Ten years ago, Chai Lifeline created Achim B’Yachad, a separate division of Chai Lifeline to serve the Chassidic communities of Brooklyn and Rockland County. Today, Achim B’Yachad, though limited in geography, is the fastest-growing part of the organization.
Demographic studies, including the well-regarded Pew Report, documented the astounding growth of Chassidic communities, whose birth rate eclipses that of the rest of the Jewish community. The downside of that growth is that while the ratio of childhood illness does not vary from community to community, the greater numbers of children meant greater incidences of pediatric illness.
By itself, that might not have been motivating enough for the organization to take the unusual step. But as Hershey Katz, the administrator of Achim B’Yachad pointed out, differences in culture and language made it more difficult for Chassidic clients to fully participate in Chai Lifeline’s programs, most notably the social activities.
Achim B’Yachad’s Chassidic volunteers do more than speak the same language. Because they come from the same communities as the families they serve, they understand the nuances of life in their neighborhoods. The comfort level between parents and volunteers is enhanced as parents need not “explain” themselves. Additionally, Chassidic schools have different calendars and school hours; Achim B’Yachad activities take that into account. For example, i-Shine, which meets after school twice a week in the Five Towns/Rockaway are and Teaneck, NJ, meets on Sundays in Achim B’Yachad communities.
The division, which currently serves families in Boro Park, Williamsburg, Monsey, Monroe and New Square, was successful from its first days. Every year it grows. This Purim, over 1,000 kids, family members and volunteers attended the Achim B’Yachad Purim celebration at Factory 220 in Passaic. 175 boys and their counselors joined i-Shine coordinators for a special Achim B’Yachad Shabbaton at Camp Simcha a few weeks ago. (A similar event for girls, held in New Jersey, also drew a large crowd.)
Achim B’Yachad families are eligible for the full range of Chai Lifeline support services. Yiddish-speaking professionals and volunteers provide culturally sensitive social and emotional support in hospitals and communities. Project CHAI, Chai Lifeline’s crisis intervention and bereavement arm, has trained paraprofessionals in Achim B’Yachad communities to assure that services are provided within the sensitivities of families and the communities.
“The challenges faced by parents of children with illnesses are remarkably similar, but we have learned that the responses are colored by community dynamics and culture,” said Rabbi Simcha Scholar. “Achim B’Yachad is the result of our recognition that the best way to be effective is to provide services in the ways that families can best utilize them.”