Every year at about this time, in mid July, I am stopped in my tracks for a few days.
It is now eight years since life changed so remarkably for me.
On July 18, 2010, I went for what I thought would be a routine mammogram. No reason to worry; no symptoms, no family history. It’s true what they say, that life can turn on a dime. I went into that test one person, and within an hour, I was another… a probable cancer patient. Two days later, which happened to coincide with the Ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, the fast of Tisha B’Av, the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar, I received the news that my biopsy was malignant and that I was indeed solemnly, a cancer patient.
What ensued was a whirlwind period of doctor visits, further testing, decisions, surgery and treatment. Followed by recovery, thank God. I am still recovering, both physically and emotionally, and I will forever be a different person than the one who walked into that mammogram booth in 2010. (A quick digression, a reminder to schedule your yearly medical screening. That routine mammogram saved my life.)
And though it was hard, really hard at times, I wouldn’t trade away what I’ve learned and the opportunities I’ve had, in the last eight years. Being seriously ill is one of the most out of control experiences one can have. Very quickly we learn that the only thing we can control when life throws us lemons, is our reaction. Sadness, anger and depression are certainly reasonable responses. But after a while one realizes that coming through a life-threatening event is an unimaginable gift, not to be squandered. Of course we don’t come out unscathed, but like clay passing through fire, we emerge stronger.
During the year after my diagnosis, while going through treatment, I saw how expensive it was to have breast cancer. I couldn’t imagine how poor or even just-breaking-even patients managed. Spoke to social workers in Breast Centers and they confirmed that some patients didn’t manage, and that financial instability impacted recovery in indigent patients.
It wasn’t the medical care itself; breast cancer treatment is covered by Israeli national health insurance. It was more the ancillary costs, such as lost income, the need for extra childcare or household help, transport to treatments, specialty clothing, etc. Studies show that a formerly solvent family can be catapulted into bankruptcy within six months of a cancer diagnosis. Other countries had breast cancer emergency relief funds to help patients in financial distress, but not Israel.
One year to the date after that fateful mammogram, the ESRA Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Relief Fund, a.k.a, the ESRA Lemonade Fund was founded. Since August 2011, the Lemonade Fund has helped hundreds of breast cancer patients from all over Israel, from all sectors of Israeli society, with emergency grants, so that they can have peace of mind and focus on their recovery.
Breast cancer knows no boundaries. We are all human and vulnerable when we are sick.
Which brings me back to the extraordinary coincidence of receiving a diagnosis of cancer on Tisha B’Av… What, I always wonder, is the message in this? As we approach the Ninth of Av, it is a mistake to think that this day is the providence of the religious only. Anyone who understands the history and meaning behind the day will mark it as seriously as they mark Holocaust Memorial Day. The list of calamities that occurred on this date throughout history is devastating. Talmudic sources point to ‘baseless hatred’ between people as the cause of the destruction of the second temple and the loss of national sovereignty. Are we any better now? There is an unprecedented level of anger and vile hatred of the ‘other’ in modern day discourse.
Except in Israeli hospitals, where coexistence is the rule. Arab doctors work shoulder to shoulder with Jewish doctors, operating on patients with regard only to their diagnosis, not their origin, sexual, religious orientation or age. Jews forget their religious differences. People who wouldn’t walk on the same side of the street, (or pray next to each other at the Western Wall,) find common ground when facing a crisis. And it is the same in times of war. We pull together then, too.
Like victims of abuse, we don’t know how to live respectfully if we are not under the gun. Tisha B’Av is more than just a routine fast day for religious people. It is a wake up call to all of us about the perils of divisiveness. It is said that the residents of second century Jerusalem were astonished at the speed at which Jerusalem and the temple fell. Hatreds within our current society could tear us apart in no less time. Tolerance takes practice but it can be learned. We know that we can do it; we see that we transform into peaceful people within the walls of hospitals.
The ESRA Lemonade Fund has taught us that it’s much more rewarding to foster compassion and acceptance than anger and hate. A young Haredi mother with stage 4 breast cancer fears abandoning her children no more or less than a young secular mother from Tel Aviv. The antidote to ‘baseless hatred’ and potential destruction is really ‘baseless love.’ We can all do this.
Rav Joseph Soleveichik, one of the greatest Torah scholars of the modern age said, “Tisha B’Av is a day of limitless despair and boundless hope and faith.” Why hopeful? If we are open to it, this special day can be an extraordinary catalyst for change.
Wishing everyone a meaningful Ninth of Av, and years of good health and peace,
Founder and Director, ESRA Lemonade Fund
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/
(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.
This is a position that can be done in the comfort of your own home, alone or with friends, using a screen, even Facebook! The Lemonade Fund has pages of content, on our website and Facebook page, written in simple English, that need to be translated into Hebrew. (On another note, eventually we would love to translate into Arabic, Russian and Amharic, as well. Feel free to dive into these languages, too!) We also have plenty of other opportunities involving the continued development of our website and our Facebook page. No professional experience required, just enthusiasm and energy. Please contact the Lemonade Fund at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a position that can be done in the comfort of your own home, alone or with friends, using a screen, even Facebook! The Lemonade Fund has pages of content, on our website and Facebook page, written in simple English, that need to be translated into Hebrew. (On another note, we would like to translate into Arabic, Russian and Amharic, as well. If you speak any of these languages, or know a friend who does, that would be great, too.) We also have plenty of other opportunities involving the continued development of our website and our Facebook page. No professional experience required, just enthusiasm and energy. Please contact the Lemonade Fund at email@example.com
Though the Lemonade Fund, www.lemonadefund.org, would never turn away donations, today I am personally asking for something other than money.
Three years ago this week, in July 2010, specifically on the Jewish day of Tisha B’Av, I received the news that I had breast cancer. The year that followed was difficult, but I had excellent medical care, faith and support, and I am happy to say that I felt fine by the following Tisha B’Av.
As they say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. A serious illness is terrifying, and one can focus on little beyond survival. During that initial year I was also struck by how costly it was to be sick and I became concerned about patients who were dealing with breast cancer and poverty at the same time. Thus, exactly one year later, in August 2011, on erev Tisha B’Av, the Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Relief Fund, aka, the Lemonade Fund, was born. Since then, the Lemonade Fund has given one-time grants to many needy Israeli breast cancer patients, to help alleviate financial pressure while they are undergoing treatment.
While I am heartened that we can help these patients financially, there is another way I would like to ask for your help. Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, begins tomorrow evening. The fractious nature of Jewish society is often blamed for the historic tragedies that befell us on this day, and we hear many calls for Jewish unity at this time of year. Great idea, but how do we implement ‘tikun olam’ (repairing the world) at a grass-roots level? How do we begin?
Personally. One to one.
At the Lemonade Fund, our focus is illness. Most of the women (though men can get breast cancer, all of our grantees to date have been women) who have received Lemonade Fund grants are desperately ill. The poor often don’t get medical help until disease is advanced. Many are young and single parents. Children are impacted.
Please take a moment on Monday night/Tuesday to have these women in mind. If it is your way, please pray for them. (You can read many of their stories on the website.) Volunteer at the Lemonade Fund; we welcome all volunteers. Or reach out to someone you may know who is ill. Call them, text them, visit them, connect with their caregivers and offer support. Pray for them.
That’s all. Thank you.
With collective acts of good, we can become closer and turn this day of destruction into a day of happiness and reconstruction. Petty hatred is incompatible with compassion. Illness knows no boundaries; enemies share hospital rooms and heal together. I have had the good fortune, thank God, to see this date, Tisha B’Av, transformed into an anniversary of recovery, of hope. May we all merit to continue in this direction, together.
Her youngest child committed suicide while in the army. Two other children are mentally handicapped. One of these children was adopted by a family in Jerusalem when Nina became unable to care for him. Her adult daughter helps her, but she is a widow herself, with four young children. Years ago, Nina’s own husband was murdered due to a rift in the family.
How could things get any worse? This past summer Nina was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Aside from her other worries, Nina can no longer work and she is subsisting on the small sum she receives from National Health Insurance (Bituach Leumi.) She is now, quite simply, desperately poor.
Lucky for Nina that her Social Worker had heard of the Lemonade Fund (Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Relief Fund.) Last month she helped Nina apply for a grant, and this week, a generous grant was approved and sent directly to Nina.
As she continues treatment and awaits surgery, it is our hope that this grant will give Nina respite from her financial crisis so that she can concentrate on the important work of getting well.