TEANECK The little girl from Be’er Sheva is blind and terminally ill with cancer. But she wanted to meet the many children who have written to her this year, and so she’s coming here on June 3 along with nine other disadvantaged Israeli children.
The trip was arranged by Rabbis Uzi Rivlin and Moshe Yasgur, Cong. Beth Aaron members who run the Scholarship Fund for the Advancement of Children in Israel (Keren Milgot le-Kiddum Yeladim be-Yisrael).
For the past three summers, the men have found sponsor families in Westchester and this township to host the kids. Some have celebrated their bar mitzvahs at Beth Aaron. And last year, several of the boys were invited guests during a session of Camp Moshava in Honesdale, Pa. a popular coed Zionist camp run by former Beth Aaron congregant Alan Silverman.
Rivlin’s own family will be hosting Michal Emunah, 11, whose early bat mitzvah will take place at the camp. "She’ll be 1′ in January but her doctor at Seroka Hospital told me to do it now because he doesn’t know if she’ll make it to her birthday," said Rivlin. "I know she has a lot of pain but she doesn’t show it."
Michal has been blind in one eye since infancy as the result of surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. When she was 7, a malignant growth behind the other eye was removed, leaving her totally blind. She has continued to be upbeat, said Rivlin, turning to poetry, piano-playing, and music to keep her spirits high even as she seems to be losing her battle with cancer.
The other children coming for the summer live in northern and southern towns where life has been difficult, including Sderot. They are among hundreds receiving assistance from the scholarship fund, which provides clothing, food, beds, school supplies, and medical referrals to struggling Israeli families.
"Receipt of a scholarship is conditional upon the student’s fulfillments of basic responsibilities and good behavior at home, in school, and in the neighborhood," said Yasgur. "They are expected to devote themselves to their studies, develop good character, and accomplish various tasks, including maintaining pen-pal relationships with Americans."
Despite her fragile medical condition, Michal has a full schedule planned. Accompanied by her mother, she will perform at a concert in Tarrytown, N.Y., to be attended by dignitaries; visit with seventh-graders at Ramaz Lower School in Manhattan; and, on June 13, with third-graders at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford.
"The kids are preparing ‘The Smile,’ a song written by one of Israel’s most famous musicians, Rami Kleinstein, from one of Michal’s poems," said Rivlin. "It has become like the symbol of her hopes and dreams. They’re also making a welcome banner in Braille."
All the visitors have been polishing up their English prior to their trip, and the host families have been practicing their Hebrew, Rivlin said. The youngest is Michal, while the oldest, 17-year-old Daniel, was introduced to the community four years ago when he celebrated his bar mitzvah here. Some of the children come from religious families and some from secular families. All will cap off their summer on the weekend of Aug.19 with a Shabbaton at Beth Aaron.
"There are people here who send a check to the fund every single month," said Rivlin. "People really care. This year we had to buy a lot of beds and mattresses. We insist every child in middle school should have a computer. There are basic things we have to give them, because otherwise they won’t have them."
Tax-deductible contributions full educational scholarships are $140, tuition scholarships are $60, textbooks and supplies are $50, and school shoes are $’5 may be made payable to Cong. Beth Aaron, with "Scholarship Fund" in the memo line and mailed to P.O. Box 1155, Teaneck, NJ 07666.