A Recipe for Hope: How a Group of Yeshiva University Students Will Revolutionize Cancer Recovery
Daniel Simkin was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma at age eight. He fought for his life against a stomach cancer that could have killed him. “Going through chemotherapy and not being able to go to school to learn with my friends was truly horrible,” he said; “it was as if my life was on pause for an entire year. When you go through an experience like that it makes you realize how important it is to take advantage of the life that was given to you.” After beating back cancer, Daniel sought to be active and eventually became a young entrepreneur, joining forces with his childhood friend Gabriel Feigel. Soon after came a second turning point for the young businessman. Daniel started to explain saying, “I worked with Gabriel to start a new business, and he taught me how to see life differently.” He paused and continued, “When Gabriel passed away I wanted to do something special for my friend, who inspired me.” Gabriel, Z”L passed away from a heart attack during their last week at Hebraica-Moral y Luces high school in Venezuela in 2008. This horrible tragedy left an indelible impression on Daniel, who wanted to create something fitting in memory of Gabriel, who had a unique talent for putting a smile on everyone's face.
Harnessing the power of “hope” instilled within him by his friend Gabriel, Daniel joined forces with nine other Yeshiva University students, with help from students at Moral y Luces Herzel Bialik College and the University of Syracuse to create a non-profit organization. The team spent hours and days researching, calling hospitals, and speaking to doctors, psychologists, and cancer survivors to find the best way to help cancer patients through the unspeakably difficult emotional and physical trauma of fighting cancer. This led to the creation of HopeBook. Ethan Wasserman, a member of the team, explained, “HopeBook is an interactive diary, designed to make things easier for cancer patients. It contains tips and exercises to help them feel physically better, and thought provoking questions to answer, and inspirational stories to show them that there exists the possibility of a brighter future.”
In addition to the book itself, a forum on the newly launched HopeBook website allows patients to share their stories and emotions, creating a supportive community around every individual. Daniel continued to explain, “When someone is stuck in a hospital, they can lose hope that they will never get married or have kids. The book and the website will help them through this.” This incredible initiative is targeted for young adults and will ensure that they do not feel alone. Daniel added that the main purpose of Hopebook is for healing; “when people feel hope and belonging, their chances of recovery skyrocket.”
Daniel, a dual math and business major at Sy Syms and Ethan, a recent Yeshiva College graduate who studied psychology and political science, met on a lobbying trip to Washington during their time at YU. When Daniel told Ethan about the HopeBook project, he did not need to try hard to convince him to join. Ethan explained, “I have a disabled sister, and I remember everyone would always come and help our family. This unbelievable project put me in the position where I could help others like they helped me.” Ethan was even more inspired to join the project after a family member told him that having a HopeBook would have made a huge difference in how she dealt with having cancer.
In order to receive funding and spread the idea, the HopeBook team went through TED, a popular non-profit ideas forum. “We won first place out of 150 ideas, and we got 18 minutes to speak to investors, and to get advice from successful business owners, nonprofits, and huge companies who can help us spread the word and get connections in April,” Daniel said. Daniel explained that the project was successful because the nine members worked as a team. Each member of the team was in charge of a different department: writing, publicizing, design, computing, social media integration and legal issues. “We learned about what we needed as we were doing it,” said Ethan. “The key is to never be afraid to ask people.” Another invaluable lesson they both learned was how to accept criticism. “When working together on a project it is not personal when people criticize you. Criticism is extremely important for growth and improvement,” Daniel said.
Daniel transformed the pain from losing his friend into positive energy dedicated to helping and inspiring others. “My friend Gabriel Feigel, used to cleverly use the first part of his last name, fe which means faith in Spanish. During student elections in our high school in Caracas, he ran for Student Council President, and his slogan was fe para todos, “faith to everyone.” “The main theme of the HopeBook project is from this slogan, and we aim to bring faith to everyone in need,” Daniel explained. “All of the time that we spent will be well worth it when we see the smiles on the faces of the young adults as they get their personal Hopebook.”
You can help HopeBook out! Make sure to like HopeBook on Facebook and share their pictures—spread the hope! Hopebook can be found online at www.hopebook.org