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Student perspectives

Why Should You Join the Fight Against Cancer?

Shabbat Shalom and thank you all for coming to support a special Shabbat. 

It seems like all throughout October, and really all throughout the year we hear words like “Cancer Research, Breast Cancer, Awareness, and Support” But why should you support breast cancer awareness and research? The first thing I want everyone to do is to imagine this: 

Imagine a beautiful 32-year old woman, with bouncy brown hair, bright blue green eyes, and a strong, fit body. This woman you are imagining was the highest ranked female black belt in the world in the Israeli self-defense system Krav Maga. Although she was one of the toughest fighters, she was the most loving, sweet, creative, fun and, gentle person and I was lucky enough to call her my mother. At age 32, my mother Marni, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Now imagine this: That beautiful woman with bouncy brown hair quickly transformed into a beautiful woman with no hair. Her strong, fit body was soon fragile and weak from chemo and radiation– too weak to drive down the block or even to walk into my room to tuck me into bed. Her strength that was once so blatantly visible in her physical appearance, was no longer seen however, it began to resonate through her courage, persistence, and dedication to beat the disease that she was battling. The woman who you first imagined taught others how to defend themselves, yet she found herself at age 32 in the greatest battle of her life. Four years and two rounds of breast cancer later, my mother passed away. I was 12.

As a 9 year old, I didn't realize how much my mom’s disease would impact the rest of my life. I remember when she told us of her diagnosis, I was embarrassed that my mom wouldn't have hair at my 10th birthday. It wasn't until the day my sister and I got pulled out of school early to go say goodbye to our mother that I realized she wasn't going to survive. I was so upset with my parents, who had so much hope, for making it seem like she was going to be okay, that I would get to celebrate my bat mitzvah, my graduation, and my wedding with my mother by my side. But really, my mother living her life while she was sick was a blessing because she lived her life, not her disease. She went to every school play, every soccer game, and every dance recital she was well enough to go to. She let us pick out her headscarves to match her outfit; and when I wanted so badly to be a part of her recovery, she let me learn how to change her IV fluid. So while my childhood was not the norm, it was happy and full and I was lucky to have my mother in my life for the 12 years I did. To put it simply, losing my mother has defined me. As much as my mom shaped who I was, her absence has shaped me just as much. Losing my mother has made me strong. Losing my mother has made me independent. Losing my mother has made me dedicated to find a cure for the disease that took her life. Every year my family and I have organized the Stop Cancer Marni Fund 5k run walk. Through the walk and Krav Maga seminars, we have raised over one million dollars to fund breast cancer research at USC, UCLA, and City of Hope. My mom’s wish was for doctors to learn from her case to help other mothers, sisters, and daughters. 

So, I bring you back to my initial question, why should you join the fight against breast cancer? I know why I fight, but why should you? Well, 8-10% of Ashkenazi Jews carry the BRCA gene, which is the genetic mutation that greatly increases your risk of having breast cancer. Many of the women in this room tonight are Ashkenazi Jews. Many of your best friends, sorority sisters, myself included, are at risk for developing Breast Cancer. This fact is not meant to scare you. It is to empower you. We are all here getting a great education, and making amazing memories, but being aware and knowing the risks of the future is a powerful concept. Whether its raising awareness by listening to the knowledge of people like Carly, or raising money by donating to or participating in the Stop Cancer Walk, you can make a difference and you can get involved.

Lastly I want to thank Rabbi Zev and Ariela for keeping us aware and involved. By creating a safe place to raise awareness and take action, they are helping us take the first step.  So thank you and Shabbat Shalom.

Jordyn is pictured on the left with Ariela and Tzemach Johnson. This photo was taken at the Stop Cancer Walk that Jordyn organized in October.

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Searching for Answers

Shabbat Shalom, y'all! As always, it’s so great to have so many people here to enjoy another amazing Shabbat dinner. We can never say thank you enough times to the Johnson family for welcoming every one of us with open arms – so thank you!

In this week’s parsha, Vayetze (which in Hebrew means “and he left”), Jacob leaves Beer Sheva and travels to Haran. Along the way, he falls into a deep sleep and dreams of a ladder connecting heaven to earth, with angels ascending and descending the ladder. In the dream, God speaks to him and says: “"Remember I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land."

What strikes me most about this parsha is Jacob’s response to this promise from God. When he woke up, Jacob made a vow to God that he will have a special commitment with God, under certain conditions. He says: IF God remains with me, IF he protects me, IF he gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear and IF I return home safely, THEN he shall be my God.

But didn’t God just promise to protect him and bring him back to the land of Israel? Can we have conditional faith in God? To understand Jacob’s response, we have to understand where he is coming from. He left his childhood home to go on a journey to a new place, unsure of where his life was headed; he was worried and scared of his future, and he was searching for stability.

What this story can teach us is that sometimes it's okay to be a little lost and confused, and sometimes we just aren’t sure. We may struggle throughout college, our young adulthood, and even for the rest of our lives to know what we believe is “true” or “right”, but the only way to grow and develop is to ask questions and look for answers. Judaism teaches us that we are not only allowed to ask questions; we are encouragedto do so.

So my hope for us all is that that we take this weekend to reflect on our potential for growth and start to tap into it by learning more about the things we are confused about – whether that means talking to a friend about something that concerns you, talking to a Rabbi about a question you have, coming to a Jewish learning class about a topic you want to learn more about, taking a class here at UT that interests you, or even by just doing your own research.

I hope that everyone has a wonderful Shabbat and a great last few weeks of the semester. Shabbat Shalom!

Marissa is pictured on the left, during the 2013 Chabad on Campus NYC Shabbaton.

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