Singing for health

Benefit concert for the Shtern Holistic Care Center raises awareness of cancer, need for varied approach.

Etti Ankri 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Etti Ankri 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Lena Shtern says we simply don’t have enough time for ourselves. “That’s one of the problems of contemporary life,” says the chairwoman of the Yuri Shtern Foundation, which incorporates the Yuri Shtern Holistic Care Center on Jerusalem’s Asa Street. “Often we need to have support for our feelings, we need human contact and touch.”
The foundation and center are named after her husband, the late MK, and the center provides treatment for cancer sufferers and their families. On Sunday, at 7:30 p.m., the Jerusalem Cinematheque will host a charity show to aid the center, featuring singers David D’Or, Etti Ankri and Jerusalemite voice artist Victoria Hannah.
Shtern feels it is entirely apt that there is a holistic center bearing her husband’s name, and not just because he succumbed to cancer himself in 2007.
“Yuri was a strong supporter of alternative medicine,” she says. “He would definitely have approved of this.”
The foundation came into being shortly after the MK’s death, with initial help from family and friends. It was an entirely natural evolution for his wife.
“I have been involved in alternative and holistic healing for 13 years,” she says. “I studied holistic psychotherapy, body-mind-spirit balance, meditation, mental imagery, movement and all sorts of things. I also treated people and gave workshops. So treatment for cancer suffers was not a new field for me at all.”
Her husband’s illness accelerated her interest in the area, and she says the holistic approach to the disease – or any other disease, for that matter – includes numerous facets.
“There is acceptance of the illness, rather than trying to ignore it and hoping it will go away on its own,” she notes. “We went through that and many stages while Yuri was sick.”
Shtern exudes a sense of calm and of being a good listener, and she smiles frequently, even when she talks about difficult and painful topics. She says her husband was a victim of his own generosity, and that that may apply to other people who come to the center.
“He worked so hard for so many causes,” she declares, “and he was always willing to give time to people with problems, to allow them to offload their anxieties.”
Today, the latter is an integral part of what the center and the foundation do.
“People need to know they can express all their thoughts and feelings here, without being subject to judgment,” she continues. “And the physical human contact element is so important.”
NAVA SHEMESH concurs with that mind-set. A cancer sufferer herself, she makes weekly visits to the center for treatment.
“I mainly receive reflexology, but also other forms of treatment, and have taken part in a playback [interactive theater] session” she says. “The atmosphere at the center is so accepting, and I know I can fall to pieces there and that’s fine. I can do that there and I will get all the support and strength I need from the practitioners.”
One of the remarkable things about the foundation is the breadth of its approach to healing. The foundation provides services both at the center and at various departments of Shaare Zedek Medical Center, where Yuri received part of his treatment. Shtern says it is important to care not only for the cancer sufferers themselves, but for everyone in the sufferer’s wider support group.
“We also give treatment to the patients’ families and friends, and also to the doctors,” she says. “They all need support.”
Of course, not all doctors are open to the idea of alternative medicine.
“We only give treatment to people who want it and are receptive to the holistic approach,” she adds.
The practitioners at the foundation work on a voluntary basis – all 100 of them.
“We have 50 practitioners here at the center and 50 at the hospital,” explains Shtern. “We train them for the work. A new group is about to start a training course. It is incredible to see so many people willing to give of themselves. The world is full of good people, and that’s an important thing to remember.”
Spiritual and emotional aspects are addressed in the training and subsequent treatment the practitioners provide, and the practitioners themselves receive constant emotional reinforcement.
“Treatment sessions take place here simultaneously,” Shtern explains, “Each practitioner gives a twohour treatment once a week, and after that all the practitioners sit down together to discuss their experience, how they felt during the treatment and what came up during the course of it. They also need to offload and to express what they have been through.”
In terms of developing diseases, she has a word of caution for ambitious people.
“Diseases can occur at a point when we suddenly have a sense of emptiness or of inner disintegration, and then a crisis occurs,” she says. “That can also apply to people with a successful career, possibly when they have achieved the objectives they set for themselves and then they suddenly feel a void inside them, and that everything is behind them, and they become anxious about the road ahead.”
While she champions the holistic approach, she does not negate the mainstream approach to treating disease, particularly cancer.
“I certainly don’t have all the answers, and I have the greatest respect for conventional medicine. There are many reasons why people become sick with cancer, and there is hardly a family today that has not had some firsthand experience of the disease.”
Still, she feels that cancer is very much a contemporary development.
“I definitely see a connection between cancer and the stress and tensions of the modern-day lifestyle,” she proffers. “I do think we have become disconnected from ourselves, and we run after all sorts of things the whole time. It’s hard to stop the race.” •
For more information about the charity show: 072-215-2228 or