Teenager drums up $18,000 to bring music to cancer sufferers

Jonah Orbach at the drums
Jonah Orbach at the drums

When keen drummer Jonah Orbach announced a ‘no presents’ policy for his bar mitvah, the 13-year-old began a fundraising effort that has resulted in the development of a music therapy program for cancer sufferers in Victoria. In just over a month Jonah’s idea – which has won the support of a number of prominent businesses and healthcare providers – will be launched as the Life’s Beat program and will begin its work at cancer service ONTrac at Peter Mac.


GENEROUS Bialik College musician Jonah Orbach has raised over $18,000 to develop a music therapy program for cancer sufferers in Victoria – thanks to his ‘no presents’ bar mitzvah policy.

 Thirteen-year-old Jonah said all he wanted to mark his coming of age in the Jewish faith was to give young cancer patients the gift of music.

“I knew I wanted to help people going through the trauma of cancer because it’s such a big problem. Music is a massive part of my life so I wanted to mix the two together,” keen drummer Jonah said.

“I realised that a lot of organisations collect funds for cancer. I thought that developing a program to actually make a difference to cancer patients everyday would be something unique. People would also know exactly where their donations were going.”

The result was the Life’s Beat musical therapy program, which has been put together in collaboration with ONTrac at Peter Mac, a cancer service for adolescents and young adults.

Jonah’s father, Nathan Orbach, said the cancer centre was surprised by his son’s proposition.

“Nobody had come to them with anything like this before. Peter Mac was shocked that a young boy requested something that should have been done years ago.”

Kate Thompson, manager of ONTrac at Peter Mac, said she was continually amazed by the humanity of young people towards their peers.

“Jonah’s commitment, spirit and compassion throughout the process has been inspirational to all of us in the ONTrac at Peter Mac team.”

The one-of-a-kind program will allow patients at Peter Mac to listen, compose, record, produce and share music during their journey with cancer.

While the donations to Life’s Beat came from a variety of benefactors, Jonah raised $3500 through his own work.

“He started a little business at school. He went to a confectionary wholesaler who sold him lollies at a remarkable price. He sold them at a profit and all the funds went to the program,” said Nathan.

Jonah and his father say they would not have achieved what they did without the help of social media.  While Twitter and Facebook were effective communication tools, it was the websites’ video that sparked attention from several organisations.

“The video of Jonah speaking about the program had such a profound impact on RMIT that they are coming on board by providing equipment and a range of other resources,” said Nathan.

“The Royal Melbourne and Royal Children’s Hospital have also contacted ONTrac at Peter Mac to offer guidance and perspectives for them to adopt.”

Nathan said the development of Life’s Beat exemplifies how powerful one person can be, despite their age.

 “It’s extraordinary that he started with nothing and made the program blossom into something. I’m proud that Jonah didn’t seek kudos for what he has done. His gratification is to see how the program can impact kids.”

Jonah hopes to one day speak with a patient who can say the music therapy program helped them through their journey with cancer.

Life’s Beat will be formally launched within the next four to six weeks.