The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - BRIAN BLUM

‘You look like you need a l’haim,” the yeshiva bocher said to me, ex­tend­ing a plas­tic cup in one hand and el­e­vat­ing a bot­tle of vodka in the other.

“No, I can’t, it’s OK,” I replied, but he was in­sis­tent.

“I know a lit­tle about peo­ple and I can tell that you, my friend, are re­ally in need of a shot,” he con­tin­ued. He started to pour.

“You’re be­ing very kind,” I de­murred, although at this point I was start­ing to get an­noyed. “But I’m just not al­lowed.”

He looked at me puz­zled and I could tell he’d had a few drinks of his own al­ready.

“But… it’s Shab­bos!” he sput­tered, then slumped onto the couch de­jected, be­fore be­ing dis­tracted by the eye-pop­ping scenery all around the two of us. We were at the 12th-floor rooftop pool of the Ritz-Carl­ton Ho­tel in Her­zliya. His black and white Shab­bat garb was no match for the ever-chang­ing color pa­rade of half-naked men and women in their swim­suit finest.

I could have told my in­ter­locu­tor why I was turn­ing down his of­fer – that al­co­hol and chemo­ther­apy don’t mix so well for me – but that would have gone against the aim of this week­end. My wife, Jody, and I had slipped into the Ritz-Carl­ton “can­cer incog­nito.” We did it with the help of the won­der­ful Re­fanah or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Re­fanah is an Is­raeli non­profit that pro­vides much needed “heal­ing hol­i­days” to peo­ple suf­fer­ing from can­cer. Re­fanah founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Robyn Shames has con­vinced dozens of ho­tel, B&B and guest-house own­ers around Is­rael to do­nate sleep­ing ac­com­mo­da­tions based on the prop­erty’s avail­abil­ity.

Re­fanah’s pitch to pro­pri­etors is that they al­ready don’t run at full oc­cu­pancy year-round, es­pe­cially dur­ing the week. So do­nat­ing a room for a night only re­ally costs them the clean­ing af­ter­ward.

Ac­cord­ing to the Is­rael Cen­tral Bureau of Sta­tis­tics, there are 6,500 B&B rooms in Is­rael with an av­er­age oc­cu­pancy rate of 50% on week­ends and just 25% to 30% dur­ing the week. There are an­other 50,000 ho­tel rooms with an av­er­age oc­cu­pancy of 55%.

Shames came up with the idea for Re­fanah in 2014 af­ter a rel­a­tive, who had sur­vived can­cer, told Shames about Cot­tage Dreams, a sim­i­lar pro­gram in On­tario, Canada.

Shames had al­ready been do­ing im­por­tant work as the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of ICAR, the In­ter­na­tional Coali­tion for Agu­nah Rights, fight­ing to “un­chain” women whose re­cal­ci­trant hus­bands were re­fus­ing to pro­vide them with a get, a di­vorce de­cree ac­cord­ing to Jewish law. Af­ter 11 years at ICAR, she was look­ing for a change. But it had to be one where she could con­tinue do­ing good in the world.

The name Re­fanah comes from the Bi­ble. Moses asks God to cure his sis­ter Miriam of lep­rosy by pray­ing “El na re­fana la.” It means, quite lit­er­ally, “God please heal her.”

Shames started Re­fanah by ran­domly con­tact­ing some 100 Is­raeli B&B own­ers to gauge in­ter­est. She fig­ured maybe 10% would say yes; al­most half agreed im­me­di­ately.

“Peo­ple are very ex­cited about hav­ing this op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing nice,” Shames says.

In our case, the room at the ex­clu­sive Ritz-Carl­ton Ho­tel, over­look­ing the pic­turesque Her­zliya Ma­rina with its hun­dreds of yachts and sail­boats, was owned by an in­di­vid­ual who va­ca­tions in Is­rael the sum­mers. The ho­tel gen­er­ously added break­fast to round out the week­end.

Peo­ple with can­cer can browse the Re­fanah web­site (www.re­fanah.org/) to view prop­er­ties and read de­tails about avail­abil­ity. Re­fanah col­lects a mod­est NIS 100 fee when you make the reser­va­tion, “thus en­abling ev­ery can­cer pa­tient to help oth­ers by par­tic­i­pat­ing in their cir­cle of giv­ing,” Shames says.

Both peo­ple un­der­go­ing can­cer treat­ment and those who have fin­ished treat­ment in the past year are el­i­gi­ble.

There are Re­fanah prop­er­ties all over the coun­try – on kib­butzim; smack dab on the beach; in the cen­ters of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ei­lat; in a stark car­a­van over­look­ing Lake Kin­neret; and even on an al­paca farm out­side of Mitzpe Ra­mon.

Re­fanah is great for peo­ple with can­cer, but it’s good for prop­erty own­ers, too: a free night gen­er­ates pos­i­tive pub­lic­ity that can lead to re­fer­rals and fu­ture busi­ness.

De­spite the num­ber of prop­er­ties work­ing with Re­fanah, the de­mand is con­stantly grow­ing: about 28,000 peo­ple are di­ag­nosed with can­cer each year in Is­rael.

Re­fanah has now pro­vided free va­ca­tions for nearly 2,000 can­cer pa­tients and their fam­i­lies.

For Jody and me, it was not just the break from rou­tine in a pam­per­ing sea­side ho­tel that was so in­vig­o­rat­ing. It was also the anonymity: no one knew how we got there or why. Maybe there was some­thing small writ­ten on our reser­va­tion form, but to ev­ery­one else, we were just two or­di­nary guests.

For some­one like me who’s been so pub­lic about his can­cer ex­pe­ri­ence, go­ing incog­nito was as re­fresh­ing as that rooftop pool (which my doctor told me I was not al­lowed into be­cause, you know, germs).

It’s not so sur­pris­ing, then, that I chose not to tell my new yeshiva buddy the rea­son I was so re­sis­tant to his vodka vol­un­teerism. Nor could he have sur­mised on his own my sta­tus – my hair hasn’t fallen out from the chemo (although my hair­dresser says it’s thinned a lit­tle) and I’ve ac­tu­ally gained weight (treat­ment makes me crave carbs).

But some­day – hope­fully soon – I might just take him up on his Shab­bos shots of­fer. L’haim right back at ya.

The writer’s book, To­taled: The Bil­lion-Dol­lar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is avail­able on Ama­zon and other on­line book­sell­ers. bri­an­blum.com

For Jody and me, it was not just the break from rou­tine in a pam­per­ing sea­side ho­tel that was so in­vig­o­rat­ing. It was also the anonymity: no one knew how we got there or why


THE WRITER at the Her­zliya ma­rina.

(Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

‘I KNOW a lit­tle about peo­ple and I can tell that you, my friend, are re­ally in need of a shot.’

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