By Sergio Carmona
There wasn’t a dry-eye during Miami Jewish Heath Systems’ annual holiday party that hosted 29 children impacted by the Haiti earthquake earlier this year. The children, ranging from sixth months to 14 years of age, celebrated their first Christmas since the tragedy with music, dancing with Miami Heat mascot Burnie and receiving donated toys that they wished for.
“I’m just so overwhelmed,” said Leslee Geller, MJHS’ director of hotel services and admissions who planned the party. “This is part of the Ten Commandments — to treat others like you want to be treated. We always had parties growing up and this is what we want to give back to these children.”
Since MJHS is a Jewish organization, there was no Christmas tree or nativity scene at the party.
“We’re a Jewish organization and we don’t celebrate Christmas here,” Geller said. “We had a huge Hanukkah celebration in the Cypen Towers where 98 percent of the residents are Jewish but just because you’re a Jewish organization and you don’t do Christmas doesn’t mean you can’t do it for someone else and that’s exactly what I felt because I’ve worked for this organization for 30 years and I drive in this neighborhood [Little Haiti] and I see the people here and they don’t have very much and then the earthquake hit and now they have less and since these kids are in a new country celebrating their first Christmas since the disaster, I asked, ‘what can we do for them?'”
The home’s staff and Jewish residents participated in the party by helping out. Guests Burnie and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado joined the staff and residents and children’s families in passing out the donated toys. All the children received toys that they wished for.
“After the earthquake, many children were suffering and what the Jewish home is doing is they’re continuing to reach out to the community,” Regalado said. “This is not an isolated agency or business. This is in the middle of Little Haiti and they understand that they are part of the community all year round and they reach out to the community.”
The home collected the toys in a toy drive it hosted earlier this month and the remaining ones were sent to Haiti just in time for Christmas. The home also approached Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in Miami to find the children for the party.
“We have people who give to us and this is our opportunity to give back to the community that we serve, that we work in and that we live in,” Geller said.
Karine Auguste, director of community involvement programs & media relations for Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center, said “We are so happy and we want to thank Miami Jewish Health Systems for the gifts that they are giving to those kids. We are more than happy for them.”