There were latkes and sufganiyot, desserts and delightful gifts at every Chai Lifeline Chanukah event this year. But what people came for – and found in abundance – were the distinctive Chai Lifeline friendship, camaraderie and support that will help them cope with the crises and challenges of living with illness or loss in their homes.
“Chanukah is a joyful season that we all look forward to,” explained Rabbi Simcha Scholar, the organization’s international executive vice president. “Unfortunately, there are myriad situations that affect the joy that families expect to experience. Some children will be in the hospital, which means that their siblings will be forced to celebrate without them. Others will be ill, but at home. Some will be saddened by the illness or loss of a sibling or parent. Our mission this time of year is to make sure that no child is forgotten, and every child’s celebration is enhanced.”
The organization goes all out this time of year. Chai Lifeline offices around the globe put their distinctive spin on the holiday.
Parties around the globe spread the joy
Two thousand people in the greater New York area converged on Brooklyn’s Palace for a Chanukah Gala fit for royalty. They entered a hall decorated in the “Spinning the Dreidel” theme. Once inside, guests could partake of a delicious dinner. Once sated, children were charmed by the many Chanukah crafts projects that yielded beautiful decorative pieces before enjoying a concert featuring the music of Simcha Leitner. Before they went home, families were given a huge box filled with toys gathered as part of the Honey Engel Toy Drive and selected especially for them by dedicated Toy Drive volunteers.
Across the Hudson River, Chai Lifeline New Jersey sponsored two major gala events. The first, in Lakewood’s Ateres Reva Hall, brought more than 1,000 family members and volunteers together for Chanukah fun. Children were whisked away by their counselors for performances of Extreme Magic by Eric Wizig and Uncle Moishy’s World as soon as they entered the beautifully decorated hall. Parents made the most of their opportunity to meet and greet friends, speak with case managers and volunteers, and enjoy knowing that their children were having a blast with Chai Lifeline. A second party in Cherry Hill brought Chai Lifeline support to families in the northern and middle part of the state. Families in both parties were presented with a gaily wrapped box of holiday toys collected during numerous toy drives throughout the state.
Chai Lifeline Mid-Atlantic took over an entire airport for Chanukah. The Extravaganza at BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport featured everything from acrobats to face painting to creating Build-a-Bear wonders. “We’re always assured of a great time when we come to Chai Lifeline events,” gushed one parent. “They always make everything so special.”
Chai Lifeline Southeast gave children a special treat: a mountain of snow for Chanukah! The Winter Wonderland was a welcome treat for children who usually wear summer clothes during Chanukah. Inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of guest DJ Shimi Azar, the children danced and sang the afternoon away.
Two hundred fifty children and their families joined Chai Lifeline Midwest’s Leon Korol Chanukah party, the highlight of the region’s Chanukah efforts. Many of the area schools get involved in the Chanukah spirit. This year, Cheder Lubovitch’s fourth-grade class built a working menorah from toys. After Chanukah, the structure was disassembled, and the toys donated to Chai Lifeline. Arie Crown Yeshiva’s eighth-grade
boys raised $5,000, which they spent at Toys ‘R Us to fill Chai Lifeline’s toy room in time for Chanukah.
The West Coast region was busy in several states. In Los Angeles, Jewish rapper Nissim Black performed a private mini-concert for Chai Lifeline children. Our camp staff alumni transformed Pickwick Bowl into a Chanukah party zone. Hundreds of children, parents, friends, and volunteers joined the fun. Hundreds of people from the Phoenix Jewish community joined Chai Lifeline for an epic Chanukah concert starring Benny Friedman. Chai Lifeline families and VIP guests were treated to a special meet-and-greet with the star.
Bringing Chanukah Magic to Hospitalized Children
Chai Lifeline works with hospital administrators and child life departments to bring the spirit of Chanukah to all children who are hospitalized. We invite all children on pediatric wards or in clinics to join us for fun, jelly donuts, and menorah lighting. Gifts are given to all, and we provide additional toys to replenish child life departments.
This year, we worked together with thirteen major medical institutions, including Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; Children’s Specialized Hospital, New Brunswick; Cohen Children’s Hospital, (Northwell Health), New York; Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital, (NYU Langone Medical Center), New York; Maimonides Medical Center, NY; Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York; Montreal Children’s Hospital; Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, (New York Presbyterian Medical Center), NY; SickKids, Toronto; Sinai Hospital, Baltimore; Tisch Hospital, (NYU Langone Medical Center), New York; and University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore.
Chai Lifeline Takes Chanukah Around the World
Chai Lifeline’s international affiliates were certainly into the Chanukah spirit. The Donald Berman Chai Lifeline Canada was featured in a Chanukah candle lighting ceremony with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Rabbi Scholar joined Chai Lifeline Canada director Rabbi Mordechai Rothman for the evening. Canadian families enjoyed a Chai Lifeline party with the works: ice skating, bowling, music, yummy food and toys.
Across the pond, Camp Simcha UK, our British affiliate, celebrated Chanukah the way it always does: with amazing parties in London and Manchester, and by delivering toys to children in hospitals for the holidays. This year, the hospital runs were joined by former Baby Spice Emma Bunton and Minnie Mouse. In addition to its giant chagigot in Jerusalem and Petach Tikvah, Chaiyanu, Chai Lifeline’s Israeli affiliate, hand-delivered toys to children in every corner of the country. Volunteers bearing gifts fanned out during the eight days of Chanukah, visiting children in their homes and in hospitals to make it a very happy Chanukah for all. Our newest affiliate in Antwerp also got into the holiday spirit, coordinating toy drives and a party for our children and their families.
Chanukah Angels Make It Personal
Around the country, Chanukah Angels make it a very special time for hundreds of families. Chanukah Angels “adopt” a family for the Chanukah season, purchasing gifts from lists provided by parents. They also buy special “big ticket” items requested by children. In past years these have ranged from tablets and computers to a karaoke machine and even a battery-powered ride-in toy car.
“I love the fact that Chanukah Angels reach out the all the kids in a family, not just the patients. Chanukah is such a fun holiday. If we as Chanukah Angels can bring a little bit of happiness to kids going through such tragic things, then it’s a good thing,” said Robert Shuchatowitz, a longtime Angel.
We are indebted to the many schools, stores, and individuals who collected toys as part of Chai Lifeline’s international toy drives. These drives, large and small, help assure that all children are remembered during the holiday season.