Yoni Dotan remembers every second of his 1997 meeting with then-US president Bill Clinton.
"To stand in the Oval Office, a room filled with so much US history, and to meet such an important man was an amazing feeling," said Dotan, the son of late comedian Dudu Dotan and one of the first children in Israel with life-threatening medical conditions to have their dreams fulfilled by the local branch of the Make-A-Wish-Foundation, Mishelet Lev.
On Wednesday night, Dotan, now 26, was one of four Mishelet Lev alumni from six to nine years ago who recalled their stories at Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium to mark the organization's 10-year anniversary in Israel.
More than 3,000 people - including high businessmen, celebrities and politicians - attended the ceremony, said Denise Bar-Aharon, the foundation's co-president and co-founder, who made aliya from Los Angeles in 1991. US Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones was the guest of honor.
"When the foundation first approached me and asked me what my dream was, I asked them what were my limits and they responded. 'The sky's the limit,'" said Dotan, describing how a 17-year-old suffering from lymphoma ended up flying to Washington to meet Clinton. "The charity really listens to the children's dreams and gives them the energy to carry on with their lives. It gives them hope."
Back in 1997, when he shared 20 minutes with Clinton in the Oval Office, Dotan was suffering from lymphoma, or cancer of the lymph nodes. He said the meeting "gave me the strength to carry on."
"And we have stayed in touch," said Dotan, speaking of his nine-year relationship with the former president. "We write to each other and whenever he is here in the region, he invites me to meet with him.
In fact, when he was here for Shimon Peres's 80th birthday celebration [in 2003], he [Clinton] took me over to Mikhail Gorbachev and said, 'Yoni, I want you to meet a good friend of mine.' It was amazing meeting such an historic and important figure like that."
Nowadays, Dotan's cancer is in remission and he goes about his life like "any normal person."
"I am thankfully healthy and everything is good," said Dotan, who participates in the Mishelet Lev event every year and sits on its board, helping to make wishes come true for other sick children. "It is incredible how the years have passed, and now there are so many people who show their support for us every year."
Bar-Aharon said the foundation had helped 900 sick children since its Israel branch was established. The 100 children who had their wishes granted over the last year attended Wednesday's event.
"It was truly magical," she said. "One little boy really wanted to be a policeman, and at the end of the evening was whisked away in a police truck by the police department."
Bar-Aharon, who founded the local branch of Make-A-Wish in honor of her brother David Eric Spero, who died of cancer while attending Hebrew University, said that Wednesday's event attracted business people including tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak, who made an extremely generous donation, and Alon and Danny Dankner, as well as a host of celebrities such as singers Ninet Tayeb, Maya Buskila and David Broza.
"I am thrilled to mark our 10-year anniversary, especially as my father, Alexander Spero, was in the audience after having made aliya at the age of 73. I dedicated the event to him and to the memory of my beloved brother," Bar-Aharon said.
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