Local Jewish community supports Israeli boy undergoing cancer treatments in Philly
With Philadelphia cancer specialists offering possibly the only chance to save their son’s life, an Israeli family has uprooted to Cherry Hill, where the young boy’s plight has stirred an outpouring of support.
It’s a journey that has taken five-year-old Harel Dabush from his desert home in the Negev to a children’s hospital in metropolitan Tel Aviv then to Germany and, ultimately, to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in February. Although the family had no previous ties to South Jersey, local Israeli families and the larger Jewish community here have passionately taken up the boy’s cause, helping to raise money – largely via social media – and giving his family a comfortable home to lay down roots during what is expected to be a yearlong regimen.
“When I found out we were coming here, I had some nervous feelings,” admitted Harel’s father Shai, 34, a truck driver for Coca Cola on indefinite leave. “We were coming to a brand new country and into the homes of strangers. But we couldn’t have gotten into a better situation and with better families. Everyone has opened up their hearts and made us feel very much at home here.”
Among the many who have responded to Harel’s great needs, Steve Frankel is sharing his Cherry Hill house with the family of five during the duration of the treatments. Frankel, who learned about the Dabushes through his involvement with Torah Links, says the young family has brought new life to his quiet residence. During a recent visit by the Voice, the house was awash with activities. Harel and his toddler sister Lior were racing around and playing with toys as newborn sister Linoy slept and his mother Avigail cooked up Moroccan fare with new friends.
A widower, Frankel had been living alone since the summer when the last of his three daughters moved out. He learned about the family through Eli Skaist, Torah Link’s high holidays cantor who is involved with Lahosheet Yad, a group that helps young Israeli cancer patients in Israel.
“I’m loving it,” said Frankel, who owns and manages Frankel & Rubinson Property Management, a local real estate company. “The only problem is I’m getting heavier than I used to be (from Avigail’s cooking,)”
Barely out of diapers when he started limping around and complaining that his legs hurt, Harel was diagnosed some two years ago with a rare form of cancer called neuroblastoma. The disease attacks his bones and forms tumors throughout his body, according to the family. Since then, the boy has undergone one painful treatment after another with no success. The family was almost out of hope when they learned that CHOP doctors have helped young patients with similar symptoms by attacking the mutation in the gene responsible for the disease, said Shai. However, the treatment would not only take them across the world, it would cost $600,000 for the family of modest means and require a year’s commitment.
When hope seemed lost, Harel’s family turned to the media, which brought his story to the hearts of Israelis. A telethon in January, featuring celebrities, raised some $300,000, securing Harel entry to CHOP.
Given the race against time, Harel and Shai left Israel for Philadelphia in early February, leaving behind the rest of the family. Avigail, nine-monthspregnant, would have to wait until Linoy’s birth and clearance from doctors to leave.
The boy’s celebrity turn in Israel initially brought him to the attention to the Jewish Community in South Jersey. Among the first locals to respond to the Dabush Family’s plight were Nir and Korin Hoter, an Israeli couple who saw a news segment about the boy on Israeli news via satellite TV. Although they have their own young children and a busy household, the Hoters offered their Cherry Hill home to the Dabush family. Four days later, the Hoters were at the airport to meet Harel and Shai for the first time and to bring them back to their Cherry Hill home.
After Avigail gave birth to Linoy – an experience that was filmed by a local Israeli TV station and viewed live by Shai and Harel via Skype, the family was reunited. They moved into the larger Frankel home in early March.
By the family’s account, Harel is responding well to the CHOP regimen and the family is cautiously optimistic that a cure for the boy’s cancer is within reach. However, as Harel undergoes his treatments, there is great uncertainty that the family will be able to continue, as they have yet to come up with enough money to pay for it.
“One of my biggest fears is that, after all we’ve been through, we’ll run out of money and not be able to see this through,” said Shai.
Hoping that American Jews will be as inspired by the counterparts in Israel to help Harel, Cherry Hill resident Danielle Kimchi has made a mission of raising awareness and money for the family. The Cherry Hill resident, who learned about Harel through her friendship with the Hoters, has created “help save harel” bracelets selling for $5 each. She is also organizing fundraising parties in New York City and has created a donation page via indiegogo, a social media fundraising website (http://www.indiegogo.com/proj ects/save-harel), she said.
As for Harel, the boy has embraced his new life as a typical five-year-old facing a new adventure. Despite the gravity of the situation, his move to Cherry Hill has led to new opportunities, including a recent trip to Wells Fargo Center where he not only watched his first 76ers game but also met players courtside
“He knows why he’s here and why he’s going through the treatments,” explained Shai. “He’ll tell you it’s to get the monsters out.” .