Music from the Soul
by M. Levitansky

"Impossible." "Unbelievable." "Truly a miracle."

Those were the reactions of staff members at Alin Hospital in Jerusalem last Purim when they found nine-year-old David Rosenberg clapping his hands to the beat during a musical performance by Zimra volunteers for the hospital's mental health patients.

After suffering a fall eight months earlier, David had developed a mental health condition that left him uncommunicative. That afternoon, instead of delivering mishloach manos to neighbors and friends, David's father sat by his son's bed in despair, wondering if he'd ever get so much as a sigh from his immobile son.
David's father's ruminations were disrupted by greetings from a Zimra volunteer, who handed him mishloach manos and told him to bring David to the dining room where Zimra would be putting on a concert in honor of the holiday.
When David started clapping his hands halfway through the concert, the stunned staff quickly called David's doctors. They had no explanation for David's behavior - but Zimra founder Shimon Shnitzer did.
"We don't just play music," says Shnitzer, "ours is music from the soul. When you put your soul into something, there's no telling what effect it will have."

Shnitzer, the son of Holocaust survivors, has used music to lift people's spirits for years. His parents' home was always filled with fellow survivors, many of whom were never able to adjust to the realities of life after World War II. Shnitzer and his brothers and sisters developed a rapport with many of these guests by playing music to lift their spirits.

A few years ago, medical professionals got wind of what they were doing and asked them to perform for mental health patients in local hospitals. That's how Zimra got its start. In 1994 Shnitzer turned his hobby into a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of the mentally ill in Israel through a wide range of recreational activities.

Music therapy is Zimra's most popular - and successful - activity. Throughout the year, and particularly around the Jewish holidays, Zimra volunteers visit dozens of hospital wards around the country and bring joy to the mentally ill through music.
They perform at one hospital per week, entertaining a minimum of 400 people at a time. Their goal is to increase their number of performances to 20 performances a month, but Shnitzer says they'll first need to raise about $30,000 to set up four additional bands and supply them with instruments and sound equipment.

It's a program Shnitzer says is worth investing in, and personnel at mental health facilities throughout Israel concede that it works.

"As mental health therapists," says Dr. A. Sella of the Eitanim Mental Health Center, "we are well aware of the need to bring to our patients joy and happiness as much as we can. Music is one of the therapeutic touches that we use very often. Zimra visits three times a year, singing and playing music for our patients in the hospital. Their contribution to our treatment is enormous."

Ivria Oron, a representative of the Gehah Psychiatric Hospital Blank agrees: "Zimra's contribution to our patients is phenomenal. They bring them joy and happiness, they dance with them, sing and entertain them. These evenings are unforgettable, and the patients are always looking forward to the next time."

In addition to providing music therapy, Zimra's 140 volunteers visit patients in the hospital and in their homes, and distribute food packages.
In 1998 they made 3,500 visits a month to mental health patients and delivered more than 50,000 Shabbos meals and 100,000 holiday meals. They also provided 1,000 sets of arba minim on Succos, 5,000 sufganiyot on Chanuka and 10,000 mishloach manos on Purim.
Now the organization's goal is to collect and distribute two tons of apples and a quarter ton of honey to 10,000 ental health patients for Rosh Hashana.

"People often spend hours busying themselves for Rosh Hashana, sending New Year's cards and preparing large meals," says Shnitzer. "What they don't realize is that there are thousands of mental health patients who don't have the opportunity to really experience Rosh Hashana, and to them even an apple with honey can make a tremendous difference."

Zimra volunteers also put much time and effort into helping the mentally ill marry and set up homes of their own. Not only do they find them suitable marriage partners and then make entire weddings, but they also find them places to live, supply them with furniture and appliances, and give them guidance on marriage and raising children.

"Zimra believes that all human beings are entitled to lead meaningful and rewarding lives, including mental health patients," says Shnitzer. "We help them claim that right."

According to the director of volunteer services at the Sarah Herzog Memorial Hospital, what Shnitzer and the Zimra volunteers are doing is more than what many hospitals could ever do for their mental health patients.

"We make every effort in medicine and nursing to help the patients and to bring them quality of life, but all our endeavors cannot replace the family and friends they are missing," says Sara Ophir. "Zimra fills a great need, bringing friendship, happiness and music into the patients' lives."
Or as Shnitzer likes to put it, "Where clinical treatment for mental health patients ends, ours begins."