"Impossible." "Unbelievable." "Truly a miracle."
Those were the reactions of staff members at Alyn Hospital in
Jerusalem last Purim when they found nine-year-old David
Rosenberg clapping his hands to the beat during a musical
performance by Zimra Vachessed volunteers for the hospital's
mental health patients.
After suffering a fall eight months earlier, David had
developed a mental health condition that left him
uncommunicative. That afternoon, instead of delivering
mishloach manos to neighbors and friends, David's
father sat by his son's bed in despair, wondering if he'd
ever get so much as a sigh from his immobile son.
David's father's ruminations were disrupted by greetings from
a Zimra Vachessed volunteer, who handed him mishloach
manos and told him to bring David to the dining room
where Zimra Vachessed would be putting on a concert in honor
of the holiday.
When David starting clapping his hands halfway through the
concert, the stunned staff quickly called David's doctors.
They had no explanation for David's behavior -- but Zimra
Vachessed founder Shimon Shnitzer did.
"We don't just play music," says Shnitzer, "ours is music
from the soul. When you put your soul into something, there's
no telling what effect it will have."
Shnitzer has used music to lift people's spirits for years.
His parents' home was always filled with fellow Holocaust
survivors, many of whom were never able to adjust to the
realities of life after World War II. Shnitzer and his
brothers and sisters developed a rapport with many of these
guests by playing music to lift their spirits.
A few years ago, medical professionals got wind of what they
were doing and asked them to perform for mental health
patients in local hospitals. That's how Zimra Vachessed got
its start. In 1994 Shnitzer turned his hobby into a non-
profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of
life of the mentally ill in Israel through a wide range of
Music therapy is Zimra Vachessed's most popular -- and
successful -- activity. Throughout the year, and particularly
around the Jewish holidays, volunteers visit dozens of
hospital wards around the country and bring joy to the
mentally ill through music.
They perform at one hospital per week, entertaining a minimum
of 400 people at a time. Their goal is to increase their
number of performances to 20 performances a month, but
Shnitzer says they'll first need to raise about $30,000 to
set up four additional bands and supply them with instruments
and sound equipment.
It's a program Shnitzer says is worth investing in, and
personnel at mental health facilities throughout Israel
concede that its works.
"As mental health therapists," says Dr. A. Sella of the
Eitanim Mental Health Center, "we are well aware of the need
to bring to our patients joy and happiness as much as we can.
Music is one of the therapeutic touches that we use very
often. Zimra Vachessed visits three times a year, singing and
playing music for our patients in the hospital. Their
contribution to our treatment is enormous."
Ivria Oron, a representative of the Gehah Psychiatric
Hospital Blank agrees: "Zimra Vachessed's contribution to our
patients is phenomenal. They bring them joy and happiness,
they dance with them, sing and entertain them. These evenings
are unforgettable, and the patients are always looking
forward to the next time."
In addition to providing music therapy, Zimra Vachessed 's
140 volunteers visit patients in the hospital and in their
homes, and distribute food packages.
In 1998 they made 3,500 visits a month to mental health
patients and delivered more than 50,000 Shabbos meals and
100,000 holiday meals. They also provided 1,000 sets of
arba minim on Succos, 5,000 sufganiyot on
Chanuka and 10,000 mishloach manos on Purim.
Now the organization's goal is to collect and distribute two
tons of apples and a quarter ton of honey to 10,000 mental
health patients for Rosh Hashana.
"People often spend hours busying themselves for Rosh
Hashana, sending New Year's cards and preparing large meals,"
says Shnitzer. "What they don't realize is that there are
thousands of mental health patients who don't have the
opportunity to really experience Rosh Hashana, and to them
even an apple with honey can make a tremendous
Zimra Vachessed volunteers also put much time and effort into
helping the mentally ill marry and set up homes of their own.
Not only do they find them suitable marriage partners and
then make entire weddings, but they also find them places to
live, supply them with furniture and appliances, and give
them guidance on marriage and raising children.
"Zimra Vachessed believes that all human beings are entitled
to lead meaningful and rewarding lives, including mental
health patients," says Shnitzer. "We help them claim that
According to the director of volunteer services at the Sarah
Herzog Memorial Hospital, what Shnitzer and his volunteers
are doing is more than what many hospitals could ever do for
their mental health patients.
"We make every effort in medicine and nursing to help the
patients and to bring them quality of life, but all our
endeavors cannot replace the family and friends they are
missing," says Sara Ophir. "Zimra Vachessed fills a great
need, bringing friendship, happiness and music into the
Or as Shnitzer likes to put it, "Where clinical treatment for
mental health patients ends, ours begins." Zimra Vachessed
may be contacted at 972-2-537-0052, or P.O.B. 6221,