Honorary Bar Ilan Doctorate Awarded to Founder of Ezer Mizion


The chareidi alumnus of Ponovezh Yeshiva sits draped in a collegiate cap and gown alongside a former Supreme Court Justice, the advisor to the Queen of England, two Chemistry Nobel Prize winners and others who have made history in their fields. Each is being honored for their achievements with a doctorate from Bar Ilan University.

“I never planned to make history,” says Rabbi Dr. Chananya Chollak, Founder of Ezer Mizion. “I feel good when others feel good. It all began in 1979. I was just married and my father in law was ill. He was in and out of hospitals during that first year and I got to see what life is like for the ill. I met a dialysis patient who had to pay for ambulette transportation three times a week. He couldn’t afford it but what could he do? Dialysis was his lifeline. I got a few friends together and we outfitted a van with the professional equipment that he needed and we all took turns driving him. There was a young girl hospitalized with a life-threatening disease whose parents were running themselves ragged staying at her bedside. I got a few friends to volunteer shifts to give the parents a break. The original eight volunteers have grown to 11,000.”

There probably is not a single resident of Israel that hasn’t heard about Ezer Mizion and many have family members who have benefited from it at one time or another. The original ambulance has become a fleet of 18 with many volunteers using their own vehicles. The disabled, the elderly all know Ezer Mizion’s phone number and use it regularly to keep their appointments for therapy, treatments, routine medical visits and even an occasional dream trip to the Kosel or to  visit a likewise disabled family member whom they haven’t seen in years. Volunteers deliver meals prepared at Ezer Mizion’s Food Division to family keeping vigil at the hospital bedside of a loved one. Others deliver food baskets to homes of the wheelchair-bound, the cancer patient and the octogenarian desperately trying to maintain his independence. Rabbi Chollak, who lives by the motto See Something Do Something, has undertaken many other projects since the early days of his marriage. Departments dealing with the terror orphan, the speech impaired, the special child, the mentally ill and the cancer patient are just a few of the many that have sprung up like mushrooms, each division professionally run, offering the latest in hi-tech equipment and regular workshops and therapy headed by experts in their field.

Rabbi Chollak tells of a large family whose father was ill. The mother, drowning in her own sorrow, brought her whole family of eleven children just to talk. I gave the oldest child a card with my phone number and told him to call me any time. The four year old whispered in my ear, “Can I have one also? If I hear my father moaning in his sleep, can I call you?” “And do you think she didn’t call? My phone would ring many times in the middle of the night. This little girl was terrified hearing her father’s cries.”

Rabbi Chollak beams with joy when he is reminded of his Persian children. The mother was ill with cancer. We helped them with food, took the children on trips, tried to be a parent to those suffering children. There were no relatives, not even an elderly grandparent or a distant uncle. Less than two months after the mother passed away, the father began experiencing symptoms. In six months he was gone. The Social Service Department had planned to scatter the children among different families. The oldest, a twelve year old girl, came to me: “Could we live with you,” she asked in all innocence. The major burden would fall on my wife but she came through like the dedicated soldier that she is and all four were adopted as part of our family. 

No one envies Rabbi Chollak of his job as Town Major. For years, the municipal authorities have delegated the job of informing the family of the death of a loved one. It must be done and Rabbi Chollak does it- with compassion, with empathy , with love. A tear forms in his eyes as he recalls some of these visits. “Two children were on their way to visit their mother in the hospital. I was asked to meet them there as their mother was no longer among the living. It started at the time of terror attacks in the Gush Dan area. I was asked to help out in informing the families and have been doing it ever since. Having a policeman appear at the door is shocking. I try to give it to them in little pieces.”

Rabbi Chollak sits in his office on the top floor of the giant Ezer Mizion Jacob Fried Building. On the various floors, a vibrant chessed momentum in progress. Dozens of volunteers, division heads and project directors scurry through the halls and thousands of people seeking the organization’s services stream through its corridors. They come from all parts of the country- religious, secular, Ashkenazic, Sephardic. As you enter its portals, you pass the security check manned by a chareidi fellow of Persian extract, one of the four children adopted by Rabbi Chollak and his dedicated wife, Leah, in addition to their own twelve children. Each person is entitled to the full gamut of humanitarian assistance offered by the organization free of charge.

It’s the end of the day and Rabbi Chollak is drained. His eyes are bleary. He had joined a trip as ‘one of the volunteers’. His cell phone rings for the thousandth time that day. “Tomorrow I’ll meet with the head of the department to hear what else can be done. The bleeding in the brain has stopped. That’s a good sign.” he comforts the distraught family member.  The doctorate is just an honorary title. It did not turn him into a medical doctor, even though his medical knowledge is vast. But sometimes one cannot help but wonder if the honorary doctorate is more than honorary.

“What’s your opinion on the divisions between the secular and the chareidi in Israel?” he was asked. “When President Ezer Weizmann inaugurated the Oranit Center for Children with Cancer and Their Families, he said that Ezer Mizion is the bridge between the religious and the secular and he was right. We demonstrate by example that there are no barriers and that the only thing concerning us is that everyone should be healthy. One of the foremost projects is the Bone Marrow Registry. We called on the public to help save a boy in critical condition. In one day no less than 62,300 people came to the centers. Do you see polarity here? Do you see hatred? I see nothing but unity. Nobody gave any thought to differences in ethnic extraction or religious affiliation. Everyone stood quietly in line and registered to be tested as potential donors for patients they didn’t even know.”  When people try to get Rabbi Chollak to talk about division, he talks about unity. When they bring up hatred, he talks about love. His face shines with a gleaming light and it’s impossible to get him to talk about anything negative.

“This should be published. People have to know,” Rabbi Chollak is told. “I am at my office a little after eight in the morning and leave between one and two at night. Our devoted staff doesn’t know the difference between day and night. We have no time for PR. We’re too busy doing.”

http://www.ezermizion.org

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