September 07, 2015

Words of Torah on my 13th metsiversary

I don't know why, but I've never thought of adding words of Torah to my metsiversary party. But I'd been joking about the cancer bat mitzvah anniversary for months in advance and adding Torah to the celebration made it both more poignant and more meaningful. I asked two loving friends if they would speak to those at the party. They agreed, and they each gave terrific interpretations of that week's Torah portion.

I can't help but find that re-reading these words feels a little bit like reading eulogies for me. On the other hand, anyone would be proud to be called such an example by their loved ones. I most certainly feel that way, and I'm a little embarrassed to be set on this pedestal. But not too much to share here!

D's words of Torah:

Thursday August 20, 2015

Has anyone here read Jill’s blog? Has anyone here not read it? Well whether you have read it or not, knowing Jill means you know how important her Jewish identity and practice are to her.

For Jewish people, the 13th year of life is a child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Typically, we honor this event by reading from the Torah and celebrating.

Today, we are acknowledging Jill’s 13th year of her life with metastatic cancer. In honor of this, Jill asked me to share a few words of Torah.

Jewish people divide up the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) into portions and publically read one portion each week. Throughout the world, Jews are reading and studying the same part of Torah at the same time.

This week’s portion is called Shoftim, which translates to Judges. The portion reminds us that Moses assigned capable, impartial, truth-seeking people to judge and oversee the children of Israel in their everyday affairs. These judges naturally became the leaders of the people.

Moses established this leadership system based on the advice of his father-in-law Yitro. Looking back in time, Yitro came to visit Moses at camp, shortly after the escape from Egypt. Yitro saw Moses wearing himself out settling individual inquiries and grievances all day long. Recognizing that Moses was needed to guide the newborn nation of Israel as a whole, Yitro advised Moses to set some boundaries and share the burden of keeping order among all those people. Yitro described a system of assigning judges, or leaders, for groups of different sizes, ranging from groups of 10 people to 50’s, hundreds and thousands. Groups of thousands of people. Moses must have really had his hands full!

When Moses agreed to share the burden of leading all these people, he had more strength to do the big work that he needed to do. This included educating the people as a whole on the laws to guide their lives, as well as settling the major matters that arose.

Looking ahead to the time when the tribes of Israel had settled in various parts of the land, there was a period without a king or other central leader. In these times, the judges continued to lead the children of Israel. There is a whole book of the Bible (called Judges) telling the story of several of these judges, and how they led the Jewish people to victory against their enemies. Among them was Deborah, one of the few Biblical women acknowledged for her strong leadership role independent of her husband.

Deborah is described as a prophetess who sat under a palm tree and provided judgment to the children of Israel. She also directed the Jewish general to conquer the enemy, and accompanied (or perhaps led?) him into battle when he refused to do it on his own. She ended this battle with a song of victory.

So, we see that Deborah led the people in more ways than one: As wise, impartial judge, and as a courageous warrior, fiercely defending what was right for the Jewish people.

Learning about these ancient leaders of the Jewish people calls to mind the qualities and actions of our friend Jill, a strong leader in her own right.

We are here to celebrate Jill’s 13 years of victory over an insidious enemy – metastatic breast cancer. Like the ancient leader Deborah, Jill is a fighter. Like Moses and the leaders he assigned, she sets boundaries, enlists others to help achieve important goals, seeks the truth and educates the people around her on important matters.

If you have known Jill awhile, I am guessing you can think of examples of each of these things, and more. I will share a few of my own examples.

Through all the years I have known her, Jill has stepped up to just about every leadership opportunity she could find – from leading the Radost Folk Ensemble, to the AIDS walk, the Hadassah office, her synagogue’s board, and her current informal role leading many, many people in learning about, living with and fighting against cancer.

Jill has the wisdom to maintain her boundaries, share the burden and sustain her own ability to do the big work. She advocates for her quality of life during treatment, rests when she needs to and asks for help when she needs it.

Jill is great at inspiring and enlisting others – she builds strong groups of volunteers to significantly expand the ability to get the job done.

Jill has the willingness to learn – best ways to fundraise, how to work successfully with people with a different Meyers-Briggs type, and newest ways to fight the myriad types of breast cancer.

Jill has the communication skills and will to teach, as evidenced by the wide readership and national recognition of her blog.

Jill has the drive to reach out to the broader world and lead people to make things better. Currently she is educating and leading her wide circle of friends and acquaintances in the fight to bring resources and attention to metastatic breast cancer research.

And Jill is a warrior. She would not be alive right now if she was not.

While preparing this d’var, I shared my ideas with my teenage son, and he said –

“Jill is a warrior. When God gave Jill lemons, she didn’t make lemonade. She threw them back and demanded chocolate.”

C's words of Torah:

Deuteronomy chapter 20: 2-4, Shoftim
And it will be, when you approach the battle, that the kohen shall come near, and speak to the people.
And he shall say to them, "Hear O Israel, today you are approaching the battle against your enemies. Lets your hearts not be faint; you shall not be afraid, and you shall not be alarmed, and you shall not be terrified because of them.
For the Lord, your God, is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you."
Many of you know that Jill is a Cohen, one of the priestly tribe.
When she was first diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, she was clear with her friends and her doctors that as long as the cancer did not rear its ugly head, she would leave it in peace - which is what this portion of Shoftim states - always think of peace first before going to battle.
But, if the cancer acts up - Jill was prepared and did fight strongly.
Not only that but she shared her battle and helped others to not be afraid, to not be terrified of it. Fight the righteous battles - to save a life, to help others. Jill has been working these past 13 years on this.
When one becomes a bat mitzvah, you enter into adulthood in the Jewish community. Jill had entered into leadership in this particular community.
May it be until 120.

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