I can remember my first visit to the Western Wall when I was in high school. It was a deeply moving, spiritual experience and is my most vivid memory of that time in my life. I remember approaching the Wall and being overcome by the immensity, by the spiritual and historical significance of the site, even thousands of years later. Since that trip I have visited the Wall many times, each being an incredible experience, but nothing compared to that first visit. On each of my subsequent trips I have visited new places, holy to major religions, and had not had a similar feeling, until January of this year when I visited the Save a Child’s Heart recovery house in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv.
As you approach the SACH house it is very unassuming. Initially I thought I was lost, (being that I decided to walk to the house from Tel Aviv). Surrounded by apartment buildings in a clearly residential neighborhood, the building snuck up on me, and had it not been for the markings on the front I would have easily walked by. The neighborhood felt just like any other neighborhood back home.
Standing out front of the house I felt amazing warmth. Having spent the past year and half growing more involved in the young professionals committee in New York, I felt more in touch with the organization just being in the vicinity. I rang the bell and international young leadership Director Randi Weiss came to meet me at the gate and show me around. I was floored by what I saw.
The staff and volunteers at the SACH house have done an amazing job of making a home away from home for the children that are recovering at the house. The areas I was shown were warm and friendly, with plenty of activities to keep the kids busy if necessary (including a stereo for dance parties) or comfortable if they are resting. After my tour and a nice chat with Randi, I was told the kids would be waking up from nap time and coming down to play. In all honesty at this point I had an unexpected reaction… I was nervous.
It seemed weird to be nervous to meet a bunch of children, but these were all sick children. They were hundreds of miles from home. Some were there all alone, in a country that did not speak their language; some were so young they could not possibly comprehend what was going on. Most of them did not speak any English and they had no idea who I, this weird stranger, was. How would I interact with them? All these thoughts ran through my mind as I waited for the kids to come down.
When the children finally came down I have to admit that it was a little awkward at first. They were very comfortable around the volunteers but still a little weary of me. I think they were still half asleep when we met so I hung back and observed for a bit. I watched them interact with the volunteers living at the house. It was touching to see how much the volunteers cared about the children and how much the children cared about the volunteers. I could immediately see the incredible impact the volunteers had; they were gently and caring, and showed infinite patience.
As the children continued to shake off their sleepiness, I understood that thanks to this amazing organization which, I had been supporting, but did not fully understand, they were not “sick kids” as I thought but… just kids. Their faces brightened up as they woke and bursts of energy sent them running around the playground. I can not describe how inspiring it was to watch these beautiful children play and smile so far from home, and all this after undergoing such a scary experience as surgery is. I finaly got into the mix as I was approached by a young girl with a water pistol. As I pulled out my phone to picture, a young man from Tanzania approached me and pointed to my phone. He asked if he could play games on my phone, and I had my first friend at the house!
We sat and played a few games of candy crush and I learned that he spoke English. This kid was amazing, he knew more than I did about my phone, and I’m fully convinced he is going to go back home and someday be programming satellites.
After a few games I pulled out my laptop and all of a sudden I was the most popular kid in the room! My laptop has a touch screen and a great paint program on it designed for kids. They quickly swarmed me and we created some amazing, albeit abstract works of art!
After about an hour of creating these priceless pieces we discovered the camera app!
Finally it was dinner and I had to make my way back to Tel Aviv (by bus this time). It was tough to leave after having so much fun, but it was made easier seeing all the kids, volunteers and parents sitting around having a nice SACH family dinner.
I wrote initially about my first visit to the Western Wall and how I had a similar feeling approaching the SACH house. It took me a while to discover the connection between these emotions, but I believe I have finally figured it out. Just like the Wall, the SACH house will have an amazing legacy for Israel, granted on a smaller scale. But to those it touches and helps, it will have the same lasting impact. And while the SACH house is not holy to any religion, just as visits to the wall evokes a belief in a higher power for many, it’s hard to visit the SACH house and not have the same feeling. I left the house with such positive energy about all the work that was being done at the house and what terrible world we would live in if SACH and organizations like SACH did not exist. In all likely scenarios these children would not be smiling without this organizations and amazing people.
I hope that I am always able to support the incredible work SACH is doing and I beg anyone with the means to do the same. Come to an Event! Donate some Money! Visit the House! Just get in involved.
- Andrew Davidsburg, SACH-New York Young Professionals Committee