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Saving Emilee

Tags: Causes, Israel Engagement, People and Society, Donate/Campaign, Tradition

By Erica Hirsch Edvi

As I write this my head is spinning with all the details to take care of before Purim. The pressure to create the perfect Mishloach Manot, to cook a delicious meal, and to put the finishing touches on creative costumes. I have to stop and remind myself that this isn’t what Purim is about, or even what Judaism is about. Does it really matter if your Mishloach Manot are home baked or store-bought, if they come in gorgeous packaging or in a Ziploc bag? While I’m not the type of person to just say “forget it,” I also know that I have to learn to let some things go. The past few days in particular having given me a strong reminder that stressing over this is downright absurd.

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Emilee Imbar

Just a few days ago Israel celebrated Good Deeds Day, an annual day of communal volunteerism, where Israelis from all walks of life give back to their community for the benefit of others. Good Deeds Day was initiated by Ruach Tova (Good Spirit), a non-profit branch of The Arison Group, of Carnival Cruise Lines and Bank Hapoalim fame.

For the past few weeks, you haven’t been able to walk anywhere in my city and not hear the story of Emilee Imbar. Emilee is a 10.5 year old local girl battling a rare form of cancer which is plaguing her body for the second time in less than four years. Her options within Israel have been exhausted, and Emilee’s family must now pursue international treatment to save their daughter’s life. The cost of these cutting edge treatments is exorbitant, but alternatives and time are running out.

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A collection stand for Emilee in the Modiin mall.

As part of the “Enlisting for Emilee” cause, students all over the city have set up stands in shopping centers and traveled door to door to collect donations to help get Emilee the treatment she so desperately needs. My daughter’s school offered to divert money raised for Purim baskets to help Emilee. Zumba fitness instructors in the area are planning a massive Zumba party, the proceeds of which will go to the cause. People all over the city, young and old, are joining the cause to help save Emilee’s life. Including my five year old son.

The teacher from the neighboring gan (preschool) decided to plan a huge event for Good Deeds Day on Emilee’s behalf. It wasn’t geared toward major donors, or even toward the adults in the community. The event was designed and tailored exclusively for children. These children, some as young as three years old, don’t know Emilee, and fortunately remain innocent enough not to have the word “cancer” in their vocabulary. But they know what it means to help another person. They know of Jewish values like tzedaka (charity) and chesed (benevolence), and that you are supposed to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

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Emilee in healthier times.

My son told me: “There’s a girl named Emilee. She’s very sick and needs to go far far away to get better. Her parents don’t have the money to take her far away, so we are going to see a show at my gan and then we’ll give her all the money so she can go there.” A situation so heartbreakingly complex can sound so simple from a young child, I felt the tears welling up as he spoke.

Hundreds showed up, representing the diversity of our beautiful city. Secular and religious, native Israelis and Olim (immigrants) all paid to get their kids’ faces painted or buy an overpriced lollipop to help a child in need. My children enjoyed a magic show, but the real magic was in the good deed they may not even have realized they were doing.

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Students at a local school collect donations for Emilee.

Time and again I find myself in awe of the core Jewish values they are not only learning, but living, here in Israel. They send Chanukah packages to soldiers, collect food to donate to the needy, and attend fundraisers for children with terrible illnesses

This morning I gave my second grader some money to give at school for Emilee’s cause, and I gently reminded her not to use it to buy candy. She looked at me like I was crazy, and said “why would I use it on candy when Emilee needs it more?”

I’m proud they are learning caring, respect, and selflessness from such a young age. Their path of volunteerism is only beginning. With the encouragement of their schools, community, and youth groups, they will be able to take helping others to new heights.

At every juncture I see how our community, our city, and our people unite to help those in need, and I know I’m lucky to be a member of this awesome tribe.

As evening fell on Good Deeds Day, it was pouring rain with terrible gusts of wind. A good friend told me three teenagers knocked on her door, sopping wet, to collect more donations for Emilee’s treatment. The first thing she said to them was “Kol HaKavod,” meaning “kudos” or “well done.” I’m pretty sure that when it comes to communal responsibility and commitment to values, it doesn’t get more dedicated than that.

Update: On Friday, the local Modiin newspaper published the news that a doctor from Texas has agreed to travel to Israel in order to begin the necessary treatments Emilee needs locally. As a result of this development, and likely in some part due to the incredible outpouring of support she and her family have received, Emilee's Israeli healthcare provider has agreed to cover the costs of her treatment.


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