Love thy neighbor

Singer-songwriter Yoni Rechter is slated to play at a much needed fund-raiser for the holistic cancer care center in the German Colony.

‘We are hoping the proceeds from the charity concert will keep us going for three months,’ says executive director Roni Gilboa. (photo credit: Courtesy)
‘We are hoping the proceeds from the charity concert will keep us going for three months,’ says executive director Roni Gilboa.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While alternative medical practices are becoming more prevalent, and even increasingly recognized by the powers-that-be, it appears practitioners and facilities that offer such services still have some way to go to achieving the requisite financial comfort zone. The Yuri Shtern Holistic Care Center for Cancer Patients in the German Colony will attempt to boost its own financial health next Saturday evening, when it holds a fund-raiser concert starring veteran singer-songwriter Yoni Rechter.
Having Rechter on board is quite a feather in the center’s collective cap, and executive director Roni Gilboa is delighted to have the celebrated entertainer’s support. “We got to Yoni through one of our practitioners,” she says. “Yoni was enthusiastic about helping us and we are very grateful he agreed to contribute to the show.” point out that the center is not quite teetering on the precipice of bankruptcy, she says the situation could be a lot better. “We rely almost entirely on donations.
We get some support from the Health Ministry, but it is not very substantial.”
The executive director was erring on the side of diplomacy and politeness there. In fact, the assistance the ministry gives to the center each year amounts to a grand total of NIS 5,000.
“We are hoping that the proceeds from the charity concert will keep us going for three months,” notes Gilboa. “That will give us breathing space and maybe allow us to develop things here. We really need to that.”
Considering its size, and budget, the center provides an impressive spread of treatment sessions and support. During the course of a year, it provides 8,000 therapy sessions based on a range of complementary medical techniques, such as reflexology, various massages, shiatsu and reiki. Gilboa, founder and chairwoman Lena Shtern – Yuri’s widow – and their colleagues make sure that no cancer sufferer who asks for help is unable to benefit from the center’s facilities on financial grounds. “We charge NIS 50 for a 40-minute session at the center,” says Gilboa, “and if anyone can’t afford even that they get the treatment for free.”
The Yuri Shtern Holistic Care Center for Cancer Patients, named after the MK who died of cancer in 2007 at the age of 57, has been operating out of its German Colony premises for seven years. Prior to that, treatment was given exclusively at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and it is still provided there, for free. In addition to Gilboa, Shtern and a handful of other staff members, the holistic care center incorporates no fewer than 120 practitioners – all of whom work on a voluntary basis.
However, as Gilboa is quick to mention, that does not mean the center gets the therapists’ services for free. “They have to be trained, and they need support themselves,” she says.
“When I came to the center and started treating people, I needed training and support, too. It is an ongoing thing.”
Gilboa dipped into all manner of professional fields over the years before she became an alternative therapy provider, including working as an architect, a designer of children’s clothes, and traveling the world as marketing vice president of multinational toy manufacturing company Hasbro Inc.’s Israeli branch. It was when the latter operation closed down, around 10 years ago, that she eventually opted for alternative medicine.
“I had passed through the Reidman College [for Complementary and Integrative Medicine in Jerusalem] a few times, you know for open days and that sort of thing, but I’d never taken it too seriously,” Gilboa recalls. “I don’t know why I became a therapist. The nearest I can say I ever got to doing that in the past was when my kids were sick, I’d put my hands on them and they’d feel better. Once I started studying at the college I knew that was what I wanted to do, not work in marketing or anything else like that.”
Within a short space of time, Gilboa found herself putting her freshly learned skills to good use at the holistic center. “I became a tutor at the college and taught, and as soon as I had my diploma one of my teachers, who managed the holistic center, said I had to come here to volunteer. I was in the second group of volunteers at the center, when it was still at Shaare Zedek.
The center also gave services at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem, but most conventional doctors, back then, were not too aware of alternative practices.”
Thankfully, things have changed. Much of that, says Gilboa, is down to the work of US-born Prof. Nathan Cherny, a palliative and supportive care specialist at Shaare Zedek Medical Center. “He brought over the vision of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center from New York, that oncological medicine has to be integrative. That has to include chemotherapy, radiation and operations, and everything else we know from conventional medicine, together with some kind of care support system to help address the disease. You have to address the spiritual and emotional needs, too.”
At the holistic center in Jerusalem, that also means providing those who care for the cancer sufferer at home with support.
“When we opened the center, it was because the cancer patients said they wanted to continue receiving treatments from us, but not at the hospital,” explains Gilboa. “That also allowed us to help the cancer patient’s family and others in their close circle. We couldn’t do that at the hospital.”
Sadly, Gilboa has firsthand experience of the service. “When my mother was dying of cancer – she died just over three years ago – I had the skills to be able to listen to her and support her, and also do that with my sister, and then I’d come here to the center to talk to Lena [Shtern] about everything I was going through,” she recalls. “That was very important for me.”
Hopefully, the charity show, which also features vocal artist Victoria Hanna, will help the holistic center to continue its crucial work unabated. • The show will be preceded by a reception at 7:30 p.m., with the show starting at 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost NIS 180 and can be purchased by calling the center at 072-215-2228, or via the Jerusalem Center at 560-5757 or