In 2010, Tzvi Haber spent his summer as a counselor at Camp Simcha, a program for children with cancer and other illnesses, where each child is paired up with one counselor. Haber was paired with a boy with familial dysautonomia, a disorder that affects the nerve cells.
That summer was how Haber, 31, first got involved with Chai Lifeline, an international organization that supports children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, and which runs Camp Simcha. Haber returned to the camp the next summer and the one after that. He was involved with the camp for seven years, as a counselor and eventually as assistant head counselor.
Haber, 31, is now the director of Chai Lifeline’s mid-Atlantic chapter, which he founded in 2016.
Haber is from and lives in Pikesville, where he grew up going to Talmudical Academy and Congregation Shomrei Emunah. He went to Towson University. He now goes to Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim and is involved with the Young Leadership Council of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore and the Leadership Society of LifeBridge Health. He is pursuing an MBA at the University of Baltimore.
How did you come to be the director of the mid-Atlantic region of Chai Lifeline?
When I was in undergrad, I guess when I was 21, 22, there was no Chai Lifeline local chapter here in Baltimore. There was no Chai Lifeline official local office, and I actually wanted to be a doctor my whole life. My father is a physician, and I actually used to go make rounds with him. I used to go and visit his patients with him in Sinai Hospital. That was my journey from the world of visiting sick people, and as I got more involved with the nonprofit sector, I realized that there was no local chapter here designated to supporting Jewish families with sick children. With the help of so many people, in January of 2016, I founded the local Chai Lifeline mid-Atlantic office.
How does Chai Lifeline support families in the Baltimore area?
Chai Lifeline mid-Atlantic provides comprehensive support to Jewish families facing life-threatening or lifelong illnesses or diagnoses. From the moment the child is diagnosed until, God willing, the child is healthy, or God forbid, the child passes away, Chai Lifeline provides a holistic approach. We look at the child, the siblings and the parents and ultimately the community as well. For the child, we have an extensive, what we call, a case management department. … If the insurance company says, we’re not paying for this treatment, our social workers are the ones that get on the phone and fight it out with the insurance companies. A doctor’s office says they need to get them to a specialist and the specialist says they won’t be available for six months, Chai Lifeline leverages our relationships with local doctors and professional partnerships with hospitals to get patients in tomorrow.
Has the pandemic impacted the work you do?
The biggest impact has been the fact that we can no longer be in the hospitals. A big part of our families’ lives are spent in the hospital, and because of the pandemic, the hospital is closed to anyone not essential personnel.
What does Jewish identity mean to you?
As a member of the Jewish faith, and by extension the Jewish community, my Jewish identity means that I have, A, the capacity, and B, the responsibility to step up and impact my Jewish community and by extension this greater community and the world. Being Jewish is a call to arms for communal accountability and making an impact in your own way.