Tag Archives: peace

Profiles in Courage -Summer 2018

V., an immigrant from Tajikstan, is a 33 year old married mother of 2 children. Her older son, age 8, is epileptic, autistic and violent. Soon after opening a kindergarten, V. was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Due to the side effects of treatment, V. is unable to work. Her husband teaches martial arts abroad, but now needs to be home to care for his wife and children. This small family’s income has plummeted and their social worker submitted an application for an emergency Lemonade Fund grant, which was awarded.

To donate to Israel’s breast cancer emergency relief fund, the ESRA Lemonade Fund:


Eight Years…


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,

Shari Mendes

Founder and Director, ESRA Lemonade Fund

The Lemonade Fund is part of  ESRA, a registered Israeli non-profit organization (No. 580037455.)

Not Your Usual Lemonade…Driving to the Doctor under Fire

Yesterday evening, David and I were driving to a doctor’s appointment in Rishon Letzion, a suburb of Tel Aviv. I wasn’t anxious about the appointment, nor was I nervous about venturing out of our relatively sheltered northern community. Life in the center of Israel (as opposed to the South, where rocket fire has been relentless and terrifying) has been intentionally ‘business as usual.’ Sirens have sounded in Tel Aviv a few times, and citizens take them seriously, all running to shelter, but then it’s back to work and school. Just a few minutes ago, news came in about a bus bombing in Tel Aviv; early reports are of twenty-one injured. Everyone is jittery, but Israelis are a tough lot; resistant to giving in to terror. Even after this latest event, people will quickly be back at their desks.

As we approached Rishon Letzion, I noticed people stopping their cars on the side of the road and leaving them. We didn’t realize what was happening at first but then I heard the siren, warning of an incoming Gazan rocket. Fifteen seconds to take cover. We stopped the car, got out, and crouched nearby. Time is suspended during such moments as one helplessly waits for…what? The overwhelming feeling was one of profound helplessness. Prayer, as usual, was a good option, and I imagine God is getting quite an earful lately. We soon heard a large explosion and saw the sky light up, not very far off in the distance. There was no way to know if the new Iron Dome Defense system had intercepted this incoming rocket, destroying it before landfall, or if it had hit a mark. We all got up, shakily, climbed back into our cars, and continued on our way.

 Within minutes the radio was reporting a direct hit on an apartment building in Rishon, casualties, unknown. We soon learned that the top three floors of an apartment building had been destroyed, however, miraculously, no one had been killed.


People are heeding the siren alerts, and this is saving countless lives, but the internal cost of living under such stress is incalculable. Reports are of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) in as much as 75% of the children in the south. Having experienced a ‘Tzeva Adom’ (red alert) even once, I’m not sure why the number isn’t closer to 100%. Who can live like this?


The Lemonade Fund (www.lemonadefund.org) aka, the Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Relief Fund, is more important than ever during these difficult times. It was created to help reduce external stresses on seriously ill breast cancer patients so they can concentrate on the all important task of getting well. Because no one should have to be very sick and very poor at the same time. Grants are given during the immediate post diagnosis period to worthy applicants from all over Israel; from all races, religions and nationalities.  

Five grants were awarded this morning. Coincidentally, all of the applicants were from Tel Aviv or south. One of the applicants, M.M., 53, is a single mother, newly diagnosed with breast cancer, who hails from Netivot, a community in the near the Gaza border that has been especially hard hit by rockets. The letter from her social worker describes a woman who has been very strong even after the recent death of a daughter (who had Down’s syndrome.) She has another daughter, 18, who helps her, but M.M. has a long road ahead. She is currently receiving neoadjuvant therapy to shrink her tumor so that she can have surgery. After that she’ll need 6 weeks of daily radiation.  She is unable to work, and they are in severe economic crisis. How fortunate that the Lemonade Fund exists and is able to help her.

I remember that it was hard enough to be sick during peace time, when appointments are kept and treatments stay on schedule. It is impossible to imagine the stress on the seriously ill, in war time. Health and social services are taxed to the limit. All but emergency care is curtailed. Even if appointments are not cancelled, leaving the house and going to the doctor is dicey (as I saw last night.) Lessening the financial burdens on these patients right now is an act of incredible kindness. Please consider making a contribution to the Lemonade Fund.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.


To donate:

Online:  http://www.esra.org.il/donation-form

By Telephone: Call the ESRA office and make your donation by credit card (011 972 9-950-8371).

By Check:
Tax Exempt Donations in Israel: Mail checks to ESRA, POB 3132, Herzliya 46104 (include cover letter designating IBCERF.)

Tax Exempt donations from the United States of America:
P.E.F. Endowment Funds, Inc., Room 607
317 Madison Avenue,
New York, NY 10017
Tel: 212-599-1260.

Make check out to PEF but please include a covering letter stating that your donation is earmarked for ESRA, specifying IBCERF.

Tax Exempt donation from the United Kingdom and other countries:
Please contact the ESRA office to find out the best way of making your donation to ESRA from your country.