As a retiree, Larry Maltin believes in “meaningful activity” as a way to occupy his free time.
“Save a Child’s Heart is the most meaningful activity for me of the things that I do as a retiree in giving back,” he said. “Save a Child’s Heart is my main effort.”
Maltin, along with Arie Cohen, are the co-chairs of the greater Philadelphia chapter of Save a Child’s Heart, or SACH, an organization based in Holon, Israel that provides free lifesaving cardiac surgeries for children from developing countries.
The doctors are all volunteers at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, and they bring children into Israel with their families for surgeries.
It costs about $15,000 for one child to go through heart surgery at SACH. Since its founding in 1995, SACH has saved 4,000 children from 50 different countries, accepting children regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality or financial status.
Doctors also go on mission trips three times a year to developing countries like Tanzania, Ethiopia, Romania and China to do procedures, arrange for kids to come to Israel and also train other physicians.
That is the basis of the independent documentary, A Heartbeat Away, which will be shown at the Gratz College Theater on Oct. 29.
Maltin and Cohen hope the film will spread more awareness for the organization.
Maltin lived in Israel for about 10 years, but he had only just briefly heard about SACH at the time.
When he moved back to the States, his grandson had his Bar Mitzvah, and he suggested his Bar Mitzvah project go toward SACH.
They traveled to Israel for the ceremony, which was also a chance to present a check to SACH and take a tour of the facility.
“It blew us away — just the children and the work they were doing and the connection that we have not really had before,” he recalled. “And then we were able to visit Wolfson Hospital and see the actual work and meet some of the doctors. It made such a strong impression on us.”
Maltin’s family continued to contribute each year since, but a conversation with Cohen changed his level of involvement.
Maltin informed Cohen of SACH, and “we both kind of agreed rather than just writing a check each year, we wanted to be more involved in raising the awareness about Save a Child’s Heart and of the humanitarian work that they do and the lives they save.”
They set up a local chapter and later attended an event by the active SACH chapter in New York, where they also met Dr. Lior Sasson, the lead cardiac surgeon for SACH.
“It had such an impact on us, we said, ‘OK, now we need to go back and be serious about working to increase the awareness in Philadelphia,’” Maltin said.
Cohen said he knew the organization was something to be proud of when he saw that members of the honorary board included several U.S. ambassadors and Elie Wiesel.
“For me, it was probably the best tikkun olam project that I’ve been exposed to,” Cohen said, who is originally from Holon.
Cohen reached out to the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia to screen the documentary, and he hopes it will be “a vehicle to really bring more people into it.”
“It’s wonderful work that Israelis do,” Cohen said. “Israel cares about the rest of the world.”
Tal Barda, director of A Heartbeat Away, said she was actually put on the project last minute.
About two days before the doctors were heading to Tanzania for a mission trip, Barda got a call that the original director could no longer go, so she jumped onboard, not even fully sure what the film was about.
But seeing the organization’s work firsthand, the message became clear.
“The film is about, of course, saving children, and so I think it’s a lot about doing something in life and being active and trying to do as much as one can do — any kind of category or area of life, but living a meaningful life and knowing anything one can do for others can be a really big change,” Barda said.
The documentary explores the thin line between life and death and the people behind it who are working day and night.
“They are doing such an incredible job behind the scenes that the film is somehow allowing a glance behind the scenes,” she added. “There are things that we don’t have control [over] and aren’t written in the medical books.”
Maltin said the local chapter is continuing to spread awareness, plan events and increase its outreach throughout the region.
“We really see this as important not only in terms of what we can do in Philadelphia but as a worldwide organization to improve the humanitarian image of what Israel does to save children. We do our small part in increasing awareness in the regional area,” he said. “We really saw that by what we’re trying to do that we could have an impact.
“For me, Save a Child’s Heart became emblematic of what Israel is and should be about, and it’s the kind of image that I want to talk about to people when I talk about Israel and what Israel does for others, especially people in developing countries who otherwise would have no chance at life.”
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