Celebrating 18 Years Chai Lifeline Canada

Looking back at Chai Lifeline Canada’s Humble and Compassionate Beginning

As we near the celebration of Chai Lifeline Canada’s 18th anniversary April 9th, it’s the perfect time to go back to our roots and share some key moments in Chai Lifeline Canada’s origin story. Who better to do that than Rabbi Captain Mordechai Rothman, executive director from day one.

We recently sat down with Mordy to look back to the days when it all began.

It all started back in 2006, when Mordy heard that Chai Lifeline was preparing to expand to Canada. His dream as a child was to cure cancer, and while this opportunity wasn’t going to do that from a medical perspective, it was very much aligned with his dream. Through Chai Lifeline, he would be able to ensure that children and families facing pediatric cancer would have a circle of support to hold them through the difficult days.

It began with a plan

With guidance from founder and CEO of Chai Lifeline, Rabbi Simcha Scholar, Mordy created a five-year plan for Chai Lifeline Canada, which became his guiding light.

First things first – he needed people. Chai Lifeline was known for it’s big-hearted and high-energy volunteer force, so volunteer recruitment was step one. He hosted his first event to draw young people in and as word travelled throughout the community, more and more people showed up to learn about Chai Lifeline and offered their support. By the time Chanukah rolled around just a few months later, he launched the first Chai Lifeline Canada Toy Drive. Mordy laughs when he gets to this part of the story. In those early days he shared a office space with a paralegal and the toy donations filled their tiny space from floor to ceiling.

“The toys were in the reception area, the hallway and every corner…even the bathtub!”

Watching the donations from the community pile up for weeks was a visual representation of the success of his efforts, the generosity of the community and the number of people he could engage. It also revealed how many people he could help.

Memories and Milestones

While Mordy has so many memories and milestones from those early days, the standout ones are the times he spent with the children and families he was working to support. One of Chai Lifeline Canada’s first clients was a young boy with heart issues. He was in the hospital and was refusing to eat. Mordy brought a board member with him to visit the boy and together their goal was to get him to eat something. The board member sat down and offered a twenty-dollar bill for every bite of food that he ate. It worked – for the first time in days, that boy finished an entire meal while he dreamed about what he was going to buy with his ‘earnings’. Today, 18 years later, that young boy is a happy, married and living in Israel. How does Mordy know this? Because these relationships are the ones that last forever. Anyone who has ever worked at Chai Lifeline Canada has stories like this. 

Like his first client, Mordy lights up when he recalls a time that Chai Lifeline Canada took action for a family in a big way. In 2013, Chai Lifeline Canada organized what was (at the time) the largest bone marrow drive in Ontario’s history. Mordy had received a call from our Montreal office about a family looking for a bone marrow match for their daughter who was fighting cancer. With the help of staff, donors, and volunteers, a bone marrow event was arranged in Toronto. Radio stations even got involved to promote the event. Thousands of people came out to get swabbed and match was found. Today, the girl is a happy and healthy 15 year-old whose Instagram bio reads, 

"Normal person, living a normal life."

Looking back, this event makes him particularly proud. His team saw a need and sprung into action to help. This is the kind of thing that continues to happen at Chai Lifeline Canada every day. It’s not that we’re organizing bone marrow drives – that was a one-time thing – but it’s the idea that we can make things happen. We don’t think about not being able to do something for a family, we just do it.  For Mordy, this attitude is what carried us through the Covid-19 crisis as we pivoted and got creative with our programs and services. Our families knew that even through times of the most extreme isolation, they were not alone.  

What's Next

After 18 years, Mordy is still the man with a plan. The long-term plan includes a rural respite centre -a place for retreats, camp programs, and for families to escape to for a break. On the near-future timeline is a new building amenities and space for our growing team and client families. He envisions therapeutic spaces, play rooms and a place to gather our community.

If the last 18 years have shown us anything, it is that with hard work and dedication we can accomplish so much — and have. 18 equals Chai, which represents “life” – what a beautiful impact Chai Lifeline Canada has had on the lives of children, families and community over the past 18 years. May we continue to go from plan to plan and from strength to strength. L’Chaim!