On July 20, 2010, my life was turned upside down by a diagnosis, out of the blue, of breast cancer. I will never forget the feeling of complete devastation upon hearing the news that day. I had been fasting, as it was Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. A day of mourning, 9 Av is the saddest day of the Jewish year, marking the destruction of Jerusalem (twice,) as well as other calamities (pogroms, expulsions, wars, etc.) that have befallen Jews throughout history, on this date. Collective sadness became deeply personal as I suddenly faced my own mortality.
As Tisha B’Av approaches this year (Sunday, August 14, beginning at sundown the night before,) I am grateful to be celebrating six years of health since that fateful day. Another year of watching children become adults, of love and personal and professional fulfillment. Another year (our fifth anniversary!) of turning lemons into lemonade at the Lemonade Fund, https://lemonadefund.org/movie-what-the-lemonade-fund-does/, providing grants to Israeli breast cancer patients who are in financial crisis. Nothing but pure gratitude for the gift of life and the ability to move forward.
It is easy to see the parallel between recovery from a serious illness and the fast of Tisha B’Av. How do we as a people rebuild, and even improve, after near total destruction? Every year I now feel graced to find a message of hope on this saddest of days. It comes this year care of my mother, Vera Greenwald, z.l.
My mother died suddenly of a massive stroke, in February, at the age of 78, at the height of her career, and if ever there was a tale of rising from the ashes, it was hers. Her life story is one of miracles, survival and rebirth.
My mother was born in Presov, a city in eastern Czechoslovakia that had an active Jewish community of about 8000. Once the war began, her parents had the foresight to begin to run early on, while many were sitting tight. While they were waiting for false papers, my grandmother had a way of hiding in plain sight. It was known that the Nazis worked on a schedule, that they had specific hours when they’d enter the city to round up Jews. My grandmother would take my mother early each morning to Kosice, the next town, and they’d wait in the high reeds by the river all day, only to return each evening after the Nazis had left.
Once this became untenable, they began to run in earnest. One time, while hiding in the house of a righteous Gentile, my very young mother was told to keep completely silent for hours, beneath a pile of potatoes, while the Nazi’s banged their guns and shouted, hunting for Jews. My mother has a memory of clasping her hands together, and promising God over and over again, that if she survived, she would even eat barley soup that she despised.
Eventually hiding in houses became too dangerous and there was no where to go but into hiding in the forests, where my mother and her parents lived with a small group of Jews. They lived in primitive wooden bunkers, 12 people in one, and 17 in the other. Many times they were near death from starvation, living on nothing but rose hips, or foraged greens boiled in melted snow, only to find food one way or another. Many times they couldn’t light fires for fear of the smoke being seen, and it is a miracle that they didn’t freeze to death in the winter months.
Another time, a Russian soldier warned them to disperse, to flee, moments before the Nazis came and found their bunker and razed it to the ground. My mother and her parents hid behind one tree, silently, for a long time, in the bitter cold, while the Nazi’s scoured the woods. They watched as other families were found, just meters away from where they hid. Yet in daylight, in a winter forest with no leaves, they were not caught. My grandmother told of the family scurrying up a sheer ice-covered cliff, at night. She remembered that they all had bloody knees by the time they reached the top. She said that she never knew how they were able to climb that mountain, in the cold and dark. My mother was a very young child at the time.
Somehow those who survived this attack, rebuilt the bunkers, much deeper in the woods. My mother remembers Passover seders in the bunker. My grandfather kept track of the calendar with a match on the wall and recited the Haggadah, the Passover story, by heart. As the end of the war was nearing this small band of Jews were so close to starvation that they decided to risk their lives to venture to the nearest village to get food. They had one valuable watch remaining, to use as a bribe. At the last moment my grandfather and the other men were given a sign that they were falling into a trap and they turned back. Days later they were liberated.
Their family was almost completely wiped out and there was no home to which to return. Very few Slovakian Jewish children survived the war. In post-war Prague, where my mother and her parents lived for two years after the war, no one believed my mother’s story of survival. They said it was impossible, that no children her age survived. She would tell them that she was saved by a miracle.
In the years that followed, my mother and her parents were fortunate to build a new life, near my grandfather’s sister, in America. In 1959, my mother met the man of her dreams, my father, and thus began a love affair that was to last 53 years, until my father passed away. They had children, grandchildren and careers. My mother was a brilliant businesswoman, working until the day she died. She was dazzling and a bundle of energy. She was also loving, kind and charitable. In her last years, as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindled, she took it upon herself to speak to groups of young people at public schools about her wartime experiences. She began each talk with this sentence,
“YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK.”
The Talmud (Rosh Hashannah, 18B,) states that, “at a time when there is peace, they (the fast days) shall be transformed into days of joy and happiness.” In honor of the memory of my wonderful mother, Vera Greenwald, z.l., let us try harder than ever this Tisha B’Av to work on reconstruction. On building a society that is more cohesive, unified and at peace. One that is just and kind. That is inclusive rather than rejecting; one that reaches out to others who are different than us. Let us help those who are more unfortunate in a way that preserves their dignity. Let us be concerned about the welfare of those living within our borders. Let us avoid senseless hatred. In deference to those who survived and rebuilt their lives, let us heal the rifts that divide us. We are stronger than we think. Just as the body can heal, societies, too, can be repaired.
In honor of our parents, my brothers, Joel and Daniel Greenwald, and I, are inaugurating the Martin and Vera Greenwald Memorial Lemonade Fund. Throughout their lives our parents were charitable to those in need and showed deep compassion for those who were ill. And they loved Israel. After it was founded, in 2011, our parents were proud supporters of the Lemonade Fund. Though they never had breast cancer, they had a daughter who had had it, and they saw the anguish that accompanies the disease. They were sensitive to the need for an Israeli emergency financial relief fund for indigent Israeli breast cancer patients.
To donate to the Lemonade Fund:
Wishing everyone an easy fast and years of good health and peace.
We at the Lemonade Fund often see how cancer can devastate a family financially in no time. E., a 73 year old Russian immigrant, lives with her unmarried daughter in a small apartment in a development town in the south. Until E. was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, the salary from the daughter’s factory job supported the two women. Subsequently, E.’s daughter lost so much time from work caring for her mother, accompanying her to doctor appointments and treatments, that the family slid into financial crisis. Despite assistance from Bituach Leumi, (National Health Insurance,) eviction was a possibility. The Lemonade Fund awarded E. a generous grant, and E. and her daughter can breathe again and turn their focus back to E. and her health. We are, as ever, grateful to all of our donors, who help us make this kind of assistance possible.
To donate: https://lemonadefund.org/to-donate/
M. and her husband, a gentle couple in their mid-sixties, recently made aliyah from South America. Despite their limited Hebrew, they found jobs and were doing well. Within the last year, M.’s husband was laid off from his job and M. discovered a lump and was diagnosed with breast cancer. Due to the side effects of chemotherapy, M. cannot work and the couple is now living solely on M.’s husband’s unemployment benefits. They’ve slid from solvency to financial crisis and they are feeling desperate. The Lemonade Fund was created for just such situations – and a Lemonade Fund grant was awarded to help tide them over and alleviate M.’s financial stress so she can focus on getting well.
H. has had a hard life by any standards. Yet she is proud and not accustomed to asking for help. She is a widow, living alone in the center of the country, suffering from mental illness and now breast cancer. She was orphaned at the age of 5 and was subsequently raised by various adults who mistreated her. When she was 29, her husband was killed in a car accident, leaving her to raise her two young children alone. She continued to work and support herself even after a diagnosis of schizophrenia. She has helped her daughter, who was also diagnosed with cancer, as a young mother. H. lives in a dilapidated flat without an elevator and is now quite ill from her treatments. She needs help with shopping, cooking and cleaning while she is so weak, but she has no extra money. Her social worker urged her to apply to the Lemonade Fund, and we were happy to award H. a grant to pay for some extra help. We wish H. (and her daughter,) a full recovery.
To donate to the Lemonade Fund: https://lemonadefund.org/to-donate/
Even among the hardship cases at the Lemonade Fund, N.’s case stands out. N. is a divorced mother of five from the south. Her youngest son committed suicide during his army service. She has two severely mentally handicapped children. One daughter is a widow with four young children, and another child was taken in by a foster family when N. could no longer cope. The family has never had an easy time financially and when N. was first diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in 2012, she was awarded a Lemonade Fund grant. This month we received a second application from N.’s social worker saying that N.’s breast cancer had returned and is now Stage 4. The Lemonade Fund gives one-time grants but sees recurrences as new disease as patients must undergo treatment again. N.’s widowed daughter tries to help her mother as much as she can, but she is struggling herself. Thanks to your contributions, the Lemonade Fund awarded N. a generous grant. This grant will help N. and her children. N.’s social worker reported that she called to tell N. that the Lemonade Fund was helping her again, and N. cried and said that this will be a good Passover holiday thanks to “Keren Limonana.”
To donate to the Lemonade Fund:
Thank you very much!
G. and her husband, a couple in their mid 50’s, from northern Israel, were living an average Israeli life. Married, with 2 adult children, they were doing well until illness struck. Recently, G.’s husband was diagnosed with a psychiatric problem that rendered him unfit to work. As a result, G., developed stress-related disorders, such as diabetes and heart problems, followed by a breast cancer diagnosis. She is now getting chemotherapy and neither spouse can work. They are barely making ends meet on their disability benefits, and they’ve gone into debt. Their financial situation is causing both G. and her husband, enormous stress, and their case was referred to the Lemonade Fund by G.’s social worker. It is important to note that many of our grant recipients recover from their illnesses and go on to rebuild their lives, financially. The Lemonade Fund was created to help alleviate crushing economic pressure that can hit even formerly solvent families as a result of a breast cancer diagnosis. It is our privilege to help.
One of the ways we express joy and gratitude on the upcoming holiday of Purim is through ‘matanot l’evyonim,’ helping the poor. Please consider a donation to the Lemonade Fund as your ‘matana l’evyonim,’ this Purim. Thank you.
(This month’s Profile is dedicated in memory of Vera Greenwald, a staunch supporter of the Lemonade Fund.)
Lemon Poppyseed Hamentashen Recipe
Ingredients & Quantities
- 1/2 cup (4 oz) natural margarine, cut into 8 pieces
- 1/2 cup (4 oz) shortening, cut into 8 pieces
- 3 cups (13.5 oz, 380 g) flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup (7.5 oz) sugar
- 2 ounces almond paste, crumbled into small pieces
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 3/4 cup poppy seeds
- 2 beaten eggs
- 2-4 Tablespoons ice water
- 1 egg + 1 Tablespoon water, lightly beaten
- lemon curd for filling (see below for recipe)
Meyer Lemon Curd
- grated zest of 4 meyer lemons
- 3/4 cup fresh meyer lemon juice
- 3 yolks and 3 whole eggs
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 1/4 cup (9.5 oz) sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil
Pulse the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, almond paste and lemon zest in the food processor until well combined. Add the poppy seeds and pulse to combine. Add the margarine and shortening and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the beaten eggs and pulse until combined.
Remove the mixture from the food processor and pour it into a large bowl. Sprinkle with two tablespoons of ice water and mix until it comes together into a ball. If the dough seems dry add the remaining water juice.
Divide the dough in half and roll each piece out between two sheets of lightly floured parchment paper. Stack the dough, with parchment attached, on a large cookie sheet and chill for at least 30 minutes, or until firm.
Remove dough from the refrigerator and cut into circles using a round cutter or the mouth of a drinking glass. Fill each circle with a small amount of filling. (For 2 inch circles use about a teaspoon of filling). Brush each circle with the egg wash and fold two sides together, pinching tight to make a corner. Fold up the remaining side to make a triangle with the filling showing in the middle and pinch the other two corners well. It is important that they are well pinched, so that they do not come open in the oven.
Bake at 350 until they are slightly firm to the touch, about 11 minutes.
Meyer Lemon Curd
Combine all the ingredients except oil in a saucepan. Whisk to combine. Cook, stirring constantly over medium-heat, until the curd thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the mixture and stir in the oil. Place in the refrigerator to chill for 1-2 hours or until set. (Can be made up to 3 days ahead. Keep covered in the refrigerator.)
L. is a 39 year old divorcee, living in the center of the country with her 15 year old disabled daughter. L. came to Israel with her aunt in 1990 as part Operation Moses, the Ethiopian aliya. She worked as a dental nurse until 2011 when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. L. has been unable to work since then due to the side effects of strong chemotherapy treatments. She receives disability payments for herself and her daughter, however, this covers bare necessities. The Lemonade Fund awarded L. a grant to help her with additional non-medical expenses that accompany a serious illness.
H., 45, married and the mother of 3 children, ages 4, 18 and 21, had a nervous breakdown after she completed treatment for breast cancer last year. Her husband had been recovering from a stroke when she was diagnosed, and she became the primary breadwinner. As she was completing treatment, her husband was diagnosed with cancer. This was simply too much for H. and she went into a deep depression, unable to work or function. Help from extended family is unavailable and the care of the house and their younger sibling fell to the two older sisters. H. is slowly recovering, but the family is in dire financial straits following this crisis. The Lemonade Fund has stepped in to help this family get back on their feet.
The number of applications to the Lemonade Fund is increasing and we need your help. All donations are tax deductible. To Donate to the Lemonade Fund from Israel or abroad: https://lemonadefund.org/to-donate/
Larissa, 64, died on Tuesday. Though this is very sad, the last months of her life were made sweeter through the efforts of an extraordinary group of people; volunteers who had never met her before she became very ill. Here is her story and their story.
Larissa applied to the Lemonade Fund after she was diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer that had advanced to Stage 4. She was a former English teacher who had fallen on hard times. To make matters worse, she lived alone in an apartment with her adult son who is schizophrenic, and they were growing desperately poor. Larissa was awarded a Lemonade Fund grant to help tide her over while she was getting treatments.
The Lemonade Fund is based in Raanana, a sleepy northern suburb of Tel Aviv, and we work closely with the Meir Hospital Breast Center in neighboring Kfar Sava. On occasion, social workers from the Breast Center have alerted us to patients who are so ill that they can use assistance with meal preparation. We spread the word and in no time an amazing group of volunteers, from Raanana and Netanya sign up to deliver home-cooked meals to patients every Friday. Larissa was such a patient for several months.
Several weeks ago, Larissa’s social worker phoned to say that her health had deteriorated. She said that Larissa had little local family or social support and that it was getting increasingly difficult for her to shop and cook for herself. The social worker meekly asked if there was any way that the amazing group of volunteers could provide meals more often than once a week for her. The group was asked and within one hour (!) volunteers pledged to prepare meals every day.
It’s important to note that delivering meals to Larissa was no easy task. She lived in a third floor walk-up, in a building undergoing massive renovations. Getting to the apartment meant finding parking between cement mixers, navigating muddy paths to a hidden entrance and climbing the three dark flights to Larissa’s not very tidy sick room.
But once there, visitors were greeted to a tiny smiling sprite in bed with eyes that sparkled and genuine wit. She preferred English to Hebrew (a nice break for many of the immigrant Anglo-Saxon volunteers) and she seemed as happy with the visits as with the food delivery. (She appreciated day-old copies of the Jerusalem Post, to practice her English, until she got as fed up with current events as the rest of us.) After a time, as harsh chemotherapy treatments impacted her appetite, Larissa politely asked for increasingly simple foods, until broth was all she wanted. And blueberries. Which don’t grow in Israel. Larissa never lost hope, and she had read that blueberries could help her. Our intrepid volunteers didn’t let fruit unavailability deter them. Larissa got frozen blueberries almost daily in those last few weeks.
The amazing volunteers didn’t just deliver food. They looked around and decided that Larissa needed more help, and they cleaned, washed dishes, did laundry, changed her sheets, transported her to and from treatments, and on and on. When walking became difficult, Larissa asked if there was a way to get her a walker. Word went out to the amazing volunteers and within a day, several were offered. Someone picked one up and delivered it. Larissa smiled brightly, newly mobile.
Larissa was hospitalized on Sunday, moved to hospice on Thursday, and she died this past Tuesday. Amazing volunteers visited her in the hospital and in hospice, as if they were family. Children of a volunteer drew pictures for her. One of Larissa’s most fervent wishes was to be at home as long as possible in order to be near her son. She was at home until the last week of her illness. This clearly would have been impossible without the assistance of her ‘staff’ of amazing volunteers.
How often, in life, do we get to impact the life of another person, a stranger yet, in such a powerful way? Not a single volunteer ever asked for thanks or recognition. Nor did they ever ask about Larissa’s background, her religion, her marital status, her politics, etc. But it wouldn’t have mattered. What the amazing volunteers saw was another human in need, and the call was answered.
Words fail. Instead of seeking appreciation, the volunteers expressed gratitude for having had the opportunity to help. And they are correct that we are made better for giving, and we are richer for having known Larissa, a woman full of grace.
But just the same, thanks are in order. Thank You.
F. is a 50 year old woman from central Israel who hasn’t had an easy life. For years, she’s been the family breadwinner as her husband is unemployed and her son is 100% disabled by schizophrenia. She cleaned offices, often working 13 hour days until recently, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, F. is unable to work while she is getting chemotherapy due to the side effects. She had suffered from depression, and the treatment, surgery and loss of hair have only increased her despondence. She is also under extreme financial pressure as her sick pay will soon run out and she and her family will have disability payments as their only source of income. A cushion to get through this difficult period can make all the difference and the Lemonade Fund awarded F. a grant. We wish her a speedy recovery.
To Donate: https://lemonadefund.org/to-donate/
- N., 34 years old, diagnosed with advanced breast cancer while pregnant with her third child. N. gave birth, but has been and will be hospitalized for while. Husband needs to hire a mitapelet (babysitter) to help him care for the infant and other two children so that he can work. Extended family and husband have used up all of their work vacation days and extra funds. N.’s Social Worker is appealing to the Lemonade Fund to help this family.
- K., 42, is a divorced mother of three children, a victim of domestic violence. Despite this, she had worked hard in the last few years since leaving her husband, to start a new life. She took out a loan to go back to school, but was then diagnosed with breast cancer and couldn’t work or stay in school through the treatments. She is the sole support for herself and her children and is now in severe financial distress. The Lemonade Fund will help her get through this difficult period.
- A., 32 years old, lives in a large village in the Galil, far from the hospital where she is being treated for stage 4 breast cancer. In addition, her young son was recently diagnosed with leukemia and he is being treated in a separate hospital. Though her husband and family are very supportive, the travel costs for her treatments are significant. The formerly solvent family is being pushed to the limit by the auxilliary costs of these serious illnesses. A.’s Social Worker submitted an application to the Lemonade Fund for help with transporation costs, NIS 2500.
Three examples of current need at the Lemonade Fund. Many others as well. All donations are tax deductible, in Israel or the US. Thank you.