April 27, 2015 4:48 pm
WEST ORANGE, NJ – Smiles and laughter permeated the Richard J. Codey Ice Skating Arena at South Mountain as more than 500 children, teenagers and parents participated in the Chai4ever Chol Hamoed outing on Monday, April 6. From novice to experienced skaters, everyone enjoyed partaking in one last winter pastime, with the knowledge that spring is finally here.
That was just the beginning of full-day of activities, which continued just a small “jump” away at the nearby Sky Zone Trampoline Park with every imaginable bouncing activity. This included springing in foam pits and on trampolines, trampoline dodgeball and volleyball, and skyslam basketball dunking. The enthusiasm and high energy levels carried through to the evening concert by Eli Marcus and the Rak Rega band. The spirited dancing and singing bought everyone’s simcha to another level. Watching seriously ill parents dancing with reckless abandon holding their kids close, brought everyone to their feet. Even the most exhausted youngsters had huge smiles on their faces as they left the indoor park late that evening.
“While Pesach can be a stressful time in the most stable of families,” said Samuel Zaks, Chai4ever executive vice president, “our goal was to make this an occasion of celebration for families who are undergoing more than enough stress the rest of the year. We carefully assessed each family’s situation and needs and came up with the solution that reinstated as much normalcy and joy as possible to their yom tov.”
One father, who is juggling his own serious health issues while caring for a wife with cancer, said, “This is the first normal day our family has had in four years.”
Rivka, a mother of seven children who range in age from pre-school to early teens, said that her husband’s chronic illness takes him in and out of hospitals and often leaves him incapacitated, making any kind of Chol Hamoed outing extremely difficult. “It is virtually impossible to plan anything and hard for me alone to manage our group in a crowd,” she said. “Everything about the Chai4ever event was so thoughtful and well organized. They thought of everything, from plenty of volunteer support to work with even the youngest children, to healthy snacks, to grilled kosher l’pesach hot dogs to giving the kids their choice of sweatshirts, t-shirts and hats – they made the kids feel like a million dollars. I don’t remember ever going on a trip that worked out so well!”
The Chol Hamoed celebration was the culmination of the full spectrum of programs offered by Chai4ever to address unique and not so unique Pesach needs in families struggling to cope with a parent’s serious illness. Other services included providing cleaning help, financial assistance, kosher l’pesach meal deliveries, afikomen toy distributions, and respite retreats to Pesach programs in hotels for all or part of the holiday.
Mr. Zaks said, “Our strongest indicator of success were the beaming faces of children and parents alike. Much as we’d like to be able to do so, nobody can restore these families back to exactly the way they were before the parent became ill. However, with the help of our generous benefactors and dedicated volunteers and staff, we were able to give them new memories to cherish of happy times together.”
Rivka said the Chol Hamoed event was her introduction to Chai4ever and what impressed her the most was the pervasive atmosphere of fun that infused the event. She said, “Everyone was so happy and cheerful – the volunteers, the kids, the parents who loved seeing their children so happy – there was just a tremendous feeling of joy throughout the event. It made you feel like you weren’t a taker – you were participating and joining in something that was so monumentally beautiful.”
Since its formation in February 2014, Chai4ever has quickly become the premier address for families in the US and Israel undergoing the crisis of a parent with such catastrophic illnesses as cancer, heart and lung disease, and stroke victims. With the mission of providing emotional and practical support to mitigate long-term damage to the family, Chai4ever’s comprehensive year-round services include housekeeping assistance, homework help, crisis and bereavement counseling, transportation, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, meal preparation and delivery, insurance advocacy and navigation, family retreats and recreational events, and collaboration with schools and hospitals.