By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Albert Shaltiel’s story began in Tehran, Iran, just prior to the onset of the Iranian Revolution. He describes his early years as peaceful and tranquil. But in the wake of the Revolution, the atmosphere became one of trepidation and turmoil. Following one failed attempt to escape the violence, a move for which he was incarcerated and tortured, Albert finally fled at the age of 16. Frightened and facing an unknown future, he spent the ensuing months traveling through the mountains and valleys of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Eventually, he reached the freedom of Vienna, and from there he was able to secure safe passage to Los Angeles. Thirteen years later, Albert realized his lifelong dream of coming home to Israel, and shortly thereafter, he met his wife, Yael.
After struggling for years with unsuccessful infertility treatments, Albert and Yael considered adoption. “How can you choose just one child when there are so many who need you?” he recalls thinking. They decided if they weren’t able to have children of their own, they would “adopt the problems” of many and work towards ameliorating their troubles.
The couple made the effort to get acquainted with Israeli hospitals, social workers, and various communal organizations that worked with children. With the generous support of donors from around the world, they began distributing money toward medical equipment and therapies for children in need.
“Since a very young age, we have tried to live our lives according to the tenet ‘V’ahavta l’reiyacha kamocha’ — ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’,” said Albert. “In fact, the Jewish hospital in Tehran, where both Yael and I were born, had this phrase inscribed on the entrance. Quite often we think, ‘What if it were my child who was sick and needed help?’ That gives us the impetus to push forward and work hard on behalf of all the children.”
Then, in what Albert and Yael can only describe as possibly in merit for their work with the children, “G‑d opened the Gates of Heaven and we found out that Yael was pregnant.”
When their son was born in 2005, the Shaltiels officially established the Ilai Fund in his name.
“We wanted to be sure we always care for all the children as much as we care for our only child,” Albert says. “By naming it The Ilai Fund, we remind ourselves each and every day that these children are like our own, and we truly feel and experience their joys and pain together with them.”
Since its inception, The Ilai Fund has experienced rapid growth. Albert and Yael respond to the children in need. An Israeli-based charity, it funds therapies for medical equipment and therapies for hundreds of sick children with special needs.
Together with their son Ilai, Albert and Yael meet with each child, with the utmost confidentiality and sensitivity, to determine where their help will be most beneficial to the child, whether it is paying for a piece of medical equipment, a type of therapy, or for some, just a recreational activity to bring joy and healing.
“We provide our children with a wide range of items,” Albert explained. “These include wheelchairs, Hart walkers, bath lifts, orthopedic shoes, splints and braces, special nutrition, diapers, eyeglasses, specialized computers, funds for transportation to and from hospitals, as well as vitamins or medication. We provide physiotherapy and hydrotherapy visits for our kids, and at times, there is a need for psychotherapy in order for them to accomplish their overwhelming tasks.”
“At the Ilai Fund we care for our precious children as if they were our own by providing for their every need,” Albert continued. We provide caregivers and teachers, organize fun days, and much more.”
“Unfortunately, the state budget allocated to these children continues to be very minimal each year, and what every person receives is a mere drop of water compared to the vast ocean of their needs. Even with the Health Insurance Medication Subsidies in Israel, it is still beyond the ability of families facing daily financial challenges to make payments. For single mothers who lack family support, the financial burden is greater still. All alone, it is these women who must care for their sick children 24 hours each day, which means they are unable to work. Moreover, there may be other children in the family who need their mother’s attention. Without the help of organizations such as The Ilai Fund, the situation is untenable, creating emotional and financial distress.”
The Ilai Fund provides a lifeline to the children and their families. Truly a City of Angels, they offer succor and support to those in need. Keeping their overhead low, their dining room table serves as the base of operations, displaying black binders filled with files detailing their many children, or as they refer to them, the Ilai Fund Heroes.
Most of the children helped by the Ilai Fund come from single parent homes. “My father died when I was young, and my siblings and I grew up with just a mother,” says Yael. “I know how hard it can be when there is only one parent, and we want to try to help those families who have to work even harder to care for a sick child even more.”
To support The Ilai Fund in their exemplary endeavors on behalf of the precious children who depend on them, please visit www.ilaifund.org, or call (213) 500-9916. Tizku l’mitzvos!
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative-media consultant, lecturer, and educator who writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes readers’ comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.