Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I was just diagnosed with breast cancer. So, there’s that. In some ways, it’s hardly a surprise since my mother died from breast cancer and one of my sisters was diagnosed when she was 40. There are 5 women in 3 generations in my family, now including me, who have or have had breast cancer. The good news is I have every reason to believe that I will be a survivor. They caught the cancer early. The mass is small. It’s an excellent prognosis. I believe I will follow in my sister’s footsteps and have a long life ahead of me with my husband and children. Please, God, I continually pray.
While the doctors are optimistic, they do not walk in my shoes. They did not watch my mother suffer when the cancer metastasized to her liver and then her spine. They did not watch her die in the hospital, sitting with her, holding her hand. They did not grieve her, still grieve her, the way I do today. I think I’ve always been waiting to be diagnosed. Now that it’s happened, I feel a mixture of fear, anxiety, and relief. It’s now my turn in our family to fight this fight. And, I will fight. And, I will pull from the strength of my family, friends, and colleagues. I am humbled by their offers of support and prayers. So many prayers. Please, God, I continually pray.
I pray for my future health and well-being. I pray for my husband that he have continuous strength and good health. I pray for my children that they will grow up in a world that is safe. I pray that they will have long healthy lives filled with joy and love. And, I think about what I want my legacy to be.
I’ve always planned for this moment, in a way. On the occasion of each of my son’s births, I wrote them a letter. I wanted them to read when they were older about the joy and love I feel for them as their mother. I put the letters in a safe place and have decided to write a new one on significant occasions. At the time of the new occasion, I give them the old letter I previously wrote and write a new one to be saved and given at the time of the next special occasion. A new tradition steeped in faith, love, and hope. I want my children always to know how amazing they are and how much I love them.
One day, many, many, many years from now, I hope my legacy will be one of love. I hope I will have taught my children lessons on civility and social justice. I hope they will live lives effecting positive change for all humankind. I hope there will be people whom I have helped, taught, inspired to flourish in their own journeys. I hope I will leave this world a little better for having lived in it.
Our sages taught, “Repent one day before your death (Avot 2:10).” An odd phrase with significant meaning. Kind of like an old version of YOLO. You only live once, so be mindful how you spend each day. Never hesitate to express your hopes, desires, and love for those who are dear to you. Continually work to impart the values you wish to teach.
That’s what I plan to do. I will spend quality time with my family. I will stand up for what I believe is right and just. I will be there for others. I will live each day with the knowledge that it is both a gift from God and a challenge not to squander that gift. I will reflect, and I will pray that my time here on earth will be a blessing to those I’ve encountered along the way. Please, God, I pray.
Rabbi Melinda Mersack is the Director of jHUB, which provides new ways for interfaith couples and families to comfortably explore Jewish culture in the modern world, a program of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland and an InterfaithFamily affiliate. Rabbi Mersack is proud to be a Rabbis Without Borders Fellow and a Brickner Fellow of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Rabbi Mersack attends summer camp as visiting faculty every year, and is an advocate for interreligious dialogue and social justice. She holds a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Masters of Hebrew Letters and ordination from the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion.