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‘Goodbye Darkness, My Young Friend’


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The fact that you are reading this article can only mean that the gut-churning, frantic, multi-tasking marathon known as getting ready for Pesach is behind you; the sedarim – and the focused, micro-managing required to ensure the table was properly and halachically set up, not to mention the avalanche of food that was prepared – are over; the married children and friends who swooped down like biblical locusts and ate a month’s worth of groceries in four days are on their way to the in-laws or to their own homes, and you are now enjoying the pleasurable act of catching your breath – and breathing.

It is chol hamoed and life is kind of back to normal. Of course true normal is enjoying your coffee with a multi-grain bagel slathered in cream cheese; for now it is still out of reach, but you are buoyed by the knowledge that in the not too distant future, you will be able to sink your teeth into one.

In just a few days, things will be back to the way they were, and Pesach will be a smorgasbord of pleasant (and to be honest, perhaps not quite so pleasant) memories, and a source of pride for the neshai chayil – and their spouses – who pulled it off.

But for some families, going back to normal any time soon is something of a dream; going back to the lives they knew is not part of their reality – for their today and the many tomorrows ahead consist of a new “normal” – one that they did not choose, one they are desperate to change. These are the families with critically ill children. These are the mothers, fathers and siblings who must deal with the challenging reality that a young member of the family is very, very sick. These are the members of Klal Yisrael who understand what it is like to be in Mitzrayim, to be under the heel of the cruel Pharoah that is cancer and other life-threatening or debilitating diseases.

Unfortunately, these families are not so rare. In fact, their numbers are growing with each passing day as more and more children are being diagnosed with soul-shattering illnesses.

But just like the despair and pain and hopelessness of our enslaved ancestors reached Hashem’s ears and He responded, so too has the anguish, confusion and terror of parents suddenly thrown into a scary, unfamiliar nightmare been seen and noted. Concerned Yidden saw the suffering of their fellow Jews and stepped up to the plate to offer help and hope. Thus Chai Lifeline was born.

Chai Lifeline was founded in New York in 1987 by a compassionate group of community leaders, rabbis and pediatric oncologists who saw the need to provide logistical, emotional and financial support for overburdened families struggling to function while dealing with a critically ill child. Chai Lifeline evolved into a state of the art pediatric cancer support organization with offices within the United States as well as affiliates in Canada, England, Israel, and Belgium.

Chai Lifeline’s motto is Fighting Illness With Love. To that end, Chai Lifeline initially launched Camp Simcha in August 1987, enabling cancer stricken youngsters to be “normal,” like their siblings, and go to camp. It soon became apparent that these ailing children – and their families – needed social, emotional and financial support all year round. And with great devotion, chutzpah and determination Chai Lifeline provides all that – and more.

Chai Lifeline provides a myriad of year-round programs to help stricken children and their families “recharge their batteries” and maximize their ability to cope with their new “normal.” Programs include advocacy and information services; counseling for pediatric patients, parents and siblings; family retreats; tutoring for kids including via video-teleconferencing technology that links hospitalized or home-bound children with their classmates and friends; Big Brothers and Sisters, where older teens provide guidance and support through visits and phone calls; toy drives; family parties and retreats; tickets to sports events and concerts and plays; spa days for exhausted mothers; trips to Disney theme parks; crisis intervention and sadly, if necessary, bereavement services.

The many children who are cured of their illness are treated to a “well” trip to Israel with a parent or companion. In fact, all services and programs are offered at no cost to the children and their families.

Since the funds needed to support these programs unfortunately do not fall from the sky, like mon did for the recently emancipated children of Israel, fundraising is crucial.

To that end, Chai Lifeline Canada recently held it’s annual Sing For The Children Concert. Established six years ago in 2006, Chai Lifeline Canada, headed by Rabbi Mordechai Rothman, offers Canadian Jews, of all levels of observance and affiliation, the multi-faceted support they need to get through the daily challenges of dealing with a very sick child.

The concert was held in Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, and the featured performer was singer/actor Art Garfunkel, half of the legendary 1960′s iconic duo, Simon and Garfunkel. In a witty tribute to Mr. Garfunkel and Chai Lifeline Canada, Rabbi Simcha Scholar, executive vice president of Chai Lifeline International, described the organization as being like “a bridge over troubled water” (the title of one of the most popular songs performed by Simon and Garfunkel).

For the many baby boomers in the audience, time reversed as Garfunkel, despite looking a bit more mature than he did 40 years ago- sang the sweet ballads and songs that have been etched for decades in their hearts and memories. He also recited poetry, interrupting himself to sooth, in a gentle, mellow voice a baby crying in the balcony.

It was no surprise to anyone that Mr. Garfunkel, a father of two, including a six year old, (a ben zekunim) lent his talent and fame for such a worthy cause.

To alleviate the somber mood that goes hand in hand with the word “pediatric cancer,” actor/comedian Elon Gold had the audience in stitches with his sharp wit and humor. In one instance he shared his puzzlement over our reciting,” mah nistana halaylah hazeh?” at the second Seder. Isn’t it exactly like last night? He then expressed his chagrin that the Israelites were baking bread instead of chocolate chip cookies when they suddenly left Egypt. Instead of matzah, he said ruefully, we could have been eating cookie dough!

It was a night of laughter, nostalgia and tears as a video was shown of Chai Lifeline volunteers, figuratively and literally, embracing their young clients and their overwhelmed parents and siblings. The message however was obvious, and inspiring, to all. As these sons and daughters of Yaacov attempt to get away from their own personal Mitzrayim, they will have a life line every step of the way.

(Photos courtesy of Chai Lifeline Canada)

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One Response to “‘Goodbye Darkness, My Young Friend’”

  1. Michelle Goldstein Zaldin says:

    Why Chai Lifeline Canada is so important and why, I for one, am glad they exist!

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