Reflections of 5781: A Message from Rabbi Rothman

By: Rabbi Captain Mordechai Rothman

Dear Chai Lifeline Canada Family,

As we prepare for Rosh Hashana, we are ready to begin a fresh new year. This past one has been filled with some challenges and adversity. As COVID-19 raged on and sent us back into lockdowns, the health concerns faced by our children and families continued. The lockdowns and social distancing measures made life for our families all the more difficult and the entire team at Chai Lifeline Canada came together to support them. 

When the pandemic struck, Chai Lifeline Canada was well poised to move forward. We had a strong online presence and a great office environment. That said, we were tested beyond what anyone could have expected. Chai Lifeline Canada’s mission has always been supporting children and families suffering from the impact of serious illness. This pandemic has resulted in more individuals and families affected by illness than ever before; and it has been catastrophic in its reach. 

From a programming perspective the team did an incredible job. As soon as the pandemic hit, the Family Services team put together packages for families to keep kids busy with crafts and toys. These packages continued to be delivered almost weekly by our Case Managers and volunteers throughout lockdown. Many of our services went virtual – online support groups, volunteer Big Sibs playing games and tutoring. Our Shining Stars After School Program was modified and activity packages were delivered to families in Toronto and Montreal for the 6-week session. As much as possible, Case Managers went for walks with parents and were, as always, a phone call or text away. The wider community felt our support as well through daily online events to keep families entertained and active, and our Chai Toy Tank delivered toys to families across the GTA.  We provided the opportunity for any community member to talk to someone in order to understand the assistance options being offered by the government during COVID-19.

Throughout the various phases of the pandemic the rules and guidelines kept changing. It was impossible to plan anything more than two months in advance. This further pushed Chai Lifeline to continue our programming…just differently. From running a socially-distanced summer backyard Camp Lifeline experience in Toronto and Montreal, to our Chai Lifeline Family drive-through events. Our families knew that we were doing everything in our power to continue to support them during adverse circumstances. Even our Chanukah party still happened when the entire staff stood out in sub-zero temperatures to ensure our most exciting event of the year could still make all our clients feel special. As the lockdown dragged on, the team continued to find innovative ways to help, like having a pizzeria host a from-scratch pizza making experience or behind the scenes zoo tours. We worked within the bounds to continue to surprise and support our families.

As the restrictions began to lift we were able to offer Camp Lifeline summer experiences in Toronto and Montreal. We finished off the 2021 summer with a brand new and epic Camp Lifeline Away. More than 50 Chai Lifeline happy campers just returned from our very own 5-night experience at the beautiful grounds of Camp Shalom in Gravenhurst. Knowing we can pull this off during a pandemic is extremely motivating.

In fundraising and operations our team had to do more with less. Online donations and social media campaigns were ramped up and we got creative with our offerings. We sold outdoor Smile Chai Club family photography sessions with a professional photographer and Chai Lifeline masks. We launched our biggest ever toy drive and ran Gaming For Life, a Fortnite tournament that engaged new kinds of younger donors.  As the summer wore on, with the US/Canadian border remaining closed, we organized our own Bike4Chai ride here in Canada for the first time and we just did it again in August alongside our first ever Tour de Simcha. The event was a huge success and was completely safe from a covid perspective but was logistically taxing in every way. 

For the Chanukah holiday, we initiated Miracles for Life, an online donation matching campaign. As so many of our mainstay live events had been cancelled, this was an unprecedented way for us to reach out and connect with the community. Our team pushed on and connected meaningfully with our donors and ensured we had the funds to make it through the year.

In January we continued to innovate. Jump for Chai was always a much-anticipated in-person event engaging young teens in their Bar and Bat Mitzvah year. Our team got cracking and put together an incredible online event where children went into virtual rooms and watched performers from all over the world and participated in meaningful give back projects. Again, the fundraising team changed the model and the donors rose to the occasion for Shabbat Reimagined. We created a completely new event inviting donors to purchase a designer Friday night dinner curated by Wolfgang Puck. Our team and our donors rose to the occasion. The event was a sold-out smashing success and was the topic of conversation for weeks that followed.

Throughout COVID I constantly challenged the team to come up with new ideas that were COVID-safe but still interesting enough for a COVID-free world that could come at any moment. Our Over the Edge for Chai, a rappelling event, is coming up in October and is an outcome of fresh and creative thinking. 

Not everything went flawlessly though. Like many businesses and organizations, our team was down-sized due to staff fatigue and other pandemic related issues and programs and staff had to be cut. Our revenue went down over one million dollars, we were not allowed to visit families in the hospitals, our meal program entirely supported by volunteers sending home cooked meals, had to be stopped, and even Camp Simcha, one of Chai Lifeline’s pride and joys, couldn’t accept Canadian campers because of border closures. 

I continue to be so proud of our team! We have accomplished and learned so much and it was only possible because each of them gave of themselves –  their time and often their family’s time. We all suffered through COVID and all of its side effects, but we were in it together. We helped thousands of people and showed our community what it means to be there for each other. To the incredible team at Chai Lifeline Canada – our staff, volunteers, committees and donors –  I thank you for everything you have done for our community and am eternally grateful and honoured to have worked with you during this time. As the years pass and we move out of the pandemic you will always look back and be proud of what you accomplished and the differences you made.

On behalf of Chai Lifeline Canada, I would like to wish our community a Happy and Healthy Sweet New Year. May 5782 be one filled with blessings, health and happiness. 

Shana Tova U’Metuka! 

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