(Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, 1630, Rembrandt van Rijn)
Five years ago, on July 20, 2010, which coincided with the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The day of fasting to remember collective tragedy became the anniversary of the day my life changed forever as well. My personal feelings of desolation and destruction mirrored the words of the scroll of Lamentations, read on Tisha B’Av,
“Your ruin is as vast as the sea; who can heal you?” (Jeremiah, 2:13)
At the time, my ruin felt as vast as the sea. And yet…here I am. Five years renders no guarantee, and none of us, not those of us who’ve traversed the fields of illness nor those who’ve been left unscathed, know the future. But five years is five years. Years of raising children to adulthood, of love and of professional and personal fulfillment. Five very full years during which time I’ve healed, and witnessed much growth and happiness. Reconstruction borne out of destruction, for which I am ever grateful.
In another fine twist of fate, I’m privileged to reach my fifth year of health during a Sabbatical, a Shmitta year, here in Israel, also a message of healing. The Sabbatical year is agricultural in practice (land must lie fallow once every seven years, to replenish itself,) but the philosophy is one of social justice. Land is deemed ownerless, debts are forgiven and everyone partakes freely of the bounty of the land. We are all only borrowers of the land, and once every seven years we relinquish control and all stand together, as equals. The medieval scholar, Maimonides, writes that the commandments of the Sabbatical year are ‘meant to lead to pity and promoting the well-being of all men, as the Torah states, “That the poor of your people may eat.” (Shemot 23:11)
One of the highlights of these last five years has been the creation and growth of the Lemonade Fund, www.lemonadefund.org, the Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Relief Fund. In less than four years, the Lemonade Fund has helped many impoverished Israeli breast cancer patients with emergency financial aid during their illness.
The world has rarely seemed so perilous from the outside. This Tisha B’Av, talk of complete destruction (the nuclear kind) is up close and personal here in Israel. Antisemitism is epidemic throughout the world. Yet Talmudic sources claim that the cause of the downfall of Jerusalem, and all subsequent tragedies, came from within. We were not caring, even worse, we were hateful to one another. We followed the letter of the law but we cared not for justice, fairness or kindness.
The joint lessons of Tisha B’Av and the Sabbatical year are that we must be worthy of this national home we are fortunate to have after 2000 years of exile. We must work to maintain a society that is just and kind. To be inclusive rather than rejecting; reaching out to others who are different than us. To listen. To be patient. To be kind. To help those who are more unfortunate in a way that preserves their dignity. To be concerned about the welfare of those living within our borders. To reduce socioeconomic disparity. To avoid humiliating others, to avoid senseless hatred. …There are limitless ways to build a better world.
Just as the body can heal, societies can be repaired. Jeremiah rings hopeful at the end.
“I will bring them back to this place and cause them to live in safety. They will be my people and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one path, that they may always honor Me, and that all may go well with them and their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing them good, and I will inspire them to be in awe of Me, never turning away from Me. I will rejoice in doing good for them; and will assuredly plant them in this land with all My heart and soul.” (Jeremiah, 32:37-41)
Wishing you all an easy fast and many years of health and happiness.
L., 26, was pregnant with her first child when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She began intensive chemotherapy treatments soon after giving birth in the 38th week of pregnancy. L. and her husband, an employee of a utility company, are facing many extra illness-related expenses. L. cannot care for her child due to side effects of chemotherapy so the young couple had to hire help to care for their newborn, and formula for the baby is expensive (L. can’t breastfeed.) In addition, L.’s husband accompanies his wife to her treatments and doctor appointments. Though his employer has been tolerant of the absences, L.’s husband’s paid sick leave days are running out. This young couple is enormously stressed about money and according to their social worker, a Lemonade Fund grant could be what it takes to help them over this hump. A grant was awarded to L. and we hope that she can now relax and focus on the important work of getting well.
M. is a 44-year-old single mother of 4 children, from Azerbaijan. The children range in age from 22-9. Though she was a professional before making aliya, M. has worked as an office cleaner since arriving in Israel, and the job offers no benefits or sick leave. When M. was diagnosed with breast cancer in January, she had to stop working and the small family lost their main source of income. In addition, M. had complications from surgery that caused her to have a lengthy hospital stay. During this time, the family slid into debt. Fortunately, M. is doing better and hopes to go back to work so that she can pay off the debt and once again support her family. In the meantime though, she and her social worker submitted an application to the Lemonade Fund, asking for assistance with living expenses to tide them over this difficult period. The Lemonade Fund was glad to help M. and we wish her a speedy recovery.
To donate: https://lemonadefund.org/to-donate/
S., 42, is a nurse from Sderot who was diagnosed in August with invasive breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and is currently undergoing chemotherapy which will be followed by radiation treatments. She is single, lives alone (her parents have both died,) and she has been too sick to work since beginning treatment. She has used up most of her paid sick leave from work and will soon begin taking an unpaid leave. The amount she will receive from national insurance is barely enough to make ends meet. The Lemonade Fund is happy to help ease S.’ financial situation so that she can concentrate on healing and recovery. She will receive her grant money next week.
N., 54, is an Arab-Israeli seamstress from Tayibe. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and was treated with a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. After treatment, she returned to her job in a factory and worked there until it closed down, after which she was unable to find new work. She is single and has been living with a sister. Recently she was diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer which metastasized to her bones and elsewhere. She is being treated aggressively but according to her physician, her prognosis is ‘very grave.’ The Lemonade Fund was created to assist breast cancer patients who find themselves in dire financial straits while they are undergoing treatment which will hopefully lead to recovery. (‘No one should have to be both very sick and very poor.’) Thankfully, due to advances in medical science, more patients are surviving breast cancer and many are able to return to their normal routines; are able to go back to work. But what of the patient for whom recovery isn’t likely? Though bittersweet, the Lemonade Fund is humbly grateful that it can reduce extraneous hardship during a terminal patient’s final days. We are praying for her recovery, and we hope that N. will have her load lightened by the grant that she’ll receive next week.