The man who has been at the helm of Camp Simcha for the past 18 years, turning it from “a kitchen table charity” to an organisation which serves 1,500 people a year, has announced that he will be stepping down.
Neville Goldschneider, the charity’s CEO, will be retiring from his role when he makes aliyah next year.
Under his guidance, the charity has grown to provide over 20 practical, emotional and therapeutic support services for children with serious illnesses and their families.
Goldschneider told the JC that, most of all, he would miss “the shared sense of mission” among the charity’s staff.
Asked what his favourite memories were, the 61-year-old talked about the residential family retreats which were started under his leadership. “These are life-changing and are part of being in the Camp Simcha family. During Covid, we were meeting on Zoom, but families were desperate to meet again in person.”
Describing Camp Simcha as “a community of support”, he said: “When someone gets a diagnosis that a child is very, very ill, it can be very isolating even if you get a lot of support from family and friends. In the centre of all of it is a parent or carer who feel that no one really gets it. At Camp Simcha, parents and carers find that everyone gets it because they have all been through it.”
Another service which Goldschneider spearheaded was to support families with children who were struggling with their mental health. “We were finding that within families we were already working with, there were children with mental health issues.”
“The service took two years to develop. We ran an 18-month pilot project and created something very special.”
Camp Simcha CEO Neville Goldschneider with one of the children the charity supports (Camp Simcha)
What differentiated Camp Simcha from other charities was, said Goldschneider, its “whole family approach”, explaining: “We don’t start by helping the individual and then the family around them, but we help the family in order to help the individual. We do an awful lot with siblings of a very sick child.”
Paying tribute to the donors who have supported Camp Simcha over the years, Goldschneider said that he remembered how “the community wrapped its arms around us” during lockdown when an online match-funding campaign in 2021 raised £3m from 22,000 donations. “It wasn’t just about the money though. It was about the sense that we had created something here."
Goldschneider noted that this was how “Israeli charities are feeling now. They are really feeling the warmth of the community around them now, trying to help them do what they do."
For its part, Camp Simcha has offered its support to Israeli families who have come here with very sick children to escape the war.
On his decision to make aliyah, Goldschneider, whose son and grandsons live in Israel, said he was “very inspired by a visit to Israel a few years ago when I went to visit my son at his yeshiva, which overlooked the Kotel”.
Rather than deterring him, the terrorist attacks and the outbreak of war have made him and his wife even more determined to make the move. “People ask me: ‘Are you really sure you want to go?’ I say: ‘Yes, now more than ever.’”
But Goldschneider is “not the kind of person to sit on a beach”. His plan is “to semi-retire and find a way to use the skills I’ve picked up and give back there or here”.
Asked what the secret to his successful leadership had been, with characteristic modesty, Goldschneider said that he came in “with a vision that no child would have to suffer with serious illness without us. That has been our vision day in, day out, and 18 years on, that’s still the vision”.
Meir Plancey, who founded Camp Simcha in 1995 with his wife, Rachely, said: “Neville will be moving on, knowing that he has changed and helped the lives of thousands of families over the years. Rachely and I are truly indebted to Neville for keeping true to our vision for the past 18-plus years.”
Camp Simcha chair of trustees, Simon Johnson, said: “I applaud Neville’s decision to make aliyah and be with his family, but it is most definitely the end of an era for Camp Simcha. He has embodied Camp Simcha, its values and ethos for so long that it will be odd not to have him at the helm.
“He has built on the goals and mission of Rachely and Meir Plancey and has kept Camp Simcha as a family which ensures that no seriously ill child should have to cope without our support.”
Mr Johnson added that the trustees would now form a committee to determine the process of recruiting a new chief executive “and ensuring the very smoothest transition”.