Child cancer survivors visit Israel and ‘just love it’

Childhood cancer survivors, supported by Chai Lifeline throughout their illness, were finally treated to a trip of a lifetime.

By Atara Beck, World Israel News

A group of childhood cancer survivors, mostly from the U.S., finally arrived in Israel this month as part of Chai Lifeline’s “Wish at the Wall” program. The 10-day annual event, made possible by the Hartman Family Foundation, had been postponed for two years due to COVID-19.

Chai Lifeline is an international children’s health support network, providing emotional, social, and financial assistance to more than 5,900 families confronting illness, crisis, and loss.

“The ‘Wish at the Wall’ program is Chai Lifeline’s celebration of life for those who have completed treatment for cancer. Each participant is invited to share the memorable journey with a parent,” the organization explains.

Zachary Pelikh, 15, is one of the participants, and he had a special surprise. Because of his cancer, he never had the opportunity to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah, but Chai Lifeline organized a “gorgeous” event, his grateful mother told World Israel News in a telephone interview last Thursday, a week into the trip.

“We had never been in Israel but we always had a huge love for Israel,” Zina Gen, who accompanied her son Zachary, said. “It’s the first time for both of us. We fell in love with it.”

Highlights included the Western Wall in Jerusalem and a Yom Kippur War museum exhibit, among other destinations.

“Everything about Israel is just so unique and spiritual and beautiful. We just love it, love it, love it,” she enthused.

“And, of course, the food,” she added, laughing. “And of course the people. We fell in love with the people.”

Gen explained that the family has always wanted to visit but never could because of the health challenges. Her husband is also recovering from cancer.

“We’re planning to come back again with the whole family. We love this Jewish country.”

Regarding her family’s ordeal and the support provided over the years by Chai Lifeline, she said, “I don’t know how they found out, but they were with us every step of the way. Even small things like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. They did everything in their power for the family.

“They know how it is for the parents, not just for the kids, and they try to take care of everything – emotionally, physically. I have so much gratitude for Chai Lifeline. I don’t know if they even realize how much happiness they bring for the whole family.”

Mother hails from Ukraine

Coincidentally, Gen grew up in Ukraine and arrived in Israel at the same time that so many refugees were fleeing the wartorn country for the Jewish state.

“I left at 17,” she said. but “it’s very tragic, adding that she’s not even sure that her hometown of Kaniv still exists.

“I saw people at airport. It breaks my heart. But at the same time, we’re so proud of Israel for taking care of them, for taking care of Jews everywhere in the world.”

“Wish at the Wall is a culmination of months and years of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries, as well as the loneliness and isolation that accompanies the arduous cancer journey,” said Rabbi Shlomo Crandall, director of Wish at the Wall and Chai Lifeline Midwest. “This program builds a unique bond between the teens and their parents and creates friendships and memories that last a lifetime.”

“The Israel experience has always been a form of closure for many of the children and families we have supported over the years,” said Rabbi Simcha Scholar, CEO of Chai Lifeline.  “All of these inspiring young men and women have faced incredible health and personal challenges in their fights with cancer.

“This trip will give them an experience and memories they will take with them for the rest of their lives.”