After the accident at Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant in 1986, which left mass and long-term devastation in its wake, it became apparent that children were developing health problems as a result of the radiation. Shortly after, my wife and I were approached by the Spielberg Katz family to bring awareness of these health problems to the outlying community. After returning from a friend’s wedding in Israel I was introduced to the horrors these children were facing, and as a father and human, it broke my heart.
Seldom do I find an opportunity that will benefit so directly from my family’s philanthropy, but Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl, founded in 1990 by Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, offered medical and health attention immediately through our contribution. The organization is a special one worthy of continued attention, even (and especially) 30 years after the catastrophe.
To understand why COC is so important, you first should understand the incident and its impact. It happened on April 26, 1986, an explosion of unprecedented scope with ramifications continuing unabated decades after the fact. Following, 126 different radioisotopes were released into the atmosphere with half-lives that still have impact. For an idea on its intensity, the radiation intensity at Chernobyl was 100 times greater than the radiation generated by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in WWII.
The thirty-kilometer circumference around Chernobyl has become a “dead zone.” The toll on humans and the environment has enormous ramifications. Though considered too dangerous, to inhabit, thousands still live in the region of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus touched by the disaster. This area was once known as the Jewish Pale of Settlement.
The poisoned ground covers up to 60 square miles of farmland, which will be contaminated for decades to come by slow-decaying radioactive particles. These pose serious short-term and long-term issues to people, animals and crops; in fact, chemistry professor James Warf, from the University of Southern California, said ”I wouldn’t be surprised if the immediate area has to be evacuated for generations.”
Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl is the only organization in the world that brings children out of contaminated areas permanently. The goal of this group has been to rescue the children of Chernobyl and relocate them in Israel, where they are cared for as they embark on their new journey.
The first of such recures happened on August 3, 1990, when 196 children were flown to Israel and brought to the CCOC campus, since which time thousands more have been received. These children are given housing, education and medical care in a supportive and loving environment.
Even so, there are some children who cannot leave the Chernobyl region for various reasons. CCOC assists these children as well by sending medicine, medical equipment, therapeutic aids and more to the contaminates spaces. CCOC also trains local physicians to treat radiation-induced illnesses. The organization has even built a mammography clinic, which can help combat high rates of breast cancer in the region.
Now that it has been 30 years, the original children of Chernobyl have grown up, but many still remain, born after the disaster but somehow, right into it. Radiation leaks into the water, soil, and milk, crops, and meat, meaning food and drink sources remain contaminated with little hope for improvement. This radiation attacks developing cells, damaging tissues, organs and bones leaving children vulnerable to thyroid cancer, heart disease, genetic defects and weak immune systems. The pediatric cancer rate here is over 200 times the global average.
It’s important to understand that just because a disaster occurred 30 years ago, we don’t forget that it happened, those it impacted, or those it is still impacting — especially the children.
We are proud of our participation with the Children of Chernobyl, because we know that our philanthropy has resulted in first class medical aid for thousands. We’ll continue to support this worthy organization, and urge others to do the same.