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Community pulls out the stops for Chaiyanu Hope Tour



South Africa may have its problems, but for young Israelis with cancer on the Chaiyanu Hope Tour, which treats them to everything the country and the community has to offer, it’s a wonderland.

Nothing is too much for the community, which comes out in full force to treat the children, from rides in sports cars along the Cape coastline, to sailing on yachts, going on safari, elephant rides, and quad biking.

This year was the first Hope Tour since the COVID-19 pandemic. For many in the community, hosting the children (alternating boys and girls each year) is an annual highlight, and their return was celebrated by community members and this year’s visiting boys.

Chaiyanu says it fights “illness with love” through the creation of the best possible experiences. Chaiyanu Chief Executive Elad Maimon personally organises the programme, which is then brought to life by him, the boys’ carers, other volunteers, and the South African Jewish community.

Shulamit Amar has been volunteering for Chaiyanu for 19 years. She’s an ICU (intensive care unit) nurse from Jerusalem who gives up her vacation time so that she can come on the tour. “The depth of the children’s joy in their amazing experiences in South Africa as well as their tenacity inspires me,” she says. “The children teach us every day how not to complain, and how to care for each other.”

Amar needs to know the details of every patient’s illness and medical requirements before she embarks on the two-week tour of South Africa. If, for example, a child has a brain tumour or has had brain surgery, she’ll know not to allow him on the boat or jet skis as the “knocks and bumps” can have a negative impact on his health.

At another point, she gave a child medicine through his nasal feeding tube and adjusted his colostomy bag so that he could go for a boat ride on the Vaal Dam. But as few limitations as possible are placed on the children. This is the same boy who played soccer on the lawn at a spectacular and lavish breakfast given by the Rapp family, which returned from an overseas trip early especially to be able to host the boys.

“Just last night, a boy had to call me at 03:00 because he was having problems with his colostomy bag, and he apologised for disturbing me,” Amar says. “For me, it’s what I do and there’s no need for apologies. I’m their mother for two weeks, so their mother at home can take a vacation herself and also give more attention to her other kids.”

Adir Bezalel, one of the older children on the trip, says the tour makes you “forget everything”. The life-affirming experience makes him ready to “go home and fight”.

Generous benefactors and members of the Jewish community who host meals often add a theme to make it more exciting, such as a superheroes breakfast in Glenhazel. For entertainment, “silent-disco” headphones were given to each boy, and there was a large empty frame decorated with superheroes in which the boys could have their pictures taken.

At the Vaal Dam, they were treated by Gary and Shira Cohen to boat rides, jet skis, and an acrobatic fly-by. They were also able to swim in their pool and enjoy a sumptuous braai. At both of these events, two of the boys played guitars and sang.

“The power of the boys’ dancing and singing in spite of the gravity of their illness was inspiring,” says community member Melinda Chazen.

Carers who join the tour help with smallest to biggest things, such as helping a boy go down a small step, drying some of the boys off after a swim, accompanying them on rides, bringing them food, and offering encouragement and solace at any given opportunity.

One of the carers, Yehoshua Arbeter, says the boys “teach me not to give up, that giving is a reason to get up every morning, and that the more you give, the more you get”.

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