“The LORD will sustain him upon his sickbed; In his illness, You restore him to health.” (Psalm 41:3)
As Jews welcome joy and light into their homes during the Festival of Lights-Hanukkah, there are numerous children in Israel’s hospitals who miss out on the holiday. These children often suffer from depression brought on by both their illness and the difficult hospital atmosphere in which they find themselves. Colel Chabad, Israel’s oldest continuously operating charity organization since 1788, strives to dispel some of their darkness through its uplifting Hanukkah programs.
“People, especially children, can get depressed when they are sick and certainly when they are hospitalized,” shared Rabbi Mendel Lieberman, Organizer of Hospital Activities for Colel Chabad in Israel and Emissary for the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to Breaking Israel News. “Being in the hospital at a particularly festive time of year is so hard. Many people hospitalized during Hanukkah have told me that the only ray of light they experienced was when Colel Chabad delivered holiday cheer.”
Colel Chabad‘s sole purpose has always been to help those most in need in a manner that preserves and enhances their dignity. “Our Hospital Hanukkah campaign spreads joy to everyone regardless of ethnic background or degree of observance,” explained Rabbi Lieberman to Breaking Israel News. “We help children being treated in Israel’s 10 hospitals. We give out thousands of gifts to all of the children, no questions asked. Jews as well as Arabs and non-Jewish patients receive gifts. We want every child to have joy during the Festival of Lights.”
Doctors and nurses have consistently noted that Colel Chabad‘s visits help to make miracles happen. Listless children come to life. Appetites are renewed. Curiosity and excitement abound.
This year, Colel Chabad has over 60 volunteers distributing gifts and fun to hospitalized children. However, as Rabbi Lieberman points out, because of budget restraints, Colel Chabad can only visit each hospital one time, at the beginning of the eight day holiday.
“The truth is that by the end of Hanukkah, many children have gone home but, unfortunately, hospitals are filled with a new set of sick children,” said Rabbi Lieberman. “With additional funding, our goal is to visit each hospital at both the beginning and end of the holiday to help to put a smile on any sick child’s face throughout the holiday.”
Colel Chabad staff and volunteers also provide holiday entertainment and treats. Clowns, musicians, candies, cakes, dancing and skits all add to the Hanukkah atmosphere.
“We also distribute a fun newsletter with games, quizzes and challenges so that the children have some meaningful entertainment,” continued Rabbi Lieberman to Breaking Israel News. “Everyone who participates in the newsletter activities gets prizes as well.”
One story which highlights the importance of Colel Chabad’s Hospital Hanukkah campaign happened at Barzilai Hospital, located in Ashkelon in southern Israel. A Down’s syndrome child had been abandoned by his parents. Colel Chabad volunteers visited him and gave him presents. He lit up like a menorah. The only warm holiday cheer that he received came from Colel Chabad. Soon after that, he was adopted.
Colel Chabad strives to give patients a good experience and positive memories even in their darkest times. As Rabbi Lieberman explained, “Today, we know scientifically what the Bible has always taught. Bringing happiness and joy to sick people helps in their healing and rehabilitation.”
“Lighting the Hanukkah menorah shows that a small light dispels a lot of darkness. Adding another candle each night reminds us that we should always strive to increase light in the world. Colel Chabad seeks to increase light in the places where there is darkness, especially in people’s lives. We are very aware that every bit of light we increase and share with others, brings the ultimate light of the Messiah that much closer.”