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Saving Lives One Laugh at a Time

by Ester Katz Silvers
March 8, 2020

“True happiness is no laughing matter; true happiness runs deep within the heart.”

So states Rina Simkovich, a twenty-two-year-old resident of Ariel, a city in the heart of Samaria. She should know because she’s been volunteering as a medical clown for the past two years.

For a long time Rina had been intrigued by the thought of being a medical clown. After being hit by a car, when she was eighteen, she was taken to the hospital and during her brief stay, she wished that a clown would visit her. To her disappointment none came. It’s so difficult to play the waiting game inside a hospital, worrying and wondering what the future holds. Thankfully, Rina was soon released home but spent six weeks housebound while she recuperated.

Rina, volunteering in a hospital, bringing smiles to many patients.

Once well she returned to her volunteer work of babysitting sick children in the hospital. She chose to donate part of her time helping parents get a brief respite to take care of their other children, spend some time at work, or just breathe on their own. When asked why she does it, she simply answered that one of her friends was doing it and it was in the air to be giving to others.

While taking care of a baby, she saw a medical clown in action.

“It was so moving to see what power this clown had in changing a child’s frown into a smile and how miraculous it was to see how smiling and laughing can greatly improve the well-being of a sick patient.”

It was then and there that she decided this was what she wanted to do. That very evening she registered with Simchat HaLev, Israel’s Medical Clown Association. Their mission statement is to light up those who are ill, to bring joy and hope to sick children, senior citizens and everyone around.  In addition to training and supporting their clowns, Simchat LaLev has volunteers to accompany ER patients and they offer a number of educational programs.

Rina, the second of seven children, had grown up in Kiryat Arba, a community in the Judean mountains. She was active in her youth group of forty girls. Her father served on the first response security team and she always felt safe. Despite this, Rina states she lacked self-confidence.

That lack was exacerbated by her family’s move to Ariel, a growing community in Samaria, when she was entering ninth grade. They joined the Netzirim community, a group of former Gush Katif residents who’d been evicted from their homes in 2005, seven years earlier, in the Israeli government’s misguided quest for peace. Instead of forty girls her age there were only about a dozen. All of them had known each other for years and were still sharing the trauma of The Disengagement. It was hard for Rina to join in but she managed to become part of the group. Today, these girls are her best friends but it was the clown course that truly changed her life.

Hard at work, Rina adds joy to many patients, with her fellow medical clowns.

In order to be a good clown, Rina claims, she had to work on herself and get rid of her ego. She needed to develop her sensitivity, know how to size up a situation quickly, be non-judgmental, and let her imagination guide her to places she’d never been.

“I’m not perfect, but my self-confidence definitely grew as I learnt more of the techniques in clowning.”

After six months of learning it was time for her to begin her work as an intern. Apprehensive, she entered the room of a man in his forties, bedridden in rehabilitation, only able to move his eyes and mouth. With pantomime she used a ball and rope to entertain him. Towards the end of the session the man’s relative entered the room. With tears in his eyes, he told Rina that this was the first time in three months that his cousin had smiled. Gone were Rina’s apprehensions. She left the hospital beaming and certain that she could succeed in helping others by being a medical clown.

Enjoying the beautiful view near her home in the hills of Samaria.

Clowns, laughter, and happiness are central themes of the holiday of Purim, celebrated today, on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (March 10, 2020). This holiday commemorates the downfall of the evil Haman and the failure of his “Final Solution” in Persia centuries ago.

“Precisely because the threat was so serious, you refuse to be serious – and in that refusal you are doing something very serious indeed. You are denying your enemies a victory.”  [Explained by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain.]

Rina knows first-hand about denying her enemies a victory. Living in Judea and Samaria, terror attacks were part of her reality. Yet, she maintains that the land she’s living on is the land of the Jewish people and we have a right to be here.

One of her first patients after she’d finished interning was a twenty-year-old terror victim. Rina and her co-volunteer were warned that the woman didn’t like clowns but they refused to be daunted. Carefully they asked her what her dream was. The woman’s response was simple and direct: to go home. It took the two volunteers just a couple of seconds to come up with a plan. Using balloons they built a model house and coaxed the patient inside to help decorate it. Two and a half hours later they left the terror victim reconciled to staying in the hospital for as long as she needed to be there. Rina was eventually invited to the Meal of Thanksgiving that the family hosted when the patient was finally well enough to return to her normal life.

When asked if she has a favourite Biblical verse, Rina doesn’t hesitate and quotes from King Solomon’s Woman of Valour.

“Many women have done well but you surpass them all.”

Rina (on the left) on an outing with a friend, enjoying the Samarian mountains.

She explains that everyone has to recognize their merits without arrogance. It’s her goal to be the best clown she can possibly be. To help those who are bent over to straighten up, those in pain to overcome their discomfort, those paralyzed with fright to be able to move again.

For Rina the finest mask she can wear is the red nose. That nose changes everything and yet, Rina is still Rina. Using her merits, her imagination, and her sensitivity, along with the nose, her goal is to be a doctor for the soul of the sick and injured. It’s a goal that has her skipping towards the hospital every week.

(Ester Katz Silvers is also the author of Growing With My Cousin, a gripping novel available at Jewish bookstores everywhere or on MOSAICAPRESS.COM/GROWING-WITH-MY-COUSIN/. From grandparents to grandchildren, this moving story connects the past, present and future.)