For Yaakov* and his family, planning for his bar mitzvah celebration had been an effort long in the making. The date and shul had been booked and the food had already been ordered. But as his family recalled, “Hashem decided He had other plans,” and Yaakov would have to mark becoming a bar mitzvah as a patient in Johns Hopkins Medical Center.
As the situation developed, Racheli Daniel, Director of Chai Lifeline MidAtlantic, the regional branch of the international network of support services for children and families facing serious illness and other challenges, and Case Manager Dina Greenbaum sprang into action. Within hours, in a true sense of unity and cross-organizational coordination, details were coordinated with Libby Lehman of the Tikvah House, Stacey Goldenberg from the Jewish Caring Network (JCN), Rabbi Naftoli Rabinowitz, the chaplain at the hospital and Rabbi Pinchos Rabinowitz of Bikur Cholim of Baltimore for a full weekend of celebrating what would be the first ever bar mitzvah to be held in the famed Baltimore medical institution.
The events began with a celebration in the hospital’s “Bikur Cholim Room” where Yaakov’s rebbeim, family rabbis, and friends from yeshiva had gathered. “The smile on the bar mitzvah boy’s face could have lit up the entire city of Baltimore,” his family said. They described sitting in the room for over two hours, singing and dancing and sharing words of Torah and thanking Hashem for His kindness to enable such a party to happen despite the obvious challenges that surrounded them.
The celebrations continued into Shabbas and Chai Lifeline arranged for 25 guests to be able to stay in the nearby Tikvah House. Catered meals were prepared for everyone as well as customized Bar Mitzvah guest care packages, candy platters, and reading materials to make it feel like a special weekend in every way. Chai Lifeline volunteers arranged to bring chumashim and siddurim as well as a sefer Torah into the hospital so that the Bar Mitzvah could take place without a hitch. Throughout Friday afternoon, the bar mitzvah spirit began as Chai Lifeline arranged for personal videos and phone calls with mazel tov wishes from superstars in the Jewish music world, including Avraham Fried, Simcha Leiner, Mordechai Shapiro, and Moishe Tischler.
Chai Lifeline volunteers took care of every aspect of running the weekend so that the parents and family could enjoy it in every way possible. “Their attitude, behavior, professionalism, and their love of just doing the right thing to please a bar mitzvah boy and his family was a true example of chesed.”
The family said the extent of the investment and caring by all of those involved was a remarkable example of a kiddush Hashem. “Even when large groups of people arrived in the hospital, all we saw were smiles among the staff and good wishes from all. They were fascinated by what we were doing to make a bar mitzvah boy reach this major milestone.”
Looking back on a weekend that the family said they will never forget, Yaakov’s family penned an emotional thank you letter to those who made it all possible writing, “One should never need the help of JCN, Bikur Cholim or Chai Lifeline, but it was such a relief to know they are there for you. Chai Lifeline turned frowns into smiles, tears into laughter, anticipation into realization. This was an event that could not be matched by any other bar mitzvah we ever went to or will ever attend.”
Dina Greenbaum reflected on the opportunity to bring some much-needed joy into Yaakov’s life saying, “Every child, no matter what difficulties they are facing deserves happiness when it comes to this milestone in their lives. In the halls of a hospital that sees so much illness and loss, we were blessed to be able to give Yaakov and his family that gift. Our sincere blessing is that these special days of simcha will remain with him and help guide him to a full and speedy recovery.”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.