On May 13-14, over 125 girls impacted by pediatric illness and dedicated volunteers came together for Chai Lifeline’s annual Friends and Fun Shabbaton in Englewood, NJ. The retreat, organized by Lori Schlakman and Deborah Berger, started off with a pre-Shabbat welcome event at the East Hill Synagogue and continued with davening and a delicious dinner at Congregation Ahavath Torah. On Shabbat morning, Chai Lifeline Warrior Whitney shared her story of strength and resilience and reflected on her experience at Camp Simcha.
“I was most scared to come to Camp Simcha for one reason: I had never connected with my Jewish identity in a deep and meaningful way… I walked into Camp Simcha on my very first day in a T-shirt and shorts scared beyond words… I got out of the car, I walked towards the opening gates, and suddenly 200 girls are screaming and sprinting at me. They’re in tutus, costumes, screaming at the top of their lungs, and literally, running at me with full force, somehow chanting my name at the same time. A bunch of strangers I had never met pulled me in as one of their own, hugged me until I was breathless, and by some miracle got me to dance. Little did I know what those two weeks of camp had in store for me. I saw smiles, I saw fear, I saw joy, I saw sadness, I saw hardship, I saw life! But most importantly, I saw friends. I saw family. And that was a feeling I had not had in four years.”
Whitney added, “Chai Lifeline is not about being sick. It is about fostering courage to battle challenges… I came to learn that it isn’t about connecting with those that share the same illness, it’s about finding people that share your courage, and surrounding yourself with people that build you up. That, is Chai Lifeline.”
After a community kiddush, lunch was held at Congregation Ahavath Torah followed by an afternoon tea at the Parker home, featuring a performance by magician Sam Jacobs. Shabbat drew to a close with a beautiful Seudah Shlishit where community member Mike Dube spoke in memory of his father Jeffery Jay Dube and Chai Lifeline Warrior Shoshana shared her inspirational cancer journey.
“Being a part of Camp Simcha was life-altering for me,” said Shoshana. “To be around people who understood what I had just been through was incredible. This was a contrasting experience from the isolating, painful moments in the hospital that made me feel so alone.”
The weekend ended with a musical Havdala followed by a massive dance party for all the girls and women in the community.
“It’s amazing watching the community open their doors and their hearts to each child, making them feel so accepted and understood,” said Rivky Zuckerman, director of Camp Simcha Girls. “In Englewood, each girl feels as though she has a whole community of cheerleaders on her side… for life!”
Chai Lifeline is a leading children’s health support network providing social, practical, and financial assistance to children and families confronting illness, crisis, and loss. Learn more at www.chailifeline.org.