“I never thought I could get excited by hugging a teddy bear,” exclaims Ziva Nusinker, a 44-year-old Israeli mother of two who recently finished treatment for metastatic breast cancer.
Moments after the doctor explained that she will need regular check-ups and medication for the rest of her life, a volunteer “angel” in the hospital brought Nusinker a special stuffed bear that comes with hugging instructions.
It was a gift from the non-profit organization Healing Teddies (Dubonei Hachlama in Hebrew), a unique program now active in 27 Israeli hospitals.
Nusinker tells ISRAEL21c that hugging her bear at least three times a day, as per the instructions, has been life-changing. There’s nothing magical about the toy itself, she explains.
“Hugging the teddy reminds me to hug myself and to be thankful for my health, to stay positive and enjoy life. Without it, I would not be reminded three times a day to do that. I keep the teddy in my bed so I can hug it anytime of day or night. This gives me great strength.”
Healing Teddies has its roots in a fuzzy pink stuffed animal that 17-year-old Ilana Konstantinovsky gave her gravely ill mother in 2001. “I was so hopeful my mom would hug it, but she didn’t. And it broke my heart,” recalls the now 36-year-old Israeli woman.
Before Sophia Konstantinovsky passed away, however, she gave the bear back to her daughter and told her to hug it close. Then, Ilana understood. “I realized she didn’t want to get too attached to anything in the last weeks of her life. She left it for us as a legacy, something to hold onto.”
Ilana Konstantinovsky has built that legacy into Healing Teddies.
Since 2002, Healing Teddies has gifted about 37,000 teddy bears to cancer patients, trauma survivors and other hospital patients.