Wishful doing

Doctors provide the medicine, and we provide the magic,” say Denise and Avi Bar-Aharon, founders of Make-A-Wish Israel, which fulfills the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses and bring

'Make a wish' Israel foundation (photo credit: WWW.MAKEAWISH.ORG.IL)
'Make a wish' Israel foundation
(photo credit: WWW.MAKEAWISH.ORG.IL)
My brother David passed away 20 years ago. He was only 29 but always gave; he was very philanthropic. He studied in Israel and made aliya from the US. One year and four months after he was diagnosed with cancer, he died,” says Denise Bar-Aharon, founder of Make-A-Wish Israel. “One year after David’s death, my husband and I, who lived in Israel with our two-year-old daughter, wanted to do something to commemorate him. I remembered the Make-A-Wish organization in the States and wanted to open a branch in Israel. We started 18 years ago, this is chai [life], and immediately Avi and his brother Dori became involved as well. Two years ago my brother-in-law Dori died of cancer.
We act in the memory of David and Dori,” says Denise.
How did it all start? Denise: After my brother David died, I wanted to do something good because of his kind nature. But I couldn't do it alone. At the beginning, we had the assistance of our team at the company and enlisted the help of our friends. Everybody worked pro bono, great people who started the organization with us. We had to convince hospitals and social workers that we were the real deal.
We didn’t even have an apartment yet, but we started. We were 34, and we combined it all: the business, the family and the organization. Our kids grew up with it.
Avi: My ambition was driven by our personal tragedy. My brother-in-law David had talked about his desire to find a way to help children. He was a man who always tried to help people.
What do you actually do at Make-A-Wish? Denise: We fulfill the wishes of children under the age of 18 who have life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer, transplants, severe heart diseases, AIDS and more. Make-A- Wish is an international organization. We are one of 41 countries, and we follow the regulations of Make-a-Wish International.
When we started in Israel 18 years ago, there were 12 branches. To date, we have fulfilled 2,000 wishes.
What kinds of wishes do you receive? Denise: We have the ability to fulfill any wish. If a boy wants to see football player Messi, we will take him to Spain. If a girl from abroad wants to visit the Kotel, we will help her do that. This is called ‘wish assist.’ One of our first wishes was that of a 15-year-old boy named Erez who wanted to meet Tom Cruise. Through a celebrity coordinator, I made that happen. Tom Cruise took Erez to a movie premiere, walked with him on the red carpet, and that gave Erez confidence.
If a child wants to fly to the moon, we take him to the space center in Washington. Yoni Dotan, the son of late actor Dudu Dotan, met president Bill Clinton 16 years ago. He was wish number 34. Today Yoni is alive and well and is unstoppable. In fact, he is on our board. A four-year-old boy wanted to meet the heroes of 9/11, the firefighters.
We recently flew children to see the Mundial in Brazil. Another child, five-year-old Muli, wanted to have a pirate ship, so we had a carpenter build him one in his backyard.
I love unique requests, such as the girl who wanted to have an exhibition of her paintings.
What is the effect of a fulfilled wish? Denise: Prof. Tal Ben-Shahar teaches about happiness and having a positive attitude. I met him, and he became a friend of Make- A-Wish. He took 55 children and studied the wish impact. The results of his year-and-a half research will be published next year in various scientific magazines. In brief, it proved that after a wish is fulfilled, the child responds better to medication and has more energy. We believe in offering hope, strength and joy.
Do you listen to all kids and all wishes? Denise: A child is a child is a child. We don't differentiate between Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bahai, etc. When the pope came to Israel, we had seven Arab Christian children who wanted to meet him, and it was approved. They met with him at the President's House in Jerusalem.
How do you finance your activities? Denise: We are financed through donations, since we don't receive support from the government. We have an annual fund- raising auction and special projects. We also have a program in 75 schools called ‘Kids for Wish Kids’, where we talk about our mission, and the students choose a wish and do everything they can to fulfill it. That is how I learned about Make-A-Wish when I was living in the States. We also receive private donations. We always think creatively. This year Make-A-Wish Israel will be collaborating with both Maccabi Tel-Aviv Soccer club and Maccabi Tel-Aviv Basket Ball team to help our cause in various creative ways. There was an ad on TV recently, and the child actor had shaved his hair for it.
He donated the money he earned for the commercial to Make-A-Wish.
Are many people willing to help? Avi: From our day-to-day activities, we started to create more cycles. At the beginning, the big challenge was to convince social workers and doctors that we wouldn’t let a child down who was in despair.
Creating trust was the first thing, next to the iron-clad message that we couldn’t let them down. Everything was a project. Today, we are a well-respected organization in the business community and among the artists who lend a helping hand. We are now a well-known organization, and things are not that complicated. In the early days, we interviewed dozens of children and fulfilled their wishes ourselves, until we gathered volunteers to help us. Many young people volunteer with us, as well as wish kids who have recovered. It has a lot of power.
Denise: Actors, singers and athletes are very generous and eager to help. This is an honest and trustworthy organization.
We run it like an enterprise, with the heart of a philanthropist but the skills of a businessperson.
If you are interested in helping to fulfill a wish, volunteering or if you know of a sick child, contact Make-A-Wish Israel at (09) 760-2848 or www.makeawish.org.il.
Box: Small art, big wishes “Mini Art” is an exhibition at the Jaffa Museum that presents miniature models and tiny creations. The inspiration for the models comes from places around the world, historical periods, classic children’s stories and the fantastic imaginary world of the creators. Part of the proceeds from the entrance fee will be donated to Make- A-Wish.
The exhibition will be on display from August 1 to January 31. www.miniart.co.il