Today is World Cancer Day, a day when people worldwide are focused on cancer, to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.
But in my life, every day is cancer day.
Care and concern for my mother, Lori Winer (Leah B’rachah bat Hannah v’Reuven) plagues and inspires me daily. My mom is one of the most giving, caring, determined and lovely people in the world. She is truly an educator in every sense of the word and I am lucky to have her as a mom – and as my best friend.
In honor of World Cancer Day and my remarkable mother, I’d like to share with you some lessons I’ve learned during her surgery and treatment.
It’s not a definitive guide, but it’s become my go-to “How To Be the Jewish Daughter (or Son) of a Cancer Patient”:
1) It’s Okay To Feel Both/And. Have you seen those Ford commercials about and being better than or? As in, why choose “good looking” OR “great gas mileage” when you can have both? Both/and is often more realistic than either/or. I feel both/and quite a bit. My emotions are conflicted – contented that she is receiving what she needs AND overwhelmed by sadness and concern; confident in her care team AND fearful of the intangible enemy. I don’t have to feel one or the other. You can feel one, and the other, and feeling both is totally kosher.
2) Shower the People: One of my mother’s favorite singers is James Taylor and one of her favorites of his songs is “Shower the People.” The song says: “Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel. Things are gonna be much better if you only will.” I have learned to surround myself with people and activities that sustain me. I also see the power of connections. Creating a website to keep our contacts updated has allowed for people to share good wishes with her and our whole family. We shower my mother with love, and let others shower us, too.
3) Make Deposits: My mom is the queen of strong metaphors, and this is one of her best. Here is a quote directly from her blog:
I have come to realize that getting through the surgery, recuperation, chemotherapy, etc. will take a great deal of energy and strength. Therefore, I have decided to take this time to build up my physical and emotional strength and work on my positivity so that there will be enough “deposits” in my “account” to support the “withdrawals” that will be taken out in the next few months.
I, too, have learned to put lots of deposits in the account, figuratively and literally. In the last three months, mom and I have knitted over $700 worth of infinity scarves, blankets and ear warmers for our friends. We accept donations for these snuggly pieces, and all of that goes to help families like us in the present and future. We have donated to the hospital caring for my mother, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute; to an organization that supports families during recovery and remission, Living Beyond Breast Cancer; and to a childhood cancer charity near and dear to our hearts, 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave.
4) Go Purple. My Facebook profile picture, also included in this post, is of me and my mother in shades of purple. If you change your profile picture today on Facebook or Twitter, Chevrolet will donate $1 per purpled profile (up to $1 million) for World Cancer Day.
5) Take a Moment for Prayer: While the “Mi Sheberakh“ is a universal prayer asking for a refuah shleimah (complete healing), there is a short, beautiful prayer that I say before she receives a dose of chemotherapy. It is derived from Mishnah Torah B’rachot 10:21, and is the prayer for bloodletting, which modern Jews find as a connection to sustained medicines: Yehi ratzon sheyihiyeh li refuah, which can be translated as “May it be God’s will that this will bring healing.”
I cannot wait to celebrate my mother being cancer-free, and together we will keep working and praying for our cancer-free world.
Ken yi’hi ratzon – may this be God’s will, and our own.
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As I get ready for my Southern family’s traditional Thanksgiving celebration, which this year will overlap our celebration of Hanukkah… well, there’s been all this talk of “Thanksgivukkah,” but right now it’s the annual menu that’s on my mind.
Thinking about all the foods we eat, and how this night too is “different from all other nights,” I realized this holiday needs its own four questions:
1) On all other nights, we eat only one carbohydrate. Why on this night do we have sweet potato casserole with a gooey marshmallow topping, mashed potatoes, bread, cornbread dressing, stuffing, and rolls (oh, those many, many delicious dinner rolls)?
2) On all other nights we eat raw, steamed or sautéed vegetables. Why on this night do we serve our green beans in a casserole that loses nutritional value with a can of cream soup and crunchy onion rings on top?
3) On all other nights, we don’t dip our chicken, turkey or meat in gravy. Why on this night do we generously smother everything in gravy?
4) On all other nights, we eat sitting upright. Why on this night do we eat and eat and eat, then eat some pie and recline in front of a football game?
Of course, this year, in addition to the regular old Four Questions of Thanksgiving, we have another one: On all other Thanksgivings, we don’t light a menorah. Why on this night…
Well – that one has a really clear answer, at least.
As for the others, well, the holiday in the United States began as a feast and giving thanks for a good harvest. Today, the holiday has become about families gathering around a table and giving thanks for being together – which isn’t an excuse for the overly-decadent food.
So there may not be a truly satisfying answer to each of the 4 Questions of Thanksgiving, but the overall answer is that we do it to celebrate with our families, enjoying what we have and hopefully also remembering those in need and sharing in the bounty.
And as for all the carbs and calories, well… it’s only once a year, right?
Below, Michele Schipper explains why she lets her kids trick-or-treat. To hear from another Jewish mom with a different perspective, check out “Why I Don’t Let My Kids Trick-or-Treat.”
What happens when we post a photo, in October, of an Education Fellow reading some students a book about witches, while wearing a witch hat? An immediate assumption by many that the religious school students are celebrating Halloween – followed by a lot of strong opinions shared on Facebook!
First, to explain the picture: The Education Fellow was reading a story from Yiddish folklore, The Rabbi and the 29 Witches by Marilyn Hirsh. It’s a wonderful children’s story, and as the synopsis describes: “Once a month, when the moon is full, twenty-nine of the meanest, scariest, ugliest, wickedest witches that ever lived come out of their cave to terrify the villagers . . . until one day the wise rabbi invents a plan to rid his village of those wicked witches forever. The rabbi’s clever plan works–with hilarious results!”
The book has nothing to do with Halloween – and had we posted this photo of the Education Fellow reading this book in January (which we easily could have, as they share this story on the road throughout the year!), I don’t think anyone would have had Halloween on their mind. But even still, the wide range of reactions to the photo was surprising; especially how many negative responses were shared. Several of us began thinking about Judaism, the celebration of Halloween and our own personal practices.
Despite Halloween’s religious origins, most Americans consider Halloween to be a national tradition, without the attachment of any real religious meaning. Many American Jews have adopted this tradition as their own with the understanding that the holiday has become wholly secular. Although I know that Purim is indeed the Jewish holiday where you get to “dress up,” I grew up and experienced both Halloween and Purim, and my children have gotten that same experience. My sister, whose birthday is October 30, had at least 1 Halloween themed birthday party.
I also remember when I was about 8 years old, I was sick during Halloween and couldn’t go trick or treating with my friends and family, so my Southern Jewish mother let me “trick or treat” in the house, knocking on all of my family member’s bedroom doors, so they would give me candy and I wouldn’t feel that I had missed out…
That important feeling of being included, of not missing out and being part of the larger community, is important to us. My husband and I have enjoyed “fall festival” activities with our kids; going to the pumpkin patch, carving pumpkins, deciding on costumes– and of course, my husband is famous (infamous) for laying claim to his favorite candy from the trick or treating “loot”. I don’t worry that my kids are confused. They are now almost all teenagers, and do not seem to have suffered any adverse effects, and neither have I. Halloween did no damage to our Jewish identity.
So I say, enjoy Halloween – and make sure you’re the house that gives out the good candy.