‘Lev Leytzan’ now 10 years on, recruits and trains medical clowns


They bring joy and laughter into a world of suffering and pain.

At age 10, the Five Towns-based “compassionate medical clowning” troupe called Lev Leytzan (Hebrew for “Heart of a Clown”) is launching its annual recruitment drive in October.

“We are a professional medical clown organization,” explained its founder and executive director, Neal Goldberg, Ph.D. “It’s a chesed organization with professional training.”

Training opportunities for teenagers will open this fall; older clowns will learn the ropes later in the year.

Two South Shore open houses are set for next month — in West Hempstead on Sunday, Oct. 13, and in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway on Sunday, Oct. 20.

Lev Leytzan has been clowning around at South Shore medical centers for years. Now it’s establishing Clowns on Rounds, to visit homebound patients and those recently discharged from the hospital.

The therapeutic clowns interact with patients empowering them to help ease their pain and discomfort by offering doses of playful engagement.

Potential clowns are screened and, if they are accepted into the program, complete 60 hours of training followed by supervision in their medical placements. The formal training and supervised rounds are by professional clowns. The training takes place in facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, said Noach Gordon, director of development of Lev Leytzan, and a resident of Woodmere who works as a marketing executive in Manhattan. He said that he does works with Lev Leytzan “pro bono — it’s a labor of love, a chesed.”

“The first stage is to understand the clinical role of the exercise of clowning with patients and what we are trying to accomplish,” said Gordon. “Then they get the training, the skill sets — that’s developed under supervision at institutions, hospitals, pediatric facilities, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.”

Goldberg pointed out that the costume is part of their training.

“The professional faculty guides them based on their character,” Goldberg explained. “It’s soft-based clowning and makeup. The imagery is transparent.”

“Lev Leytzan’s visits are not performance based,” noted Gordon. Goldberg concurred. “It’s interactive based,” he added. “They are engaging with medically frail human beings in a way that’s interactive and therapeutic to the family and patient, nurses, doctors and associated care givers.”

“It’s simple yet complex,” Goldberg continued. “It’s based on an improvisational model. One never knows what to expect. Their role is to transform the environment into something positive. It’s a real world situation. That’s why there is so much energy and time spent on training; they’re not doing birthday parties.

“Our medical clowns would not see two rooms alike. In one room they have to distract a child when an IV is being put in. In another room someone had a baby and received sad news. It’s not predictable. There are interventions, individually assessed and addressed.” Before the medical clowns enter the patients’ rooms the patients are somewhat educated as to what to expect, said Goldberg “We deal with that in a very skilled and compassionate way.”

Upon completion of the comprehensive training, the clown trainee is invited to join their professional medical clown troupe.

Lev Leytzan clowns visit a variety of facilities including South Nassau Communities Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, Saint Mary’s Hospital for Children and Winthrop-University Hospital.

The organization started in 2004. “I had been working in private practice with children and adults challenged with issues such as grief, trauma and sexual abuse,” said Goldberg, who has a background in clinical psychology and musical theater. He was trained as a medical clown as well and trained further with Cirque du Monde, the social action branch of Cirque du Soleil around the time of founding the organization. He said that they use circus to foster youth identity development.

The creation of Lev Leytzan was a way to unite his two interests, he said. As such he created an organization that “fosters youth and adult creative and expressive development while at the same time contributing to the betterment of lives of folks challenged with illness.

“This culminated with co-authoring a book around that time, ‘Saying Goodbye,’ whose main focus was on teaching teenagers and their families about death and aveilus (mourning). After writing a chapter addressing the question of what can we do to memorialize and create a legacy for one who died,” explained Goldberg, he wanted to find a way to “bring joy and happiness while alive and channel creativity and engage people in meaningful ways in places that are not fun or funny.”

“It has a profound impact on folks suffering from illness,” added Gordon.

The new project gearing up for the 10th anniversary, Clowns on Rounds, will be starting “immediately after Yom Tov” said Gordon. “It steers what we do right back into the Five Towns and Far Rockaway community.”

The clowns will be working with physicians in the area, getting referrals from doctors and bikur cholim (visiting the sick) organizations to visit patients who are stuck at home post surgery, children and the elderly homebound. “It’s for a one-on-one intervention. This project will be staffed by Lev Leytzan’s professional medical clowns. The ground work has been done and it is set to kick off next month.”

Goldberg estimated that Lev Leytzan has created 500 clowns. The recruitment drive is open to up to 35 male and 35 female medical clown trainees. The training sessions are held separately for girls and for boys. A percentage of the cost is covered by donations and part by tuition. It is a lifetime project, he said, not just an after school activity. The clowns visit local health facilities and also travel to work with patients in Europe and Israel.

For more information contact Dr. Neal Goldberg at 516-612-3264.