image
Fifth-graders at Yeshivat Noam get ready to sell jewelry, T-shirts, baked goods, and mosaic tiles to benefit Chai Lifeline. The organization will visit the school on Dec. 24 to receive the funds. courtesy yeshivat noam

It’s hard to watch a friend fall ill; harder still to feel there’s nothing you can do.

Unwilling simply to stand by, the children at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus recently found a way to make a difference in the lives of two children with cancer.

“They felt they needed to do something; we all felt that way,” said Rabbi Chaim Hagler, principal of the school, explaining that a fifth-grader at the school had been diagnosed with the illness during the summer.

The girl, whose family prefers that she not be named, has been helped greatly by Chai Lifeline, said Hagler. Not only did she attend Camp Simcha, the group’s summer camp in Orlando, Fla., but the organization, which reaches out to families affected by cancer, helped the family with housing and food when the fifth-grader was a patient at Memorial Sloan Kettering during Sukkot.

Hagler said that on the suggestion of assistant principal Linda Stock, the fifth-graders decided to hold a fund-raiser in their friend’s behalf. Recognizing the role Chai Lifeline was playing in her life, they selected that organization to receive the proceeds.

Chai Lifeline has also helped the school administration, said Hagler.

From the start, “we wanted to figure out what our role was as a school [as regards] the student, the class, and the school. We reached out to Chai Lifeline and they were an incredible resource for us.”

Representatives from the group spoke to the fifth-graders, “answering questions about what [their classmate] will be going through for the next several months. They knew what to say and how to say it.”

In addition, the organization worked with the school to set up a laptop, smart board, and video link for the student when she cannot be in school.

Hagler, Stock, and two parent volunteers, Bina Faber and Miriam Berman, helped the fifth-graders with their fund-raising project, coming up with a plan that “allowed the girls to be ‘hands-on,'” said Hagler.

Taking up the suggestion that they “make and sell things,” students made craft items as well as baked goods and tie-dyed T-shirts, selling them at parent-teacher conferences. In the end, they raised more than $1,300.

“The girls needed something to do to help their friend,” said Hagler. “It’s great that they were able to make a project – giving them a sense of working together – and raise money for such an organization.”

Faber said she and Berman, both Teaneck residents, received a good deal of cooperation from other parents. As for the children, “every single one wanted to be involved.”

The students have reached out in other ways as well, said Faber, pointing out that they participate in evening conference calls to their sick classmate when she cannot be in school.

“Half of the students don’t really understand what [cancer] is,” she said “but we’re focusing on the positive, not talking about the details. We say she’s in treatment, let’s do what we can.”

Her daughter Shalva, who is 10, said that she and her classmates enjoyed doing the fund-raising project, especially “how we all got to split it up evenly and do it our own way. And I think since we raised over $1,000, it meant something to Chai Lifeline.”

Even more special, she said, was the fact that “my friend who has cancer got to do it with me.” Shalva brought a craft project to Sloan Kettering so that her friend could help work on it.

Berman said she hopes the great sense of satisfaction expressed by the fifth-graders will make them want to do more such projects in the future. She pointed out that the school “is always involved in chesed,” collecting and distributing tzedakah funds as well as visiting nursing homes.

Her daughter, 10-year-old Sarah, made jewelry for the fund-raising project.

Like Shalva, Sarah was especially pleased that her sick classmate could help make and sell the items.

“It felt better that she was there to help also,” said Sarah. “We weren’t just helping her; she was helping, too. Hearing that we raised [so much money] was a huge surprise,” she added. “Everyone thought we did something that helped a lot of people.”

Hagler said the school also undertook a second project to raise funds for a sick child.

“We received an e-mail from the principal of a Paramus elementary school telling us about TJ Franson,” a second-grade boy with leukemia, said Hagler, noting that local public schools were planning a walkathon to raise funds for the youngster’s family.

The Yeshivat Noam principal, together with members of the school’s chesed committee, decided that on the day of the walkathon, the school would donate its tzedakah money to the Franson family.

“We encouraged parents to send in what they could,” he said. “A five-gallon water bottle was set up at the school the Friday before parent/teacher conferences to collect donations. On Wednesday and Thursday we spoke to the children about it. They rushed into school on Friday and couldn’t wait to take out their tzedakah money.”

About $1,000 was collected, he said, adding that TJ’s father and the principal, who came to the school to accept the check, were “incredibly appreciative.”

“We live as Jewish people with the understanding that our role here in this world is to help other people,” said the principal. “We’re not just here for ourselves but for a greater good – reaching out to those we know and those we don’t know, to touch their lives and help them. These experiences will have an impact on who [my students] are and how they treat others.”