Once upon a time, many years ago (and the reason I begin this way is because I can’t pinpoint exactly when this happened) Marty and I were taking a walk with our friends, Harry and Rae Ann. Harry is a rabbi who used to live in New Orleans, now lives in Victoria and is currently in Israel.
At that time, our older son, Max, was learning how to read Hebrew from a fellow who came to our home once a week. I felt good our kids were developing a strong Jewish identity because they went to Jewish summer camps; because our home was full of fun Jewish rituals like Shabbat dinner and Havdalah; and because they were building a connection to Israel.
Harry agreed that those were all good but said, “You still need a Jewish community.” I asked why that was so important. “Just in case you want your life to be richer,” Rabbi Harry said, “and just in case something happens where your family is in crisis.”
Those words resonated. When Kol HaNeshamah was founded more than five years ago, we were thrilled to find people we loved and a place we could finally call home.
Harry was right. Our lives became richer as we got involved in our progressive shul. Fast forward to April 4 of this year. That was the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I can barely remember anything that day except the phone call telling me of the diagnosis and I do remember slipping into a pew at Kol HaNeshamah before services that evening, leaning my head on Michel-Jean’s shoulder and quietly whispering the words to him, “I have breast cancer.”
Needless to say, our friend, Harry’s words have come back to me many times since April 4 — You need a Jewish community in case something happens where your family is in crisis. This was a crisis.
In what seems like eternity to me, but was only five months from start to finish, I was diagnosed, learned my breast cancer was one with an aggressive nature, had a mastectomy, went through dense dose chemotherapy and am now on a one year program to try and keep that aggressive or amplified part of the cancer under check.
That weekend, Joanie Mass dropped whatever she was doing and held my hand on a walk while I started processing the most overwhelming piece of news I have ever had. Joanie’s support has been consistent and steadfast. She is one of my cancer bullies and I mean that in the nicest way.
Those of you who have had breast cancer shared your experience and gave me permission to let go at work for a while – you explained how your journey changed you and made you grow. You were all cancer bullies in your own way.
Nanette Robinson Goss, an oncologist and a friend, helped us wade through the complexities and showed up at six in the morning the day of my surgery to walk me through prep while Marty parked the car. She calmed me. She also showed up at the other end of surgery that day when I had one less breast. And that was the beginning… When I wondered, on my Facebook page, if my post-surgery scar was doing okay, Jessica Loetel, a nurse and a congregant I barely knew, showed up on our doorstep, told me to disrobe and assured me everything was okay. Stephanie Sahanow talked to me about setting boundaries. Her words empowered me to say no – even to my own family. She taught me how to save energy and helped guide me throughout chemotherapy.
At one point, our home was filled with flowers you brought, cards you sent and gentle visits from so many of you. And all of that was before the chemotherapy kicked in. And I have to tell you – chemotherapy kicks hard.
You entertained us with the DVDs you left on our doorstep. From Shakespeare to Arrested Development, we were never without something to watch. You brought chocolate ice cream and you brought CDs with music and with comedians. You sent books. You clothed me with hats you made with your hands and with sweatshirts that had attitude. I felt hugged by those clothes when I went in for chemotherapy.
And speaking of chemotherapy, I never went by myself. Many of you attended both chemotherapy and held my hand during that ridiculously long neulasta shot the day after. Susan Weil’s brave money stuffed animal came to chemo and sits on our bed today. Susan made me laugh so hard during chemo therapy that had I not gone to the bathroom just before….well, okay, maybe too much information. But, seriously, who snorts through chemotherapy unless they have a friend making them snort with laughter?
You fed us for weeks and weeks and weeks. Some of you did it through Kol HaNeshamah’s Abraham and Sarah’s kitchen which Danica organized so seamlessly, and some of you just dropped by with matza ball soup – the ultimate comfort food in our house. You just showed up and left meals on our front porch. We have all your plastic wear in the trunk of our car if you ever want to reclaim what is yours.
And speaking of our doorstep, gifts would just show up. I would whine on my blog and the Eidenberg-Noppe family rewarded my whining with a soft bathrobe and mystery gifts that were tangy and titillating.
The Adbergs drove Adam to pirate camp for a week this summer. Sara Davies, a brand new Kol HaNeshamah member, offered to clean our house. Marty took a walk with Mark Lembersky – someone who has experience being a caregiver for someone with cancer. Barbara Lardizabal invited me to her home for lunch and Lois and Jacki were there. I felt mothered and friended (to change a noun to a verb) at the same time.
Dani Ruthfield continuously connected with me and I knew she would leave her husband and daughters early in the morning if necessary to help us. Stephanie Robbins brought Gabriella over so I could read to her . . . and expose her to chicken pox since I was coming down with shingles. But that was not part of the plan and, Gabriella had already been inoculated for chicken pox.
We attended film festivals, concerts, dinners and backyard ice cream dates because of you. You stepped up to fill in for me in my committee work; you allowed us to show up at the last minute or not show up at all and you quietly offered advice, but only if I was open to it.
Evelyn Shapiro O’Connor walked miles with me, as so many of you did. Those of you who are doctors assured me. Those of you who took your precious time to read my blog donated so much money to our breast cancer walk. Adam was the top fund raiser in the Puget Sound area for kids his age and it was because of you. He is now the proud owner of a Nintendo Wii system because you were so generous in your donations. And so many more of you took time to raise money and join us in the breast cancer walk in June – then rush back to make it to the adult b’nai mitzvah torah service.
It turns out that being part of a community when your family is in crisis is huge. More than forty households in our congregation made my journey a little easier this year. Last year on Erev Yom Kippur, we listened to Dana Klein talk about how this community surrounded her. I never imagined, in my wildest dreams, that I would be standing here tonight asking you to consider donating, but here I am.
You never know from Yom Kippur to Yom Kippur where your life’s journey will take you. But what we do know is that sustaining our Kol Ha Neshamah community with a generous donation – a generous donation allows us to care for one another whether we are strangers or friends. It allows us to live the words of the song, Al Shlosha Devarim. The song says that the world stands on three things: On the Torah, on worship or deeds and on acts of loving kindness.
Your acts of loving kindness toward our family go beyond measure. Please accept our gratitude to you – our community, a community who opens their doors to everyone during the high holidays and throughout the year and a community who knows what it means to support, to bolster spirits and to be keenly aware of every step on life’s journeys.
G’mar Chatimah tova.