Rachel Wajsberg seems unflappable. A science teacher, she is raising 12 children in an orderly, immaculate Jerusalem flat. Her kids’ school rucksacks hang on hooks in the hallway and her salon and dining room are spotless.
Yet even very organised parents like Rachel need help when one of their children is diagnosed with cancer. Two years ago her daughter Chagit, then 17, learned she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
“I was preparing for my son’s wedding when Chagit told me the glands in her neck were swollen,” Rachel said of that fateful day more than two years ago. “To be honest I wasn’t worried, but we took her to the doctor just to be safe.”
That examination led to blood tests, then a biopsy at the hospital.
“A couple of days later my husband called to say we have an appointment in the hospital’s oncology department. I already surmised that something was wrong, but the news that Chagit had cancer was still shocking,” her mother said.
Rachel credits Zichron Menachem for providing her family with the emotional and logistical support they needed during Chagit’s illness. Chagit is now 19 and in remission.
“The first time we went to the oncology ward, Zichron Menachem’s National Service volunteers were there to welcome us,” she recalled. “They took care of everything. They brought equipment so Chagit’s classmates could record her lessons and bring them to her while she was hospitalised. They played games with her to help pass the time. Chemotherapy takes hours and it feels interminable.”
Recognising that their younger children needed more time and attention than they were able to give them at the time, Rachel and her husband, Shabtai, gratefully accepted Zichron Menachem’s offer to provide Chagit’s siblings with an after-school framework that included music and jewellery-making classes.
The transportation Zichron Menachem provided from the children’s schools to the organisation’s day centre and, later, to the family’s home, “was invaluable,” Rachel said. So, too, were the hot child-friendly meals the children received.
“I knew the food was good and that it was strictly kosher,” said Rachel, who is ultra-Orthodox. “Knowing the kids were properly fed gave me peace of mind.”
The children arrived home from the day centre not only well-nourished but happy.
“One of the children learned how to play a keyboard, another took voice lessons and at least one took jewellery making. The classes were educational but also fun,” Rachel said.
Two of Chagit’s sisters, both teenagers, also met with Zichron Menachem psychologists to discuss Chagit’s illness and its impact on their lives.
“It helped having someone professional to speak to,” Rachel said.
At the day centre Rachel and some of her kids participated in Zichron Menachem’s animal therapy sessions, which provide parents and the siblings of children with cancer some precious some one-on-one time.
She also took part in the organisation’s monthly support group for the mothers of children with cancer.
Both Rachel and Shabtai said they and their children “benefitted greatly” from the family Shabbat organized by Zichron Menachem.
“Do you know something? This was the first time in our lives that we went away for a Shabbat as an entire family,” Rachel said with a laugh. “It was a special and unique experience for all of us.”
Shabtai said the Shabbat retreat “was like being in a whole new world. We were in Tiberias with other families going through the same things we were going through.”
Shabtai recalled how he sat in a “support circle” with other parents and listened to their experiences as parents of a child with cancer.
“It was a sad afternoon. I came out of it realising that as difficult as our situation was at the time, others had it far worse than we did.”