Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

25 Sivan 5759 - June 9, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Ezer Mizion Founder in United States to Assess Latest Medical Advancements

by Moshe Schapiro

Some moments in life are hard to face. Others are downright impossible:

It's one o'clock in the morning. A bus overturns on a lonely stretch of road in the north of Israel. Most of the passengers -- fifty women from the religious community of Beit Shemesh -- sustain serious injuries. Two young mothers are killed, mutilated beyond recognition. Who will identify the victims? Keep track of where each one is hospitalized? Inform their next of kin? Watch over the bodies until burial? Support the bereaved families? Help with funeral arrangements? There is no time to waste -- all of these vital tasks must be completed without further delay. But who will do them?

Later that same morning a ten-year-old child's persistent stomachache is diagnosed as a cancerous growth. The physician instructs the boy's parents to rush him to hospital and initiate chemotherapy at once. Shocked by the horrible sound of that dreaded word, the parents enter a state of emotional paralysis and fail to respond coherently. They need guidance, support -- someone to show them the way and to help them deal with the countless technical details that a prolonged period of hospitalization entails. Who will stay at home with their other children during their absence? How will they transport the sick child back and forth every day to the hospital for treatments? The logistics alone are daunting.

Rabbi Chananya Chollak -- founder, chairman and driving force of Ezer Mizion -- handles incidents such as these on a daily basis. This is how it always is -- whenever tragedy strikes, he is one the first people on the scene. And unfortunately, it strikes much too often. "Most people don't realize how many tzores happen in the course of a single day," he says with a sigh.

A good indicator of the frequency of health-related crises is Ezer Mizion's health hotline (02-500-2111), which operates 24- hours a day, six days a week. Hundreds of requests for assistance are received daily. The organization's staff, consisting of two hundred employees and ten thousand volunteers, handles most cases. Rabbi Chollak is called in to deal only with the really difficult ones -- those that no one else knows how to handle.

His illustrious career in alleviating the plight of the sick began twenty years ago, when his father-in-law took ill and was hospitalized for several months. He did not know it at the time, but this difficult episode would prove to be a major turning point in his life. One could say that his long bedside vigils amounted to a crash course in human suffering. The personal tragedies he saw unfolding in that gloomy hospital ward etched an indelible impression on his heart, and these experiences motivated him to launch a movement that would shatter all past preconceptions of how much one can and should do to help the sick.

One of the most memorable and poignant scenes from that seemingly interminable period of hospitalization involves the mother of a sick child. Noticing how anxious and concerned she was over her child's health, Rabbi Chollak would always make a point of offering her a few words of encouragement when he arrived at the hospital in the mornings. One day he entered the ward and was very surprised to see her mopping the floors. "What are you doing?" he asked her in confusion.

The woman looked up at him and blushed with embarrassment. "I can't afford to buy lunch for myself, so the hospital made me a special offer -- they'll supply me with free lunch in exchange for mopping floors. I had no choice, so I accepted."

Rabbi Chollak could not believe what he had just heard. The poor woman was going through a major trauma; she deserved to be treated better. Wasn't she suffering enough?

Another scene that stands out in his mind: a group of disheveled, fatherless children showing up periodically to visit their terminally ill mother. One day she passed away and just as suddenly they stopped coming. How were they managing? Rabbi Chollak kept wondering to himself. Who was taking care of them? Such thoughts plagued his mind for days. Finally, he made a personal resolution: to do everything in his power to alleviate the plight of the sick.

Thus all of Ezer Mizion's numerous departments are essentially outgrowths of some personal tragedy that Rabbi Chollak encountered in the course of his work.

Take the Meals on Wheels program, for example. Today this division supplies over 25,000 meals monthly to the elderly, sick and invalid who are incapable of preparing their own food, as well as to family members of hospitalized patients. But it all began with the mother of that sick child, forced to mop floors in order to earn her lunch.

Today Ezer Mizion maintains a fleet of 18 ambulances available twenty-four hours a day to transport patients to medical centers throughout Israel, but it all began when one little boy stopped showing up for treatments because the bus ride to the hospital proved too strenuous for him.

Oranit, Ezer Mizion's 22-room convalescent home for children and family members requiring regular access to outpatient treatments, has set new standards in the care of young cancer patients. (Over one thousand children are afflicted with cancer annually in Eretz Yisroel.) But the idea to build such a facility germinated in Rabbi Chollak's mind when he found a mother and her sick child spending the night in the waiting room of an oncology ward. His genuine concern and desire to alleviate the plight of others was the human catalyst that sparked these projects.

Ezer Mizion offers a vast number of services in addition to those mentioned above. To name just a few: volunteer assistance to patients and their families; home care for the elderly and disabled; summer camps and afternoon activities for sick children; a state-of-the-art development center for challenged children; free loans of expensive medical equipment and sophisticated communication tools for people afflicted with speech impairments; physiotherapy treatments; a complete range of psychological services; and emergency flights to medical centers throughout the world. All services are provided free of charge, on a nondenominational basis, to the full spectrum of Israeli society. (Some services are available also to Americans visiting Eretz Yisroel.) The organization subsists on private contributions, predominantly from North America and Israel.

After meeting Rabbi Chollak one gets the distinct impression that no project is too big or complex for him, yet the newly established Blood and Bone Marrow Bank is by far the most ambitious project he has launched to date. There are only two others in the entire world.

The reason this project is so important is that a successful bone marrow transplant can save the life of someone suffering from life-threatening disease, yet finding donors is a very difficult undertaking. Patients and potential donors of bone marrow must share no less than twelve inherited genetic factors, which means that finding a proper match is somewhat like finding a needle in a haystack. The International Bone Marrow Data Bank in Holland has compiled genetic profiles of over four million potential donors, but this is not much help to Jews, since the chances of finding genetic compatibility between Jews and Gentiles are next to nil. Ezer Mizion's new bone marrow data bank so far contains over twelve thousand genetic profiles of Jews, and it has already helped save the lives of three people.

The most prominent trait of the Ezer Mizion network is its emphasis on personal care and quality. There is an air of professionalism in every facet of the organization that is universally ascribed to Rabbi Chollak. Facilities are thoughtfully designed, generously equipped, immaculately maintained and professionally staffed. This sense of genuine care for the welfare of patients emerges from the organization's upper echelons and filters all the way down to the lowest links in the chain of command.

Rabbi Chollak is an intensely devoted person who has virtually no life of his own -- suffice it to say that his home is located literally next door to Ezer Mizion's bustling Bnei Brak head office. From this command post he oversees the activities of forty local branches in twenty-four cities. Unlike many business executives who make a point of not living in proximity to their offices, Rabbi and Mrs. Chollak would not have it any other way. Blessed with twelve children of their own, they have adopted four more -- orphans of religious background who were on the verge of being placed in secular institutions. Evidently the Chollaks do not make a distinction between work and home -- both realms are viewed as equally important opportunities to do chessed.

Rabbi Chollak usually goes to sleep past two a.m., yet he rises at five-thirty in the morning. From shul he proceeds to his most honored morning ritual -- assisting Maran HaRav Eliezer Shach to wash and dress. The gedolei Torah regard his role in the community so vital that they hardly ever grant him permission to leave Eretz Yisroel. HaRav Chaim Kanievsky deliberated for a very long time before granting him permission to undertake a four-day journey to America to assess new advances in the field of medicine.

Ezer Mizion is a living testimony to the power of giving. At times like these, when so much hatred and criticism is being directed against the religious community in Eretz Yisroel, the work of Ezer Mizion shines all the brighter. It is truly a Kiddush Hashem that all of us can take pride in.

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