After the truck pulled away with an empty container, the coordinators walked up the steps between the offloaded boxes–and their minds were boggled, what a sight! It was nearly impossible to walk into the Chaiyanu/Chai Lifeline Israel office in Jerusalem. Why? It’s Chanukah and the special delivery arrived from Woodmere to Israel, 230 boxes filled with Chanukah presents: Playmobil toys, dolls and huge dollhouses, board games, clothing, laptops, computer items, cameras, iPods, Wii systems, PlayStations–whatever children with cancer wished for, that is what they are receiving.
Robbie Schonfeld and the Ossie Schonfeld Memorial Chanukah Toy Fund have provided tens of thousands of gifts to hundreds of cancer children and their siblings all over Israel. Year after year, organizing tireless efforts to buy the gifts and then to package them and ship them to Israel has been the project of the Schonfeld family of Woodmere.
Robbie and Judy Schonfeld arrived right before Chanukah with one agenda: to bring joy, hope, and strength to all the cancer kids in Israel and to their families. For the next eight days, miracles happened and bright lights lit up the dark and painful world of the cancer children, with the personal delivery of each Chanukah present that was wished for by every child.
Three carloads of volunteers followed Robbie and Judy in their bus, together with Dr. Neal Goldberg and his clowns from Lev Leytzan/The Compassionate Clown Alley group from New York, headed down south for Be’er Sheva, S’derot, Netivot, and a Chanukah party for the Soroka Medical Center Pediatric Oncology Ward at Globus Max Theater in Be’er Sheva. Rabbi Yaakov Pinsky, director of Chaiyanu/Chai Lifeline Israel, received a phone call from Professor J. Kapelushnick expressing his great appreciation for the Chanukah party for the families in the South. They haven’t stopped talking about it and how it has given them joy, hope, and strength to continue their fight against cancer.
After visiting over 23 families, each one receiving many bags of gifts for all the siblings and the wish of the child who is sick, they decided to go to one more house, even though it was close to 10:30 p.m. They called Moriah’s house–everyone was awake–confirming that in ten minutes they would arrive. The family was so excited that the whole entourage was coming over for a Chanukah celebration. You could see the lights of their Chanukah menorah still flickering at this late hour.
The visitors unloaded the car with all the gifts, took out the guitars and a huge bag of candy and nosh, and then went singing up the stairs and into the house. Everyone was jumping up and down, spinning like dreidels. What a scene! Such happiness provided a sure way to forget, at least for a moment, about cancer and all the effects it has on the entire family. This moment was just pure joy, singing, dancing, and all smiles!
Robbie and Judy went over to Moriah carrying a huge box. When she saw the picture on the box, she yelled out “Habayit boba sheli!” (“My doll house!”) Indeed, it was a huge Fisher-Price doll house, twice the size of 5-year-old Moriah, who has Ewing’s sarcoma and fighting for her life. She knew exactly what was in that box because this was her wish for Chanukah, and she also knew that Chaiyanu would get it for her. For the rest of the evening, Moriah held on to Robbie, sitting on his lap, climbing all over him, and being held by him as if they’d known each other for years. All the while, the volunteers, clowns, and the family were having a wonderful time, the siblings opening up their presents, singing, playing, and laughing . . . and for the moment forgetting about all the pain.
But it doesn’t end with the Chanukah gifts, parties, and fun. It goes so much further than that. It generates relationships forever, for the volunteers and for the children. It’s really about all the Robbies in the world!
No matter how many siblings there are, every single one of them gets an age-appropriate Chanukah gift bought especially for them. The Chaiyanu families in Israel have been so warmly touched by the care and concern of the Schonfeld Family and by their determination to make sure that this will be the best Chanukah ever.
Months of toil, sweat, and tears–and tens of thousands of dollars–go into making the Ossie Schonfeld Memorial Chanukah Toy Fund one of the greatest successes of our communities.
Chaiyanu supports families of children with cancer in countless ways. No, they’re not doctors, and they dispense no medical advice. But they are experts at understanding what the critical illness of a child does to every member of the family. Each one becomes a victim. Each one needs special attention in order to become healthy and thrive.
They acknowledge the pain of family members by giving the ill child–and every sibling–an age-appropriate Chanukah gift. The process of raising the necessary funds, ordering the gifts, monitoring the inventory, and delivering the presents is an arduous one. The small staff and many volunteers throw themselves into the work, spending 18-hour days packing, driving, singing, dancing, and celebrating the joy of a child who wants to once again feel the simcha of Chanukah. There are no words to describe what we see, and what it feels like at that moment, to celebrate Chanukah in a child’s bedroom and to capture that moment as an everlasting memory. v