabbat together with him in his hospital room.

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