Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Ellul 5761 - August 22, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Summer Camp for Children with Cancer
by M. Kamilar

125 children stricken with cancer just returned from an 11- day tour of Israel and Holland with Zichron Menachem (, 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 parents.

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 kindergarten.

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 homework help.

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 refuah."

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 soul.

Zichron Menachem can be contacted at 972-2-643-3001.


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