125 children stricken with cancer just returned from an 11-
day tour of Israel and Holland with Zichron Menachem
(www.zichronmenachem.org), an Israeli association for the
support of children with cancer and their families. They
organize ongoing programs and year-round events, including
three camps a year -- winter, spring and summer.
It is the summer camp that has just drawn to a moving and
uplifting close. The children gathered together from all ends
of Israel to temporarily forget their disease and their
treatment, and to concentrate on being children, and enjoying
the lighter side of life.
As cancer strikes people from every sector, the participants
range in age (from 5 years old) and background. For the
frum families, the Zichron Menachem camps offer a rare
opportunity for participation in a group that is glatt
kosher lemehadrin and shomer Shabbos. For the
secular families, Zichron Menachem represents a strong support
that can be relied upon. For many of the children, camp
participation includes their first religious experience, and
for all of them it represents a chance to feel normal and to
enjoy an environment where no one looks at them strangely and
asks awkward questions.
The Israel side of the camp included jeep riding in the hills
surrounding Jerusalem, hang gliding and horseback riding and
magic shows. 60 counselors, 4 doctors, 4 nurses, 3 paramedics
and a large staff accompanied the group. All the children are
currently in treatment, or have just recently completed their
therapeutic courses, necessitating close medical supervision.
Blood counts must be monitored regularly, medications properly
administered, and individual needs must be attended to.
Zichron Menachem believes that taking children on exciting
trips in large groups is most helpful during treatment. This
is precisely the time they most need the strength that the
camps provide. Sometimes laughter can be one of the best types
of medicine, next to chicken soup.
This summer's camp was sponsored by supporters from the Dutch
Jewish community. Following the Israel portion, the whole
entourage boarded an airplane for Holland, where they sailed
down the famous canals and enjoyed two of the larger
amusement parks in Europe, Efteling and Six Flags.
There are about 500 new cases of children with cancer in
Israel every year. Zichron Menachem is the first nonprofit
group in Israel that has been set up exclusively to focus on
helping children with cancer and their families. Some of the
goals and activities of Zichron Menachem: 1. To help the
children overcome their fears, anxieties and difficulties.
2. To provide programs and cheer: Every child is thrown a
birthday party with special guests, and a shower of gifts.
Each Saturday night, a musical melave malka is held in
the hospital ward. The hospital wards are decorated every Rosh
Chodesh on a thematic basis.
3. To provide activities designed to make siblings realize
they too are important and loved, and that they play an
integral role in the healing process.
4. To loan families communication equipment to help the
children and their families, such as cellular phones,
computers for school work, and the like.
5. To provide support, special events and getaway weekends for
In order to fulfill the goals of the organization, a number of
facilities have been established:
1. Permanent staffing of Hadassah Hospital pediatric oncology
ward, daily from 9:00am to 7:00p.m. A special play area has
been set up there, and the trained staff cheer the children,
provide a listening ear, help ensure that each patient
receives all necessary attention from the nursing staff, and
relieve parents for a break from the child's bedside.
2. A day care center is operating in a temporary facility -- a
rented apartment in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem. The center
provides a place for the children to be when not actually at
the hospital, but not yet able to return to school or
The center also serves as a resource center for siblings of
sick children, a place where they can find support and
friendship, as well as help with their homework and other
needs. When the parents are preoccupied with the needs of the
sick child they cannot always provide all the attention that
the other children require.
Zichron Menachem is building a new Day Care Center in
Jerusalem next to Shaare Zedek Hospital in Givat Mordechai.
3. Home visits are made on a regular basis, in order to help
the mothers of the children with their daily needs --
shopping, cooking, cleaning, organizing, baby-sitting or
4. Zichron Menachem runs the largest blood bank in Israel.
Yeshiva bochurim in particular donate blood and
platelets on a regular basis. This organized, ongoing drive
has saved more than one life, at a time of emergency
transplants or other procedure, when donors had to be
identified within hours, and Zichron Menachem was able to line
up hundreds of potential donors in less than one hour.
5. Families that do not live in Jerusalem are able to receive
treatment in Hadassah Hospital and to stay at the Zichron
Menachem Hostel. It is designed with a homey atmosphere, to
allow the families to return from the hospital and sleep well
at night. The facility includes comfortable rooms with en-
suite plumbing, a common living room and a kitchen.
The story of Zichron Menachem is the personal story of the
founders Chaim and Miri Erntal of Bayit Vegan. The Erntal's
eldest son Menachem (o"h) was diagnosed with Leukemia
when he was one year old. He fought the disease for more than
14 years, until the age of fifteen and a half. There was no
support organization in Israel at the time.
Chaim and Miri had thoroughly learned the routine of the
hospitals and their procedures over the years, and had
developed excellent relations with the medical establishment.
They realized how much the help of family, friends and the
community had meant for them. Chaim described the fond
memories of those years: "Every motzei Shabbos we had a
private concert in our home. Menachem enjoyed the best
melave malka's a person could ask for. All the famous
singers came to sing for him, as well as yeshiva bochurim
who wanted to cheer up our son, and help be part of his
Just two months following Menachem's untimely death, the
Erntals established Zichron Menachem in 1990. They recognized
that the entire family dynamic is completely changed when one
child has cancer. It effects the relations between the
parents, testing their shalom bayis and their
emunah. Relations between the parents and the other
siblings, and between the parents and the ill child are also
tested. Everyone needs and deserves support and the optimal
chance to overcome the challenges.
The Zichron Menachem challenge was to provide all the support
necessary -- emotional support, and always `being there,'
providing toys and ongoing entertainment, managing blood
donations, and anything else that is required.
Ten years later, the association has grown considerably, but
still maintains a large volunteer pool and a minimal
administrative staff. Sponsors are sought for each and every
camp, as well as every activity that the organization runs.
There is no charge for any program, activity or hostel stay to
any of the affected families. The organization is privately
funded by supporters in Israel and around the world. Chaim and
Miri are still at the helm, with a professional division of
labor between them. The couple considers the organization to
be one large "family," a family that concentrates on
togetherness and support. In fact, their own children are all
involved in the organization on some level, having learned the
middah of chessed from a very young age.
The power of Miri and Chaim's hundreds of children singing
their theme song of: "But the main thing is not to be afraid
at all . . . and together, i"yH, we shall overcome,"
reverberates through the hallways, and gives the children an
abundance of strength to fight their cancer with heart and
Zichron Menachem can be contacted at 972-2-643-3001.