Chai Lifeline will host its first-ever pre-Chanukah Global Gala on Tuesday, December 8. The virtual event will support the children and families of Chai Lifeline, the Jewish community’s leading children’s health support network. World-renowned magician and endurance artist David Blaine will headline the program, which will also feature inspirational videos and a special musical performance.
Janine and Max Klein of New Milford will be honored with the Young Builders Award in recognition of their efforts on behalf of Chai Lifeline’s Young Builder Society. The Klein’s personal involvement with Chai Lifeline bagan when their son Eitan was diagnosed with cancer as a baby.
Erev Rosh Hashanah 2016 will forever be embedded in Janine’s mind. While bathing her son, Eitan, who was 11 months old, she noticed a growth on his body. At the advice of a physician who is also a family friend, Janine and Max immediately took Eitan to an emergency room. The growth was presumed to be an infection for which the doctor prescribed antibiotics; he sent the Kleins home with instructions to follow up with a specialist after Yom Tov. When the growth remained, and after several months of follow up tests, it was finally determined it was malignant. At 14 months old, Eitan’s tumor was removed at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. Later that week, the Kleins met with an oncologist, Dr. Julia Glade-Bender, at Columbia University Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center.
While remaining hopeful, the Kleins were advised to schedule ongoing bloodwork for Eitan to check for a decrease in his cancer markers. Over the ensuing months, Eitan’s cancer markers returned to normal levels. However, on Erev Pesach 2017, Janine received a life-changing phone call. Eitan’s cancer makers were on the rise. The oncologist recommended a treatment protocol of four weekly rounds of chemotherapy.
“My heart dropped,” said Janine. “We were in shock. It was surreal. We couldn’t believe what was happening.”
A mass email about Eitan’s condition sent to family and friends by Janine and Max led to tremendous support spearheaded by the Orthodox community. Tehillim were recited and the emails and prayers sent to the family were welcome and comforting.
Dr. Nancy Block, a psychologist and ambassador for Chai Lifeline as well as a family friend from Teaneck, immediately called and visited with the family, spending time with them and sensitively discussing the next steps. Dr. Block made sure that the Kleins connected with a Chai Lifeline case manager at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and that Chai Lifeline’s resources were made available to them.
Eitan began chemotherapy when he was 18 months old. For Janine and Max, this was the most frightening and worrisome experience of their lives. However, Esti Goldschmiedt, a Chai Lifeline case manager, was there to greet them at the oncology clinic; she became their main source of support and encouragement during the many days in the hospital. Eitan’s four rounds of chemotherapy treatments were administered inpatient for five straight days, with two weeks off between treatments.
Goldschmiedt visited the Kleins daily. She helped arrange babysitting for Natan, the couple’s 4-year-old son, made sure food was delivered to the hospital for the family, and kept Janine, Max and Eitan company during Eitan’s hospital stay. She answered questions and was a calming, friendly and sympathetic presence during the long hours at Eitan’s bedside.
Eitan has recovered beautifully from his treatments and his prognosis is excellent. Drug therapy left him with bilateral hearing loss that requires him to wear hearing aids. He is currently in his second year at the Hearing Impaired Program at Midland Park School and is on target to begin kindergarten at Yavneh Academy in September 2021, where he will join Natan. Their sister, Orly, is 2.
Janine and Max wanted to express their gratitude to Chai Lifeline. It was during those darkest of days that Chai Lifeline came into their lives, offering much-needed support and helping them navigate the complexities of the scary and oftentimes lonely pediatric illness journey.
“After our experience, we were delighted to give back and help other families as members of Chai Lifeline’s Young Builders Society,” shared Janine.
The Young Builders Society (YBS), started in 2019, is a program geared toward young professionals who are committed to Chai Lifeline’s mission and who are eager to play a significant and active role in the growth of the organization. Designed for the next generation of lay leadership and emerging philanthropists, volunteers for YBS can be found attending to various needs such as driving families to and from the hospital for treatment, decorating a child’s hospital room for Sukkot, or delivering flowers to a patient’s house for Shabbat.
As Young Builders, the Kleins helped establish the Chai Lifeline Bergen County Freezer Program, which delivers a month’s worth of food to families in need. Recognizing the benevolence and generosity that exists within their own community, where meal trains are established within minutes for those sitting shiva, celebrating a birth or dealing with illness, the Kleins wanted to offer similar support to all Jewish families in need, regardless of affiliation.
Janine and Max were instrumental in organizing last year’s Chai Lifeline Chanukah celebration in Clifton. Through YBS, they have had the opportunity to volunteer at Camp Simcha (pre-COVID) and Janine drives for I-Shine, Chai Lifeline’s after-school program for kids with family members who are ill. Janine and Max also serve as ambassadors by connecting families with new diagnoses to Chai Lifeline case managers in their area.
The couple is passionate about the work of Chai Lifeline and, as Janine stated, “We hope to bring awareness to YBS and recruit more members since there is a greater need for volunteers during the pandemic.”
Janine is a speech language pathologist, working at SINAI Schools at RYNJ. Max is a director of finance at Hudson Sustainable Group, an energy development investment firm. The Kleins are actively involved in their shul, Keter Torah.
Chai Lifeline’s year-round programs and services include professional case management and counseling; transportation to medical appointments; nourishing meals delivered to hospitals and homes; emergency financial assistance through the Evan Levy z”l Fund; Project Chai crisis intervention, trauma and bereavement support; i-Shine programming; insurance and medical advocacy; a medically-supervised summer experience at Camp Simcha, Camp Simcha Special and the newly-launched Camp Simcha Without Borders; and so much more.
The Global Gala will also honor Natalie and Danny Hiller, Children’s Champions Award; Rabbi Yehiel and Shulamis Kalish, Community Leadership Award; Sarette and Bryan McIntosh, Champions of Hope Award; and Moshe Hirsch, z”l, whose wife Malkie is establishing the Greater New York School Crisis Intervention Initiative in memory of her husband. The gala will also pay tribute to Founding Director of Chai Lifeline Southeast Ellen Weiss, founding director of Chai Lifeline Southeast, for her 32 years of dedicated service.
“Every day, Chai Lifeline provides critical programs and services to more than 5,900 children and families around the world,” said Rabbi Simcha Scholar, Chai Lifeline chief executive officer. “The Global Gala is an opportunity for all of us to come together, no matter where we are located, to celebrate and support our commitment to the most vulnerable in our community.”
To register for the Global Gala, place a journal ad or make a donation, visit www.theglobalgala.com.