In the weeks before Pesach, Jewish families around the globe are busy with the joyful but frenzied preparations for Yom Tov. Cleaning, cooking and Seder prep add up to an enormous investment of time and effort. Whether staying at home or travelling, there is always plenty to do.
At Chai4ever, preparations begin two months before Pesach. Families with a seriously ill parent have their hands full just trying to deal with the grim realities of disease; they have nothing extra to devote to special occasions. Chai4ever staff and volunteers spent thousands of hours helping hundreds of families in these circumstances make Yom Tov not only splendid, but joyous. From cleaning help, cooking and babysitting to arranging for families to be hosted for the entire Pesach (!), Chai4ever left no stone unturned in ensuring that each family’s individual needs were met. To top it all off, Chai4ever welcomed a thousand clients and children to a Chol Hamoed Extravaganza that included a trip to the Liberty Science Center and a cruise along the Hudson.
Cancer sufferer Rachel P. highlighted Chai4ever’s lifesaving work, “Ever since I was diagnosed,” she rasped, through a throat burned by radiation treatments, “my husband and I have been focused on trying to navigate the treatment options. Everything else would have fallen by the wayside if not for Chai4ever. They sent me fully prepared meals for Yom Tov. They cleaned my entire house. They kept my children occupied and entertained. But all of this pales beside their crowning glory. For months now, my children have been withdrawn and morose. They are sad, afraid and angry. They spend Shabbos and Yom Tov refusing to come out of their rooms.
“I am embarrassed to say I was dreading spending the long holiday with my surly children. But the Chai4ever Chol Hamoed trip brought them out of their shells. I finally got to see them enjoying themselves, smiling, even laughing! This simcha that Chai4ever brought to my children, my husband and me,” she concluded, her voice choked by tears, “is the greatest chessed by far.”
“Although basic necessities of life may be hanging in the balance,” explains Rabbi Shmuel Zaks, founder and executive vice president of Chai4ever, “a day of fun is an important part of a family’s treatment and healing. More than anything else, parents crave their children’s happiness. We are grateful to be the conduit of bringing joy back into their homes despite the pain of illness.”
Indeed, Chai4ever’s Chol Hamoed excursions have become the gold standard. Every aspect is carefully planned out, whether it’s transportation to and from the events, activities to engage children of all ages, volunteers to help make sure the kids have the time of their lives, or lavish buffets of food to satisfy the pickiest young palates. This year’s extravaganza was no exception. Chai4ever patients and their families started the day at Liberty Science Center with a winning combination of educational and interactive fun for all ages. Of course, Chai4ever also provided tickets to the IMAX show and premium exhibitions. The day ended with an exclusive outing along the Hudson River on the luxurious three-story cruise ship, The Hybrid. The stunning view stretched from Brooklyn to Ellis Island, with the Statue of Liberty shining her torch in front of a beautiful sunset. A delicious dinner and spirited live concert made the cruise even more enjoyable. Troubles were put aside as patients and their children joined together in spontaneous and exuberant dancing.
“At Chai4ever outings, my family can feel safe and normal. We never have to worry about people staring or making awkward comments. We can just relax and enjoy ourselves,” expressed Esther S., a mother of four with multiple sclerosis.
“We want our families to not only have fun,” Rabbi Zaks stressed, “but to also feel that they are part of a community. We want patients to know that there are many others who share their burdens, and that we can all be here for each other to ease those loads.”
Judging by the almost palpable air of camaraderie and friendship at this year’s extravaganza, Chai4ever is hitting the target. Everywhere you looked, you could see Chai4ever volunteers watching over laughing, playing children, while their parents relaxed and conversed together. For these few moments, illness and pain were forgotten, as families and friends joined together in pure happiness. As the ship docked and the passengers prepared to disembark, the atmosphere was electric with renewal and promise. What greater afikoman could there be?