Some organizations might rent a social hall for their annual Chanukah party. Others may reserve a nearby hotel ballroom.
Chai Lifeline Mid-Atlantic booked an international airport.
You read that correctly. On Sunday, Dec. 17, 285 members of Chai Lifeline’s local Mid-Atlantic office gathered at the Observational Gallery at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) to light the menorah with family and friends and enjoy an evening of bonding and joy.
The Observational Gallery at BWI features an extraordinary panoramic overlook of the parallel runways, providing a stunning view of airplanes taking off and landing with the setting sun as the backdrop.
The magical evening included acrobats, digital photo booths, build-a-bear workshops, cookie decorating, and presents. Children of diverse religious backgrounds and wide-ranging diagnoses gathered for a special evening to draw strength from one another and to laugh and dance together.
In the past two years since the formal founding of the Mid-Atlantic regional office, based in Baltimore, Chai Lifeline has grown from a small contingent of local volunteers to one of the preeminent health support networks for seriously ill children, their families, and Jewish communities in the Northeast Corridor.
“The annual family Chanukah party has become a staple on our calendar, but the reality is that it is a culmination of years-worth of programming that Chai Lifeline offers me and my family,” said one mother, who identified herself as Mrs. L. “My children, my husband — all of us feel comfortable and excited to come to the Chanukah event only because we came to the laser tag event three weeks ago, and the ‘Mom’s Retreat’ the week before that.”
DJ Balagan’s heavy-bass beats traveled throughout the airport, lifting the doldrums hanging over security lines and creating an atmosphere of festive cheer and excitement. International travelers may not have known who or what Chai Lifeline was before they entered the terminal, but they most certainly did by the time they boarded their planes. Trance-inspired remixes of “Hava Nagila” are not something one quickly forgets; neither is the scene of children, attached to IV poles, dancing the night away with not a worry on their faces.
“Tonight, I want to dance with the Chai Lifeline volunteers who came to visit my daughter last week when we were in the hospital for treatment,” said Mrs. L. “It’s not an organization’s holiday party. It’s a family gathering.”
By Yonathan Melamed
Yonathan is a soccer enthusiast living in Baltimore, where he is a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. Yonathan is a lead Chai Lifeline volunteer for the past two years and currently pioneers Chai Lifeline’s innovative Entourage program.