Do bad things make good people even better?

Ten years ago a wealthy entrepreneur was living the life...then he was struck with a rare form of leukemia

 (photo credit: CAMP SUNRISE)
(photo credit: CAMP SUNRISE)
It’s the end of the busy season for God. Shuls were packed for weeks; so many prayers to be processed.
Decisions: Should the Almighty pop into Conservative congregations and risk an almighty fight with the Chief Rabbinate? Flutter over the Reform temples of His flock, irritating the governing coalition of His land? Deadlines: All that logging of who will live and who will die.
Categorizing: Whether by fire or water or stoning – and that’s before He factors in bombs on the tube, car rammings and lone wolves with knives and guns.
God reserves a punishment that does not feature in prayer books for the really bad guys – those whose sins transcend contentiousness: ensnaring a neighbor, or causeless hatred/ evil speech. Wife-beaters and child-molesters go on the Give-’em-Cancer page; our God is a just Deity who delights in mercy.
But sometimes, in the crush of overwork, errors occur.
The pen skips a line; some innocent child ends up in the wrong column. I can imagine no other explanation for why God would decree cancer for a child, or why we would believe in a God who did.
Perhaps it’s part of a master plan. When bad things happen to good people, other wonderful people step up to help. Doctors and scientists work overtime to right the wrongs; individuals open their hearts and wallets, and when good people overcome bad times, they often harness the pain to become angels for others.
Take Michael Fliderbaum, for instance.
Ten years ago Fliderbaum, a wealthy entrepreneur who spends much of his time in Tel Aviv, was living the life: multiple homes, operas, yoga, exotic trips hanging with Madonna and Sting. Deeply involved in spirituality and healing – kabbalistic, as well as meditation and Eastern purification rituals – he was suddenly struck by a rare form of leukemia.
“I knew how to deal with dark energy,” he recalls, “and I had ancient and modern tools to cope with pain and fear.
But I wondered, as I lay in the isolation ward, how children could negotiate such challenges.” There and then Fliderbaum vowed that when he recovered, he would make a difference.
Fliderbaum: 66, businessman, start-up angel in the medical field, poet, at home in five languages, official photographer of the Dalai Lama during his Israel trip, importer of Ashtanga Yoga to Israel, and co-founding owner of two healing retreats in quintessentially spiritual locations – a Greek island and the foot of the pyramids – knows how to get things done. Once, in an attempt to form a bridge between Arabs and Jews through hi-tech, he approached Yasser Arafat about his ideas (Arafat was predictably unimpressed).
He is the founding sponsor of Yad Be Yad – an organization that helped children have heart transplants in Europe. A patron of the acclaimed Vertigo Contemporary Dance Company, Fliderbaum teaches contact improvisation to able and disabled adults, and is in the middle of transforming a chicken coop into a healing center and dance studio in the Eila Valley.
He is generous. Pronounced cured of cancer, he turned to Camp Sunrise, a daycare summer camp for children fighting the disease, and became an active board member and one of the principal donors.
Sunrise lives up to its luminous name. First seeing the light of dawn in Israel in 2010, today three camps (in the North, South and Center of Israel) bring Arab and Jewish children – plus their healthy siblings – to a safe, fun space, day after sunny day, for arts, music, sport and carefree playtime under the trees. Daily free transportation to and from homes provides overwhelmed parents some hours of respite, and the camp, too, is free – a huge support for families struggling with the extra costs that illness entails.
Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking nurses administer medicines and deal with bruises; a pediatric oncologist is constantly in touch.
This summer nearly 700 kids from some 230 families, aged just over three to 17, swam and drummed and sang and made chocolate, far from wards where chemo drips and needles prick. Some come wearing masks against germs; some need to keep out of the water. Some get special one-on-one counseling; many need to miss days of camp for hospital visits. Sunrise madrichim regularly visit patients in Soroka and Rambam; this Sukkot, Sunrise patients decorated a Sunrise sukka. And the Shishi Sameah (Happy Friday) events for the whole family shine some summer fun into the rest of the year.
There are many ways to face adversity and conquer challenges such as illness. An ancient Indian puja has devotees sending fruit, candles and vegetables or flowers floating down the Ganges drowning all negative energy and bad karma. Jewish mystics whirl chickens above their heads, miraculously slaughtering all evil along with the hapless bird. Some patients prefer oncologists and hospital wards; many do a bit of each. One thing is certain: Fun times and days that feel normal kick-start positive energy and make the fight less fearsome. Sunrise provides plenty of such days.
Having been up close and personal with cancer patients too often, I have given up trying to find answers and reasons and insights into the meaning of life. I simply stand in awe of the host of angels who do so much to alleviate and eradicate the disease; I think they are winning the war. Let’s hope that soon there’ll be no need for Sunrise; donors like Fliderbaum will concentrate on world peace and global warming instead.
For more information about Sunrise Israel: The writer lectures at Beit Berl College and Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.