“Doctors give the medicine, and Make-A-Wish gives the magic.” For twenty-five years, Denise Bar-Aharon, together with husband Avi, has been providing magical wishes for seriously ill young Israelis, ages 3-18. Bar-Aharon and her husband founded the Israeli affiliate of Make-A-Wish in memory of Denise’s brother David Spero, who died at age 29 from esophageal cancer. Denise wanted to commemorate her brother’s life, and recalling her volunteer work for Make-A-Wish when she lived in the United States, contacted the organization’s worldwide headquarters in the United States, and established the Israeli affiliate.
Bar-Aharon proudly reports that since its inception, Make-A-Wish Israel has granted 4,300 wishes to children. “Our mission is to grant an incredible, life-changing transformational wish to a child that has a critical illness.” Bar-Aharon points out that granting the wishes of seriously ill children can truly be life-changing and cites a research study conducted by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar and Professor Anat Shoshani of the Maytiv Center for the Research and Application of Positive Psychology at IDC Herzliya showed that doing so can prolong and actually save lives. “It just changes their whole being. When a child is in the hospital, and he says, ‘That’s it – no more chemotherapy,’ and you say to them, that Lionel Messi is waiting for you, or Mickey Mouse is waiting for you, there’s a transformation in their mental, emotional and physical condition.”
Bar-Aharon says that they offer the children four different categories of wishes – ‘I want to be. I want to have, I want to meet, and I want to go. Some children want to play the part of a superhero for a day, or be a princess, or a singer or a king; others want a gaming computer or a smartphone. Some want to meet a famous athlete, entertainer, or politician, and some want to go to a particular destination.
Eitan Fink, a teen who had been ill with cancer, wanted to be a White House correspondent in 2019. Make-A-Wish Israel made the arrangements and flew him to Washington. “Israeli news anchor Yonit Levy prepared him for the meeting,” says Bar-Aharon. He went to Washington and interviewed President Trump for fifteen or twenty minutes. It was just magnificent.” Smiling, Denise reports that there is more to the story. “When we went to Yonit, Eitan said to me - ‘My dream one day, if I stay well, is to be a correspondent here in at Neve Ilan and work at the news.’ Eitan is an avid news lover. Today, Eitan’s dream came true, and he, in fact, works in the news department at the Neve Ilan studios.”
Sadly, some Make-A-Wish children have not survived their illnesses. But Bar-Aharon says that frequently, by sheer determination, children managed to survive until their wish came true and have lived for many months or even years afterward. “It prolongs life. I’ve seen it over and over again,” she says.
Denise says that Make-A-Wish has a transformative effect not only on recipients but on donors as well. “As a human being, it gives me an unbelievable perspective on what’s really important in life, because every day, we see that life can be taken from us, as it was from my brother at such a young age at 29, but these children are faced with this so much earlier on. They say that dopamine – a hormone and neurotransmitter which helps promote positive feelings – comes in many forms. One of the ways in which you create dopamine in your brain is by giving, and I see my staff walking around the office, smiling. It’s just bliss. These kids – their childhood has been stolen from them, and if Make-A-Wish can come in and let them feel like children again, it makes me as a person, as a woman, as a nurturer, and as a mother figure feel incredibly grateful and incredibly blessed. And I think it’s also a lovely example to my children and my grandchildren.”
The impact of Make-A-Wish, adds Bar-Aharon, also extends to the parents of the children and their communities. “A boy wanted to be Spider-Man, and the entire community came out and cheered him on. They all came out, and people really respond to giving, especially children.”
She adds that many of the organization’s activities were canceled or cut back this year due to the COVID pandemic. “All of our fundraising efforts were canceled, and we need donations today more than ever before.” Soon, she says, the organization will be beginning an on-line Passover campaign for individual contributions.
Denise Bar-Aharon says that on International Women’s Day, she thinks of the immense strength of women and the support and strength that she receives daily, both from her mother, who lives in the United States, and her daughter in Israel. “I have incredible women in my life that are both family and life-long friends. The strength and love I receive from the woman in my life fill me and charge me to continue to do the work I do every day. International Women’s Day it’s a great day and well-deserved because women are extraordinary individuals.”
For more information about how you can donate and help Make-A-Wish Israel, visit the Make-A-Wish website at makeawish.org.il or call 09 7602848.