December 15, 2008 | 18th of Kislev, 5769
Is there a more festive, fun-filled Jewish family celebration than Chanukah? Eight days of light and gifts, of games and ?gelt?, of donuts and dreidels? No wonder children wait all year for the Festival of Lights. What better way to spend long winter evenings than in the warm embrace of family and friends.
But there are children who don?t share this experience. Whose lives are filled with darkness. Who spend year after painful year living in hospitals, devoid of parental love, cut off from the sun and songs, the joys and pleasures of childhood.
Born with chronic or terminal illnesses, mentally and physically handicapped, the blind, the severely retarded --thousands of such forgotten children throughout Israel have very little light in their lives.
For these boys and girls, Chanukah would be no different than any other dreary week, were it not for the boundless caring and heart-warming love of Colel Chabad volunteers who bring light and love, gifts and toys to these forgotten but precious children.
And they bring this joy in an intensely personal way to literally thousands of kids who are so deserving, so needy, so bereft of parental love.
On each day of Chanukah, Colel Chabad teams fan out with a professional traveling program comprised of clowns, dancers, and musicians. The teams are ?armed? with donuts and refreshments, games and contests, and an infectious humor. The parties are raucous, designed to bring the children out of their shells. And the highlight, of course, is the distribution of wonderful toys for each and every child to own and cherish.
To accompany such a Colel Chabad team is to witness the depressing fact that abandoned children like these represent every economic and sociological sector of the Israeli population. The single common denominator is pain, suffering and solitude.
Which makes it all the more amazing, especially for the overworked staff of nurses and caretakers, to see these children laughing, clapping, singing and ?dancing? in their beds and wheelchairs. Long after the party is over, the joy carries forward through the precious toys that each child gets to keep.
Colel Chabad?s Chanukah program for hospitalized children takes place in institutions both renowned and virtually unknown. Among the major medical centers that benefit from these Chanukah ?invasions? are Hadassah in Jerusalem, Beilinson in Petach Tikvah, Soroka in Beer Sheva, Barzilai in Ashkelon as well as other major medical centers in Israel.
But there are smaller institutions that are even more significant at a time like this -- places where the most severely challenged children are cared for. These include residential schools like Broshim, which is home to hundreds of severely retarded children; Hatene, a special institution for the multiply handicapped, i.e. both physically and mentally challenged; Tzaad Kadima, a daycare center for children who are incapable of being integrated into normal programs; Keren Ohr for the blind, many of whom suffer from other issues as well. The list goes on an on.
Thousands of Americans to be thankful for:
According to Colel Chabad?s executive director ?Doing this work is our privilege and our sacred mission. But behind us are thousands of anonymous supporters, caring American Jews, who provide the much needed dollars to help buy the toys and cover the logistical costs of this nationwide program. We couldn?t do it without generous, open-hearted help of these unsung heroes.?