When you have 21 children sitting around in a room for more than an hour and a half, you can expect pandemonium.
But the children wearing blue tee shirts emblazoned with the white Make a Wish logo who were gathered in the reception hall of the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Monday were quiet and well-behaved.
Ranging in age from tiny tots to late teens, these children are used to waiting.
Their lives consist of waiting quietly for doctors, nurses and therapists. They all have life-threatening illnesses, and some have had transplants of various kinds to get past life-threatening to life-saving.
They were waiting to meet with President Shimon Peres and his special guest legendary singer Barbra Streisand. Eventually, the two entered the room with arms around each other.
“Shalom,” she said as she crossed the floor to greet the children, who sat in a semicircle around the two yellow arm-chairs intended for Peres and Streisand.
Neither of the two sat down before shaking the hand of every child, embracing and kissing some of them, asking their names and enquiring about their maladies.
Streisand was gracious and gentle – almost old-world genteel in her attitude.
Asked whether they had endured a tough time with the Israeli paparazzi, her husband James Bolin, who sat alongside the journalists, grinned and said that they had been followed on Sunday night when they toured the Old City soon after their arrival in Jerusalem. They’d visited the Kotel and had also done the Western Wall tunnel tour – at least in part.
This is his first trip to Israel and he is already enamored with the country. Looking out of his hotel window on Monday morning, he was amazed by the greenery and the vista.
“You can feel history,” he said.
Because he has been following his wife and her entourage on her singing tour, he quipped that he feels “like the lackey that follows the elephants with a shovel,” but added quickly that he’s having a great time.
In addition to the musicians that Streisand has brought to Israel, 40 local musicians will be incorporated into her musical backup on Thursday, said Brolin, and “they will have only two hours to prepare.” But he had no doubt that they will do a spectacular job.
Across the other side of the hall, wheelchair-bound Raphael Agion, 17, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, addressed Peres, saying that the president’s optimism gives him strength, optimism and hope that there will be peace in Israel.
“I look up to you because you are my symbol of hope,” he said. He also asked Streisand to sing “Avinu Malkeinu,” which happens to be the president’s favorite song, though Peres denied that he had anything to do with the request.
Koral Vedder, a 17-year-old from Jerusalem’s Givat Ze’ev neighborhood who suffers from a bone disease but has a glorious voice reminiscent of a young Streisand, sang one of Streisand’s best-known songs “People.”
Streisand was enraptured, listened intently, hugged herself, then looked at Peres with undisguised admiration that a young girl with so compelling a voice had been brought to sing for them.
“That was so beautiful. That was such a lovely treat,” she said.
Looking around at the youngsters, Peres said, “In Barbra’s eyes and mine, you are heroes fighting for life.”
Referring to Streisand’s voice, the president said, “I don’t know of anybody who was blessed with such a heavenly voice that emits a pure prayer and a moving song.”
He had asked Streisand whether she would be an ambassador to save sick children and she had agreed, he added.
As for “Avinu Malkeinu,” the president stated that whenever he hears it, his “eyes fill with tears.” Streisand, Peres and the children sang another Hebrew song “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem,” after which Streisand said that it been such a powerful experience to be with the youngsters.
“You touch my heart,” she said. She pledged that when she sings “Avinu Malkeinu” for the president’s 90th birthday on Tuesday night, “I will sing it to you all, so you can feel the hope that I have for you for this country, for the world.”
In introducing the children to Streisand, Denise Bar- Aharon, the CEO and cofounder of Make-a-Wish Israel, said that they represented the true rainbow of Israel in that they were Jews, Muslims and Christians and were from different countries of origin. In hospital rooms, there are no borders and no conflicts, she stated.
Bar-Aharon presented Streisand with the hope, strength and joy necklace that is given to every Make-a- Wish child. Streisand said she would treasure it.
The Make-a-Wish Foundation originated in the United States in 1980, and Make-a- Wish International was officially inaugurated in 1993, beginning with five countries.
It now operates in 47 countries and has been active in Israel for 17 years. It grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.
To qualify for a wish, the child must be between the ages of two and a half and 18 at the time of referral. It is ultimately the physician who decides if the child is eligible. In Israel, some 1,800 wishes have been granted to children.