"If you can see these children's eyes when they hear their song -- they have tubes in their arms; they have oxygen to their face. They are small, they are hurting, and they hear their name and their song come out and such a smile comes to their face, a twinkle in their eye."
Such are the reactions to Songs of Love, explained Steve Rudoff, whose youth group at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck is helping to produce these poignant songs.
Songs of Love goes back to 1984, when John Beltzer and his twin brother, Julio, were trying to make it in the music business in New York. They met a woman with a wonderful voice and persuaded her to sing their song, Songs of Love .
A record producer heard the song and loved it, but while he hired the singer, he didn't hire the Beltzers. Julio, who was depressed, went home and committed suicide.
Grief-stricken, John tried to think of a way to keep his brother's memory alive. One day he was sitting on a park bench when a young girl joined him. They began to talk, and she told him about her life and that she was struggling with cancer. That night, he wrote a song about her.
He knew then what he could do to keep Julio's memory alive.
Since 1996, Beltzer has produced more than 1,500 songs for terminally and critically ill children all over the country. Volunteers help him every step of the way, including more than 300 songwriters and musicians, such as David Lee Roth, Ronnie Spector and Billy Joel.
Among these volunteers are the youths at Beth-El Zedeck, who recently shared the experiences they had while working on their first Songs of Love project.
Rudoff learned about it from Beltzer, whom he met at a conference. He took the idea home and presented it to the group, which immediately started work on the proj ect.
"It sounded like a fun thing to do," said Aliyah Rudoff, 17.
The Songs of Love process goes something like this:
A sick young person is identified, usually by one of the 80 hospitals that work with Beltzer.
A questionnaire is sent to his/her parents or siblings for information on such things as favorite activities and friends, which is returned to Beltzer, who writes an original song or assigns it to another songwriter.
The song is performed by professional musicians, and a cassette tape is made for the child. Songs of Love promises that from the time the profile is sent in, a professionally recorded song will be produced within 45 days.
The cassette with the song is presented to the child, along with a lyrics sheet. Ideally, the child is surprised, because the whole process is supposed to be a secret.
For their first song, the youths at Beth-El Zedeck participated in this process every step of the way. First, they worked with Riley Hospital for Children to help identify an ill child who might benefit from receiving a song in his or her honor.
A boy with hemophilia was identified, and the group set about to collect information from his family members. Then, with Beltzer, they helped to write a song in honor of the youth.
The song focused on the boy's favorite activities and people. Said Aliyah, "He likes riding his bike and playing video games, and he loves drawing."
While Beltzer produced the song in New York, the Beth-El Zedeck kids had a supporting role in Indianapolis. Gathered at a recording studio, they got to sing the chorus.
They think it turned out pretty well, too.
"I'm forever singing it. It's always in my head," said Aliyah.
They presented the song to the boy at St. Vincent Hospital. While he contained his emotions, the teens had trouble containing theirs.
"He didn't show the emotion that we were expecting. But his foster parents came up and said that he was really touched by it," said Aliyah.
"It was definitely an awakening because I had never met anyone who had to deal with that. After seeing him, I consider myself really lucky.''
Another youth group member, Scott Wides, 16, realized that the boy attended his school when he was well. "I kind of became closer with him," Scott said. "He's just a regular kid."
The youths keep working. They managed to raise $4,000 for the Songs of Love Foundation, which has a goal of recording its 2,000th song this year, and they are researching the next child who will receive a song.
"This is our first song, but we really hope to do some more," said Jennifer Sandock, 16.
"I hope that it does make them happy and just puts a little bit of hope in their eyes."
To learn more about this project or make a contribution, you can visit the Songs of Love Web site at http://www. songsoflove .org or contact Congregation Beth-El Zedeck Youth Group at 253- 3441 .