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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Heroine of the Day

Today's Heroine of the Day is someone I've read about many times, and every new bit of information I discover about her continues to blow me away.

Rochelle Shoretz is a young, Orthodox Jewish mother, who grew up in the Orthodox enclave of Flatbush, NY. She attended Barnard College, and then Columbia University Law School, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. After completing a clerkship for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she took some time off to be a full-time mother to her two sons. On this break, at the age of only 28, she was shockingly diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer after she found a lump in one of her breasts. She had surgery, followed by chemotherapy. During that difficult time, Shoretz looked in vain for advice and support from people who were going or had gone through a similar experience to hers. She came up blank. A young mother who is a cancer survivor understandably has some completely different issues from those of the most common breast cancer patient - a middle-aged or post-menopausal woman. In Shoretz's own words:
I had a medical team, and there were many offers to connect me with older women with cancer, but they couldn't identify with the issues I was facing: raising children, fertility, career, supporting a mother who had a daughter with breast cancer. More frightening than living with cancer is believing that you are the only person like you living with cancer.
So, while she was in the middle of treatment with chemotherapy, Shoretz started an organization she called Sharsheret. Her aim was to create a support system to provide for the unique needs of Jewish women in their 20's, 30's and 40's who were suffering from cancer. And it seems like she achieved tremendous success in those goals. Some of Sharsheret's programs (as outlined on their wonderful website):
* The Link Program, a peer support network connecting women newly diagnosed or at high risk of developing breast cancer with others who share similar diagnoses and experiences.
* Education and Outreach Programs, including community outreach events in private homes as well as health care symposia addressing the concerns of Jewish women facing breast cancer. Recent events addressed the subjects of breast cancer and fertility, parenting during breast cancer, breast cancer genetics, and survivorship.
* Quality of Life Programs, including the Busy Box for young parents facing cancer, Best Face Forward, a program to address the cosmetic side effects of treatment, and Embrace for women living with advanced breast cancer.
* Sharsheret Booklet Series, designed to raise awareness about issues many Jewish women face in their fight against breast cancer. Booklets in the series include: Facing Breast Cancer as a Jewish Woman, Facing Breast Cancer as an Orthodox Jewish Woman, and Breast Cancer Genetics and the Jewish Woman.
* Health Information about breast health and the genetic risks of breast and ovarian cancer for Jewish women.
* Resource Information on a wide range of topics for women facing breast cancer and their families, available in print and on our website.
In my research on the organization, I came across an item that I found particularly amazing:
With the help of a 2004 grant from Komen Greater NYC, Sharsheret launched its “Education and Support Initiative Targeting Hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Women.” “While we have always welcomed a very diverse group of women from all walks of Jewish life, we realized that we were not doing a great job addressing issues faced by Ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish women. Komen’s generous grant was enough to create a successful program,” says Shoretz.
In today's day and age, with such an unfortunate disconnect between different segments of the Orthodox world, it is so heartening to see that Shoretz, who is clearly from a more Modern Orthodox walk of Judaism, recognize and embrace the needs of a different demographic of the Orthodox community.

This unbelievable woman is an example of someone who saw a void, and filled it. Instead of focusing on her own formidable needs in a time of great personal trials, she focused on and worked for the needs of the Klall. For me, her amazing story particularly hits home because of her identity as a Orthodox Jewish working mother. But I think Shoretz's husband, Tani Mirsky, summed it up best, as recounted by Shoretz:
"One night before the whole idea for the organization exploded, I turned to my husband and said, 'Do we want to do this as a family?' He responded that, 'I'm going to heaven on your coattails.'"

(hat tip for getting this into my head)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow. thanks OM. what an amazing woman. also good to see some young blood in this series.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Wow. Impressive.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Shifra said...

I heard an interview with her last year on JM in the AM. What an inspiration -taking a horrible situation and using it to improve the lives of others.

Makes me really want to but some good out there too, KWIM?

12:45 AM  
Anonymous onionsoupmix said...

Beautiful. When my husband had a heart attack at 34, the only other people in the cardiac unit and recovery classes were in their 60-80s. But we didn't start an organization, we just bitched and laughed about it.

2:20 AM  
Anonymous Honorary MCP said...

quite impressive indeed, but something can be even more impressive.

After the husband said
"I'm going to heaven on your coattails." she could have done something like... have a bit more commonality... like publicising her project as Mrs. Mirsky, or even Ms. Shoretz-Mirsky.

If he's willing to be on the coat-tails, don't make him MR. Shoretz

3:31 AM  
Blogger MDmom said...

i'm glad to see that there is a recognition of the need to reach out to chareidi women. there is a push here in israel to that end as well. the needs of chareidi women are that much more delicate due to their ultra sensitivity to tziniut, so much so, that they will not even mention the word "breast," in any context, let alone discuss how to examine one. kol hakavod to the sharsheret organization.

6:42 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Honorary MCP said...
quite impressive indeed, but something can be even more impressive.
After the husband said
"I'm going to heaven on your coattails." she could have done something like... have a bit more commonality... like publicising her project as Mrs. Mirsky, or even Ms. Shoretz-Mirsky.
If he's willing to be on the coat-tails, don't make him MR. Shoretz

Hard to believe that THIS inane "gripe" is the only thing you managed to take away from this amazing story. Then again, there's always one of your type in every comment thread.

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Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

She goes by her married name within the community.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous don'tguess said...

This is a nice tribute. Let me say that is nice as it is, it doesn't do justice (that is not a knock, just an indication of how much I think of Ms. Shoretz).
My wife lived with advanced Breast Cancer for three years. During that time Ms. Shoretz and Sharsheret were a constaant source of chizzuk, information, and help. As tough as things were, I can only imagine how much worse they would have been without Sharsheret. My wife did not feel like she was alone; thanks to Sharsheret and the work of Ms. Shoretz she had a community of (in some ways) similar women going through (what were in some ways) similar problems. After my wife passed away, Ms. Shoretz continued (and continues) to have contact with the family, to check up on us and to see how the kids (and I) are doing. Orthomom, Kol Hakavod for your tribute to her.

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be appropriate if you would also mention that Rochelle Shoretz is a proud graduate of Shulamith School for Girls, the only frum, non-coed girls' school in Brooklyn that isn't be mortified when one of its graduates achieves such standing as a professional and has accomplishments that go beyond making a fabulous cholent and supporting a husband in kollel.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharsheret was there for me during my diagnosis and treatment and continues to be there for me during health. Rochie Shoretz is amazing.

6:24 PM  
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