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:
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
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.
To the Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Relief Fund (IBCERF):
When I received the difficult news that I had a serious disease, I felt complete destruction. I experienced how in one moment my world crumbled, my home was destroyed, my body – wrecked. I felt as if the last few grains of sand were slipping through the hourglass of my life.
After the initial shock, the words of encouragement that surrounded me began to take hold in my heart. I understood that there was hope, that the matter was not final, that it was up to me to fight a difficult war which I had to win.
In this fashion I set out – with a feeling of hope. I received a plan for recovery; a path to win the war. A difficult path, painful and long, but one that I knew I had to take.
But when I looked at the plan I saw that it cost money…lots of money! And I am just subsisting on a meager pension, where am I going to get the money needed for the fight of my life? Where will the money come from for transportation, for medicine? From where?
I lifted my eyes to heaven, and I said a silent prayer, “God, you gave me a disease. Now give me the power to fight it. Help me!!!”
And then there you were, this amazing organization. Like faithful messengers of God, you awarded me a sum of money, a ray of light in the darkness, a respectable sum that was sufficient for me to begin, a sum that gave me hope that I’d have the strength for my personal war, and that God would help me.
And really, I gathered up all of my strength, and went out to face the fight of my life, and I fought. And here I am now marching toward the first steps of victory, feeling that life can be given anew, that one can be given another chance.
So no, I will not be able to forget this first push, this first step that you gave me, IBCERF, in your financial support that you granted me that enabled my first step toward winning.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will never forget this.
“Anyone who saves a single soul of Israel, it is as if he has established an entire world.”
With honor and appreciation,
לכבוד הארגון קרן החרום לסיוע לנפגעות סרטן השד בישראל:
כשהתקבלה הבשורה הקשה שחליתי במחלה, הרגשתי תושת חורבן. הרגשתי איך ברגע אחד עולמי חרב, ביתי חרב, וגופי חרב. הרגשתי איך שעון החול של חיי מתיל להוריד את גרגיריו האחרונים.
אחרי ההלם הראשון, התחילו לחלחל אל ליבי מילות העידוד שקיבלתי מסובביי. הבנתי שיש תקוות ,העניין אינו סופי, עלי לצאת למלחמה קשה שבה אני חייבת לנצח!
כך יצאתי מתחושת חידלון ומלא תקווה. קבלתי את תכנית הבראתי,את הדרך שלי לצאת למלחמה. תכנית קשה, כואבת וארוכה, אך דעתי שאני חייבת לצאת לדרך.
אך בהביטי אל תוכנית ראיתי שמלחמה זו עולה כסף – והמון כסף! ואני הרי מתקיימת מקצבה זעומה, ומאין אביא את הכסף הנדרש למלחמה זו על חיי?! מאין אביא את הכסף לנסיות לתרופות? מאין?!
הרמתי עיני לשמים, ואמרתי בתחינה: “ריבונו של עולם, נתת לי מחלה, נתת לי גם כוח להילחם בה. עזור לי!!!”
אז הגעתי אתם, ארגון נפלא,כשליחים נאמנים של ה’ והענקתם לי סכום כסף, קרן אור בחשיכה, סכום מכובד שהספיק לי להתחיל, סכום שנתן לי תקווה שהנה גם את אמצעי לצאת למלחמה יש לי, וה’ יעזור לי.
ובאמת אספתי את כל הכוחות הנפש שלי, יצאתי למלחמה הגדולה על חיי, ולחמתי. והנה עכשיו אני צועדת את צעדי הניצחון הראשונים רגישה איך חיי ניתנו מחדש, קיבלתי עוד הזדמנות.
אך לא, לא אוכל לשכוח שאת הדחיפה הראשונה, את הצעד הראשון, ונתתם לי אתם.
ארגון קרן החרום לסיוע לנפגעות סרטן השד בישראל, בתמיכתכם הכספית הענקתם לי צעד ראשון לניצחון. אני מודה לכם מקרב לב. לא אשכח זאת לעולם. “כל המציל נפש אחת מישראל כאילו קיים עולם מלא.”
בהערכה ובהוקרה, זהבה