VIDEO & PHOTOS: 50 families enjoy Chai Lifeline’s Winter Retreat

IMG_1937To the casual observer, the fifty families enjoying Shabbos at the beautiful Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel in Asbury Park could have been at a weekend simcha. There was laughter and conversation, the happy noise of children engaged in any number of activities, and décor and decoration reminiscent of the most up-to-date events. It was only when one looked closely and saw children with the telltale signs of illness, wheelchairs, feeding tubes, and bald heads, that it became evident that this was Chai Lifeline’s Annual LH Financial Winter Retreat.

“This is a weekend that people wait for all year,” remarked Rabbi Simcha Scholar, Chai Lifeline’s executive vice president. “The combination of chizuk, information, peer and professional support, and relaxation is designed to infuse families with energy to forge ahead and the tools to sustain themselves through the long years of illness and recovery.”

Chai Lifeline’s professional staff had seen to every detail. Families arrived Thursday night to find boxes of Shabbos snacks and gifts for their children in their rooms. The families awoke to a lavish breakfast on Friday morning followed by a session with Rabbi Sruli Fried, regional director of Chai Lifeline, New Jersey. There, he guided families on practical ways to address siblings of those with pediatric illnesses. Friday’s program included a full day of activities for children, allowing parents to focus on the coming Shabbos and the full day ahead of them.

The weekend was graced with the presence of Rav Elya Brudny, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir, whose erudition, wisdom, and compassion touched everyone’s hearts. The Rosh Yeshiva spoke twice during Shabbos and gave his personal counsel to many of the families.

In addition to the Rosh Yeshiva, the program featured noted psychologist Dr. David Pelcovitz. Dr. Pelcovitz, who has been the events’ psychologist in residence since it began 25 years ago, is a leading expert in helping parents cope with the emotional trials of pediatric illnesses. Mothers enjoyed the opportunity to hear from Mrs. Jackie Bitton, a renowned inspiration speaker, teacher, and dean of students at the girls division of YDE Yeshivah in Brooklyn. In addition, Chai Lifeline’s professional staff was also on hand throughout the weekend.

“People find information, inspiration, and support at the retreat. Months afterwards, parents tell us they still reflect back on the Shabbos and draw strength from the event,” stated Rabbi Motty Gobioff, Chai Lifeline director of client services. The many sessions for parents gave the event gravitas; the davening, enhanced by the Yedidim Choir, was a source of inspiration. The Shabbos meals, punctuated by the singing and dancing that is a Chai Lifeline tradition, and the joyful melava malka added to the trademark Chai Lifeline spirit. Fathers and sons joined Chai Lifeline counselors as they snaked through the dining room singing together. Parents and children shared pizza, pasta and ice cream, then danced away on Motzei Shabbos, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

“It was so remarkable to observe how families connected over the weekend sharing their personal experiences and being mechazek one another,” noted Rabbi Fried. Parents agreed. “Chai Lifeline has already done so much for us,” said a mother whose child sported the short hair that often signals the end of the chemotherapy. “This went beyond what I thought it would be. I got so much from listening to the other mothers and being with the families.”

Chai Lifeline is grateful to Jay Podolsky, Stuart Podolsky and the Amsterdam Hospitality family for their generosity in making the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel our home for the weekend.

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