The Chai Lifeline Annual LH Financial Winter Retreat held this year on December 27-29 at the beautiful Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel in Asbury Park, NJ, brought together 500 family members, rabbinic figures, mental health experts, volunteers, and staff for an extended weekend of professional and peer support, educational programming, respite and relaxation, and inspiration.
Chai Lifeline’s professional staff had seen to every detail. Upon arrival, families received personalized bags for each child, family games, and delicious room packages. The children’s programming and outing on Friday delivered on its promise of creativity, fun, and sport. The mothers’ spa experience on Friday afternoon set the stage for a weekend both relaxing and stimulating, filled with facilitated support groups, leisurely meals and social activities. The Shabbos meals, punctuated by the Chai Lifeline tradition of singing and dancing, further bonded families together.
“Mutual support is vital for these families who are bound together by circumstance,” said Chai Lifeline Chief Executive Officer Rabbi Simcha Scholar. “The goal of these retreats is not only to provide these families with a sense of normalcy and chizuk, but to also let them know they are not alone in battling their child’s illness or in their emotional response to the situation.”
The spiritually and emotionally uplifting weekend was enhanced by the presence of the esteemed scholar-in-residence, Rabbi Yaakov Feitman, shlita, of Kehillas Bais Yehudah Tzvi in the Five Towns. Mrs. Chani Juravel, renowned therapist and lecturer, led workshops for mothers to help them cope with the emotional trials of pediatric cancer. Her hashkafic and psychological insights helped participants process their “new normal,” and gave them a framework for dealing with the uncertainty of illness. In addition, Chai Lifeline’s professional staff were also on hand throughout the weekend.
Rabbi Mayer Gross, a Chai Lifeline parent from Lakewood, NJ, addressed the group and shared his advice for living with pediatric illness. Licensed clinical social worker and marital relationship expert, Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler, spoke with the parents about how a child’s illness can impact a marriage, and provided concrete tactics for strengthening relationships during difficult times.
A Motzei Shabbos carnival, complete with indoor inflatables, took place shortly after Shabbos ended, much to the children’s delight. Benny Friedman, Yitz Henkin and the Mezamrim Choir took the stage for an incredible concert during the Retreat’s Melava Malka. Levi Lesin, Avromi Basch, Pinny Lunger, Isaac Bernath, Meir Rosenbaum, and BH Audio also made the concert into an amazing event.
The cumulative effect of structured support through therapist-facilitated groups, inspirational keynotes and time with other parents had its intended effect, and parents left invigorated, and armed with a toolbox of new coping strategies.
Mrs. Baila Brackman, a Chai Lifeline parent from Chicago, was thankful for the opportunity to be part of the Retreat. “I have learned that illness doesn’t discriminate,” she said. “We were Jews from every walk of life. There were so many incredible families, so strong and so positive, with smiles and tremendous bitachon in Hashem. I know that we all share something universal, and that’s simcha. The happiness that was felt by both the children and parents was so beautiful. There was a feeling of simcha poretz geder, the joy of the children will break all boundaries.”
Chai Lifeline is grateful to Jay Podolsky, Stuart Podolsky and the Amsterdam Hospitality Group for their generosity in making the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel available for the weekend. The program is one of numerous Chai Lifeline family retreats held throughout the year.
Chai Lifeline is the international children’s health support network, providing emotional, social, and financial support to children with life-threatening or lifelong illnesses and their families. To learn more about Chai Lifeline and its services, please visit www.chailifeline.org.