Even before we landed in Israel, I knew that the 17th annual Wish at the Wall, an incredible ten day experience for Chai Lifeline’s teens (all of whom select a parent with whom to travel), was a journey like no other.
There are many peer travel trips to Israel that focus on teens. But there is nothing like the Hartman Family Wish at the Wall. No matter how many times I join this trip, which alternates between groups of survivors of cancer and children with chronic diseases, I am astounded by the strength and resilience of these kids and their families. And I am also amazed by the generosity of our community that sees it as its mission to celebrate these children’s lives and courage with the gift of a trip of a lifetime.
The trip was started by the Hartman family in 1999, and is now funded by supporters of the Midwest region. Two hundred fifty new and old friends joined us at the home of Jennifer and Tomer Biton on January 30, where we raised over $300,000 for Chai Lifeline Midwest. A portion of that total funded this year’s trip, a Chicago tradition and a gift to Chai Lifeline teens across the country.
Fortunately, the entire ten days were captured on video and in pictures.
This February, I joined 15 teenage cancer survivors for the 17th annual Wish at the Wall, a celebration of life and thanksgiving for teens who have finished treatment for cancer or who have complex medical challenges that can be managed on an arduous trip. Each teen selected a parent to share the journey, just one of the many ways Wish at the Wall is different from every other teen travel program. Over the course of the 10 days, each parent would come to see his or her child through different eyes, focusing on ability rather than disability, possibilities rather than illness.
For me, this trip is the highlight of the year. During our time together, I am able to connect to families on a deeper, more meaningful level. I witness firsthand the impact of Chai Lifeline on child and parent. For some Wish at the Wall is the first time they have had fun together since illness reared its horrible head. Watching them relate to one another in play, knowing how much it will change their relationships forever, gives the trip its emotional power.
I know it’s not just me. Participants express their gratitude in emails, videos, and letters. Here are just a few expressions of what WATW means to families.
"We were extremely privileged to be a part of the WAW trip. Each experience was complete, momentous and significant. The impact of our journey will be everlasting. Thank you for inviting us to be a part of the ‘mishpacha.’"
"How does one say thank you for a chance of a lifetime, a gift that will last forever, for something so meaningful and wonderful on so many levels?"
From a participant:
"Here in Israel is the first time since my last drop of chemo that I am certain that I am back to life again. As I stood in front of the Kotel, I realized that my Wish at the Wall was not cancer related.
"Being alive is being lucky enough to have overcome what tried to kill you and strong enough to put it so far past you that there are finally other things in your life to focus on besides the disease that attempted to take complete control of you. Being alive is feeling the wind brush my face and whip through my hair while I ride an ATV bike over a rocky path that leads directly towards the beautiful Israel sunset, a blazing orange orb dipping in between two mountains in the distance. Being alive is holding hands with my mother, except this time, it isn\'t because she is trying to take away my pain of my physical therapy sessions. It\'s because we want to stick together as we float with ease on the surface of the Dead Sea. Being alive is cruising down the Mediterranean coast in Tel Aviv on a Segway, instead of cruising down the in patient halls of Memorial Sloan Kettering in a wheel chair. Being alive is smiling without realizing you\'re doing so, and being unable to stop once you do realize. That has happened to me more in the past few days than it has happened in all the past few years combined."