Ezer Mizion’s first employee tells some career highlights
By Rabbi Amikam Tanami
MERON, Israel — Currently, Ezer Mizion services over 650,000 people a year. Its professional staff is augmented by 11,000 volunteers. Way back in the old days, I had the privilege of being Rabbi Chananya Chollak’s first employee. It was way back, when Ezer Mizion was still taking its first steps. There was a big overload of work, and Rabbi Chollak decided, for the first time, to take in an assistant. Since then – I’m here.
We never dreamt that the organization would develop to its present dimensions, as a veritable chessed empire. There are now many administrators. My responsibilities are to act as coordinator of Ezer Mizion’s national branches and director of its transport division. I run many of the organization’s projects, among them – the Lag Ba’omer project, which drafts the ambulance fleet to assist handicapped and mobility impaired individuals reach the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron.
In response to the request of the police department and the Holy Sites authorities, this year once again we coordinated the entire project of transporting mobility impaired individuals to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s gravesite in Meron. In this way, even people who cannot get around on their own had the privilege of coming to this special site on Lag Ba’omer.
Every year, because of our activities in Meron, there are people who ask us to drive VIP’s of different stripes to the gravesite, since private cars are denied entry. We are forced to turn down all of these requests for two reasons. First of all, we have to protect our credibility with the authorities and honor our commitment to transport only the mobility impaired. Second of all, if we would accede to such requests, it would be at the expense of the handicapped, and that is not the right thing to do.
We have a division that deals with personal wishes. One woman who was deathly ill, wanted very much to be at the Kotel, after years of not having had the chance to go there. Our volunteers enabled her to pray at this holy remnant of the Beit Hamikdash. Two weeks later, she passed away. An elderly homebound lady had not seen her cancer-stricken daughter in years. The logistics in bringing her for a visit were overwhelming but our professionally trained volunteers rose to the occasion and the two had a glorious day together. Stories like these give us the satisfying feeling that we made a dream come true that never would have happened without Ezer Mizion.
Our volunteers work hard. They think nothing of carrying a wheelchair-bound patient up and down several flights of stairs and do it with dignity and warmth. The occasional unpleasant situation encountered becomes a challenge, a mission. A pair of volunteers visited a family and found their home in a state of horrible neglect. Some twenty volunteers came down, but they literally could not step foot in the house, the situation was so atrocious. The closets reeked of moldy bread, the description was simply awful. Despite the repulsive condition of the apartment, the volunteers managed to empty it out, clean it up, give it a painting, put back only what was needed and literally transform the place into a new home. They checked out what help the family needs on an ongoing basis and put them in touch with the various Ezer Mizion departments so that they could carry on living with some semblance of normalcy. This is truly an example of incomparable dedication. At the same time, it is frightening to know that there are people living under such conditions without anyone in the community knowing or doing something about it. The fortunate ones are found by Ezer Mizion as was one man who was released from the hospital but had no way of reaching his home. An Ezer Mizion volunteer was asked to accompany him and was shocked to see the conditions under which he lived. As he was being helped into bed, he requested a raincoat. “The roof leaks. This is the only way I can stay dry,” he explained as if it were normal procedure upon getting into bed.
What vitalizes the volunteers is the work itself. Anyone who ever experienced volunteer work can tell you: You have the distinct feeling that your soul is uplifted. You can actually sense how your own character is enhanced. You give of your own time, your own resources and your own energy for someone else. This is what fuels volunteers and enables them to keep at their work, despite the emotional burden it entails.
Despite the fact that Ezer Mizion is founded upon the efforts of thousands of volunteers, there are also many employees who do holy work. We are blessed with workers who are totally dedicated, in the full sense of the world. For them, there are no limitations of day or night. They give of themselves and devote their entire lives to the organization and to the community.
Volunteers are the heart of the organization. Their dedication of unimaginable scope, over 11,000 honorary ambassadors, each of whom does indescribable Chesed – from baking a cake weekly for a family in distress, to distributing meals in hospitals, driving patients to treatment, sitting at a hospital patient’s bed, manning the medical equipment loan stations, etc. Ezer Mizion is its volunteers, and the volunteers are Ezer Mizion. It’s not a cliché – it’s a fact. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to keep up any of our activities.
Rabbi Chananya Chollak has not become the ‘feet on desk’ CEO, sauntering into the office at eleven AM. It is he who arrives at eight every morning and never leaves before one at night. The years have not dried up his ability to cry and cry he does, holding the hand of the elderly, the handicapped, the terminally ill. And when a family member leaves this world either through sudden trauma or months of illness, it is he who visits the family and notifies them ‘bit by bit’ all the while grieving along with them. There is not a single one of us who hasn’t learned from him how to treat another human being, whoever he may be. I’ve been with him for so many years, that today, every time I have to make a decision, I automatically think, ‘What would Rabbi Chollak do?’ He instilled in each of us the importance of empathizing with the patient. He is the pillar of fire that leads the camp.
Preceding provided by Ezer Mizion