Rachashei-Lev: raising the spirits of children fighting an arduous battle

The organization is currently attending to the needs of 500 children and young adults and catering to all sectors of society regardless of religion, race or gender.

A Rachashei Lev volunteer with a cancer patient; the ‘Party Ambulance’ rolls up next to a child in his own ambulance; volunteers gather around a patient for a photo (photo credit: COURTESY RACHASHEI LEV)
A Rachashei Lev volunteer with a cancer patient; the ‘Party Ambulance’ rolls up next to a child in his own ambulance; volunteers gather around a patient for a photo
Every week, three children in Israel are diagnosed with cancer. Today, 1,200 children and young adults in the country are fighting this life-threatening disease and of that number, Rachashei Lev, a national support center for cancer-stricken children and their families, has a helping hand with nearly half of them.
Rachashei Lev has been lifting the spirits and morale of Israeli children with cancer since its founding in 1989. The organization is currently attending to the needs of 500 children and young adults and catering to all sectors of society regardless of religion, race or gender.
The main emphasis of its work is on social, educational and psychological aspects in order to put sufferers in a positive and healthy mind frame so they can fight this arduous battle.
Rachashei Lev works nonstop, every day of the year, organizing a cadre of dedicated volunteers in children’s hospitals throughout Israel.
Shimi Gesheid is the CEO of Rachashei Lev. His father, Reuven, founded the organization and the son is proud to follow in his father’s footsteps. Rachashei Lev is one of the leading organizations in Israel that helps young people and their families deal with the emotional hardships of battling the disease.
“I’m not being biased when I say that this is the most special place for kids – it’s not just me saying this, people come from all over and say the same thing. There’s no place like this, and this is thanks to all the people and volunteers who work with us,” Gesheid told The Jerusalem Post Magazine.
The people in question are some 350 dedicated volunteers and professionals from all walks of life: psychologists, EMTs, national service volunteers and others, all striving to make a positive difference in a child’s life.
“We are here to say ‘yes’ to these kids, to grant all of their wishes and it’s really incredible,” Gesheid adds.
SOME 10 years ago, Rachashei Lev opened its Beit Hayeled (Children’s House), a 5,000-sq.m. “luxury hotel” located inside Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, for kids fighting cancer.
Gesheid explains: “These kids are fighting for their lives, so we built this place where they are treated like royalty – like heroes.”
“There is no place like this – it is something special – an amazing place for kids to go after chemotherapy.
There’s all kinds of stuff – games, computers, a library and more.”
“Imagine the best five-star hotel. We have 20 suites for the kids and their families. We want to really pamper our guests,” Gesheid adds.
One of the unique things about Rachashei Lev is that it is open to anyone.
“A child is a child and you have to take care of them regardless of where they came from, their religion or political views,” Gesheid explains. “Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza next to 18-year-old soldiers; secular people with haredim. Every sector is in the same room, getting the same attention.”
Despite the royal treatment they get, at the end of the day, it’s really about the people and the lasting bonds they are able to create during this difficult experience. Gesheid is proud of the hard work he and his staff put into reaching every child they work with.
“We all know everything about our kids and our volunteers are so dedicated. It’s not just about making these kids happy and leaving for the day; the volunteers and the patients touch each other’s lives quite profoundly.”
The patients themselves also develop deep and meaningful bonds between one another. Gesheid speaks of a unique friendship between eight-yearold Assaf and 23-year-old Mor.
“Mor was diagnosed with cancer about six months ago and chose to get treatment at the children’s hospital, sharing a hospital room with Assaf. Eventually they grew to be like brother and sister. I recently met with Assaf’s mother and she told me, ‘Mor is like my daughter. We sat together – Assaf, Mor and I – and it was something unreal and amazing.’” There is also 24/7 room service, not just with all kinds of kid-friendly food at the ready, but also full access to Sheba’s medical team in case of an emergency.
And like most all-inclusive hotels, Beit Hayeled also offers a range of events for holidays and Shabbatot as well as for birthdays parties and other events.
Rachashei Lev also developed a “Dream Ambulance.”
Gesheid describes this as a ‘joyful ride to the hospital – with special multimedia built into the ambulance, hooking the kids up with a remote and a Go- Pro camera connected to the roof of the vehicle, so they can see where they are going. The goal is to turn a medical emergency into a memorable “party ride.”
Gesheid believes this painstaking attention to the most minute details is crucial to saving these people’s bodies and souls.
“In order to fight, all these activities and things are here to strengthen the children and the family and to catch their breath and continue the fight.”
As a result, Rachashei Lev offers these kids at least three trips abroad per year to places like Disneyland Paris, as well as trips throughout Israel. Every winter, the whole group goes to Eilat for a week. There are also trips to the north, all kinds of day trips, beauty makeovers for the girls, complete with a photo session afterwards, spa days and more.
Rachashei Lev offers trips for parents, as well. Earlier this year, it organized a three-day trip for Orthodox mothers to Ukraine where they prayed at the graves of some of history’s most influential rabbis.
IN ADDITION to the in-house care it offers, Rachashei Lev connects the world’s best doctors and specialists with patients to ensure a full recovery.
“We cooperate with the biggest doctors and hospitals in the world; we either fly the children to the doctors or we fly the doctors here.”
The commitment to providing the best care for these kids extends to second opinions as well.
“The care these kids get is totally tailored to them.
Even things like translations and research are customized to cure each child. We send the kids around the world, either to hospitals in the United States or to Europe for screenings or for special surgeries. We are connected with the best doctors in the world,” Gesheid adds.
Rachashei Lev can claim an 80% survival rate, and according to Gesheid this number is better than the Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City.
This survival rate is translating into more patients and need for Rachashei Lev to expand its operation to better serve these children and young people.
As of now all, of the funding going toward the organization’s work comes entirely from donations from Israel and abroad.
Rachashei Lev is currently fund-raising to expand its children’s house and grow its research and nursing team to keep up with the demand, as word of its success spreads.
“The improvement of treatment and the increase in diagnoses translate to fuller oncology wards,” Gesheid explains.
“We end up expanding our work to reach people up to their mid-20s who have been in treatment since they were teenagers.
“All we do contributes to a real improvement in the lives of the children and others,” concludes Gesheid. Working closely with the Health Ministry, Rachashei Lev also provides some of their older patients with medicinal cannabis to help them relieve pains and nausea after chemotherapy.
“We embrace new legal regulations that are also approved by physicians. In some cases, we will be allowed to provide some of the younger patients with special cannabis oils to relieve symptoms,” adds Gesheid.
For more information, visit - www.rachasheilev.org/