For those who are home, and for those who are on the way. For those who support the historic and just return of the land of Israel to its people, forever loyal to their inheritance, and its restoration.
The 50 young adults in the audience are puzzled. On their fourth day here on the free birthright israel trip, they have toured the Knesset and are now visiting Hadassah-University Medical Center, a place they've seen on TV and an icon of Israeli medical modernity. But instead of meeting, say, an expert on embryonic stem cells or a nerdy neurosurgeon, the speaker wears supersized saddle shoes and a Rudolf red nose.
Clowns Jerome, Cris and Dudu with their likenesses. Photo: Courtesy
Meet Cris the Clown, aged 50. He's one serious guy. In French-accented English, this veteran jester describes his day job. He cheers up children who are undergoing chemotherapy. Cris distracts children having blood tests. He can make them laugh. He gets them to swallow their yucky medicine. "Sometimes they're afraid of clowns, and it takes me six months to get them used to me," he says. "Sometimes they're very, very sad and I can help."
Cris the Clown knows about sadness. Born in France, he was soon an orphan, and ran away from the orphanage he hated so much. At 18, he served in the French army and then made his way around the world, working and traveling and working some more. When he ran out of money in the Sinai, he heard from a fellow wanderer that you could live for free by working on a kibbutz. He was 25, and he'd never been to Israel before.
He liked the spunky country with its brash residents. He met his wife on the kibbutz and eventually moved to Tel Aviv, where they brought up their four children. Along the way he became a comic magician and won many contests as Cris L'artiste. (His real name is Daniel.) For 15 years he performed in the Acre Festival. "A dozen years ago, Israelis didn't know what a red-nose clown was. They only had Purim clowns with triangular hats. It was an educational process."
And then he didn't crave being funny on stage anymore. A friend who had seen the movie Patch Adams about the most famous hospital clown, had been clowning in a hospital at the request of a local doctor. He told Cris about his daily adventures. "For two years, I listened to him describe his experience and wished I was working in a hospital, too."
THE OPPORTUNITY finally came in 2002. During the dark days of the intifada, a clown project called Dream Doctors began as an experiment at Hadassah. Cris won the job as one of three positions. He had a lot to learn about clowning with sick kids, but instantly he had a personal dream, too.
Cris is stumped on the English for "IV pole," the metal adjustable stand with hooks and wheels that allows patients on intravenous fluids to move around. The audience understands. In children's wards, such poles are often decorated, but Cris is determined to create a stable IV pole that's fun, like a tricycle, and that features the familiar hospital clown's image. "That way we clowns can leave a little of ourselves in the ward after we go home."
I visited Hevron in November 2000 after the outbreak of the Rosh Hashanah War to see what could be done to assist in the face of the growing daily attacks on the community. After returning to work for the community in the summer of 2001, a bond and a love was forged that grows to this day. My wife Melody and I merited to be married at Ma'arat HaMachpela and now host visitors from throughout the world every Shabbat as well as during the week. Our goal, "Time to come Home!"