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    Thinking Pink!Interview with Rochelle Shoretz of Sharsheret




    In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, PopJudaica.com is doing a couple of special things in order to raise funds and provide information and raise awareness of the disease.

    Continue reading for an interview with Rochelle Shoretz, who at age 28 was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her experience as an observant Jew afflicted by breast cancer led her to create Sharsheret, an organization that provides culturally sensitive support for Jewish women affected by the disease.

    After you read the interview, head over to PopJudaica.com and pick up a pink item -- 20 percent of purchase proceeds will be donated to Sharsheret during the month of October!


    To start off, we have to know: The idea for this organization arose when you were in the midst of treatment in 2001. Was there a specific event or instance that made something spark the idea to create Sharsheret? Or was it a building up of events?

    Rochelle Shoretz: From the moment I was diagnosed, my goal was to find another young, Jewish woman living with breast cancer with whom I could speak. I had so many NON-medical questions that needed to be addressed: How would I care for my young boys during treatment? How best to prepare for the High Holy days that were soon approaching? And when I was finally connected to another young woman (her name is Lauryn, and she has served on Sharsheret's Board of Directors since its founding), it became clear that we somehow needed to let other young women know that we were out there and available to provide support. At the time, a very kind journalist from the Jewish Week was working on a story about my work in the legal field, and he offered to help publicize if I could get the ball rolling on this "organization" in time for the publication of his story. It was a race against the clock, but Sharsheret was founded in time to be included in that article.

    CB: How did you manage to cope with everything while getting Sharsheret rolling? Were there others outside your family who helped? Or were you solo in the beginning?

    RS: Sharsheret was a group effort from its inception. My then-husband encouraged its founding, reassuring me that he would get to heaven on my coattails. Lauryn was an inspiration, and then spent hours helping with all of the leg work required to get an organization off the ground -- making phone calls, stuffing envelopes, planning strategy. My friend Sara helped organized some of the very first Sharsheret outreach events. The community -- and particularly my own home town of Teaneck, NJ -- responded to the need and pitched in, offering their time, their networks, their contributions. Although I'm often seen as the face of Sharsheret, the reality is that there are thousands of Sharsheret angels who helped grow the organization.

    CB: How did you come about the name for the organization? (Sharsheret is Hebrew for "chain.")

    RS: This is going to sound "hokey" -- and I'm not generally a "hokey" person -- but the truth is, the name "Sharsheret" came to me in a dream. While we rushed to pull the organization together in time for the publication of the article I described, we were missing one key ingredient: a name! I think the last time I heard the word "Sharsheret" used before that dream was in a Yeshiva day school class. I woke up knowing that it was right. Our volunteers are called "Links" and our goal is to connect women with each other, like links in a chain.

    CB: Is there something unique about the experience of breast cancer for the Jewish woman -- be she old or young?

    RS: Yes! While women of all backgrounds share common experiences during breast cancer, we think it is critical to acknowledge some of the unique concerns of Jewish women. First, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes responsible for hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer are much more common in Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent (it is estimated that 1 in 40 Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent carry mutations in these genes compared to 1 in 345 in the general population), making us a critical group for research studies and generating a series of questions for families affected by BRCA1 and 2 mutations. Wearing a wig, which is commonly associated with marriage in Orthodox communities, can make chemotherapy even more trying for women who are not married or of a different Jewish background. Jewish holidays, like Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, can be challenging times to reflect on life and death. And the significance of fertility in a community that places tremendous emphasis on family and parenting becomes heightened when compromised by the effects of breast cancer treatment.

    CB: Of your many outstanding programs -- outreach, education, etc -- which do you think has been the most successful or inspirational?

    RS: It's difficult to identify one program that is the "most" successful or the "most" inspirational because every program at Sharsheret is borne of personal experience. We create each program in response to the needs of our callers, and therefore each breast cancer survivor or family member who finds Sharsheret praises the success of the program that meets his or her critical need. I would say that the most gratifying element of all of Sharsheret's programs is that the breast cancer survivor herself can become a source of support for others through the organization, turning what was once a devastating diagnosis into an empowering opportunity to help others.

    CB: I think all of us know someone touched by breast cancer, so how can we become involved in Sharsheret or help out with the organization's efforts?

    RS: During the past seven years, we have had a tremendous outpouring of offers to volunteer - so much so that we created a position at Sharsheret to help match volunteers with our programs. Our Volunteer Program Coordinator, who can be reached toll-free at 866-474-2774, will identify meaningful opportunities for anyone - men, women, and children - to become a part of Sharsheret's efforts. Whether it is organizing "Team Sharsheret" in a local breast cancer run, distributing brochures at local hospitals and cancer centers, or organizing a Bar or Bat Mitzvah project as part of a family celebration, there are so many ways those across the country are helping us share Sharsheret with others.

    CB: It seems that Sharsheret is an ever-growing organization, what do you see as the future of the program?

    RS: We are currently in the midst of a critical strategic planning process, working with an outside consultant, our staff, our constituents, and our Board of Directors to shape Sharsheret's growth over the next three to five years. Sharsheret has been such a success that we are asked often to expand in many directions. We're all as excited as the rest of the community to help identify the most meaningful path for growth in the years ahead.

    CB: What to you has been the most rewarding part of founding Sharsheret? What would you like our readers to know about the organization that might pique their interest amid the High Holiday season?

    RS: Personally, the most meaningful aspect of founding Sharsheret has been the impact it has had on my own children -- teaching them, firsthand, that we can use life's challenges as opportunities to help others. And I think that's the part that resonates with the rest of the Jewish community as well. Together, we've grown a small group of committed breast cancer survivors into a national organization helping thousands of women and their families, educating communities, providing critical resources to those who, before Sharsheret, did not have a meaningful avenue for support. I think the High Holiday season and Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October each year) couldn't be more perfectly timed. Both are opportunities for deep reflection and prayers for happiness and continued health. The entire Sharsheret community thanks you all -- the founders and supporters of PopJudaica.com -- for all that you have done since Sharsheret's founding to aid in our efforts to support Jewish women and families facing breast cancer, and we share our best wishes for happiness and health during this meaningful time.

    To find out more about Sharsheret, visit Sharsheret.org and to support this incredible organization, and Shop for Sharsheret at PopJudaica.com!

    Rochelle Shoretz was interviewed by Chavi Edwards.

    What DOES it Take to Be a Cool Jew? Author Lisa Alcalay Klug Lets Us Know!


    Award-winning author Lisa Alcalay Klug's "Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe" was released to the eager masses this week and we thought, what better forum for a book on being a cool Jew than The Chosen Blog! So Sheebsters and Heebsters, if you're down with lox, know your Jewish geography, and can't start your day without a little Manischewitz, read on for a sneak peek at the book!

    The Chosen Blog: Oy! This really is the whole megillah on being a Cool Jew! This must have been a progressive work over years and years! What, or maybe who, inspired you to write this book?

    Lisa Alcalay Klug: First the what: a few articles I wrote in late 2005. One was for the San Francisco Chronicle on how cool it is to be Jew in the Bay Area. Another was for the Forward about eight nights of kitsch of Chanukah gifts. What these two articles shared was pride in Jewish culture, shmaltz and a reverent irreverence. Once I formulated that into the idea of a Heebster Handbook--Cool Jew's Hebrew name--I knew I had the makings of a book.

    And here's the who: my parents. My dad is an Ashkenazi Holocaust survivor and my mom, who is from Panama and the daughter of Israelis, is a descendant of the Sephardic chief rabbi of Sarajevo. My parents' rich Jewish experiences took root in other countries and cultures. And Cool Jew grew out of all the ways I've sought to create meaningful Jewish experiences of my own. My father's legacy during my childhood, "never, ever be ashamed that you're a Jew," is infused into my book. It's a 250-page antidote for Jewish self-hatred.

    CB: How did you go about researching the book?

    LAK: You could say that some of it, I've always been researching because I love where Jewish and pop culture intersect. And there are tons of examples of things I've been noticing and collecting over the years. Once I started the book, I went to a lot of festivals, concerts, launch parties and other events. A barrage of new ideas, albums, kitsch and more hit me almost daily.

    CB: Did you write "Cool Jew" with anyone in mind? Or is it for Jews of all streams and those of the honorary persuasion?

    LAK: You could say I'm an Ashkefardic Neo-Chasidish Shomeret Shabbat Carlebachian Post-Labelficationist Sheebster. And my family includes many other types of Yidden. Just as we are so many different kinds of Jew, so is my book. In other words, it's for everyone, including Honorary Heebs, like Christine, my non-Jewish editor, who was the book's first buyer, and my sister-in-law, who is happy there is finally a fun and entertaining way to understand the mishegas.

    CB: You cover a lot of classics like "Jewish Geography," but some of this stuff is completely off the wall! Where did you find it or how did you come up with the more unique stuff, like deciphering which vegetables and animals are of the Jewish variety?

    LAK: Certain things in the universe just feel Jewish to me. Because it always expresses two opinions, I think of the Push-Me Pull-You from "Dr. Doolittle," for instance, as the "Tevye of the Jungle." All those National Geographic penguins suggest "The March of the Hasidim." And zebras are like living, breathing tallit stripes grazing on the African savannah. Maybe this is what happens to your mind when you grow up with a mom who speaks like Ricky Ricardo and a dad who speaks like Dr. Ruth.

    CB: Will there be a Cool Jews II?

    LAK: There will G-DASH-D willing, be something. For me, writing a book is like a Pringle, or as my father would say, a kosher pickle. Who can stop at just one?

    CB: What was your favorite morsel in "Cool Jew"?

    LAK: I have a bunch… One of my favorites is the "Certificut of Circumcision" at the end of the book. You literally give the book a bris by cutting out a specific page to represent the removal of all self-hatred from your Yiddishe neshama. (See p. 219.)

    CB: Is this hipster Jew revolution merely a cultural fad or do you see this J-evolution sticking around?

    LAK: Our world is blessed with so many amazing Jewish artists, activists, educators and entrepreneurs. They literally fill up the extensive "Heebster Jewke Box" guide to Jewish music and "Da Tribe Online" directory of community resources in the back of Cool Jew. I'd say it looks like this Adam & Eve-olution is going to be here for a while.

    CB: With more than 200 pages to the guide, can you provide the lazy with a short sentence or two on what it really means to you to be a Cool Jew?

    LAK: Being a cool Jew means being comfortable in your own skin, knowing where you come from and expressing pride in who you are. When you're a Heebster you don't have to work hard to be cool. You just have to be Jew!

    CB: Any final words for our readers?

    LAK: I'd love to hear what your readers think is cool, Jew. I'm also collecting images of the Cool Jew book found around the world. The best ones get posted on my blog! Please get in touch and send photos on to lisa (at) cooljewbook (dot) com ... Until then, a l'chaim in your punim!

    Purchase Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe and all the kitsch featured in the book here at PopJudaica.com.

    ~Lisa Alcalay Klug was interviewed by Chavi Edwards (AKA The Chosen Blog's Kvetching-Editor-at-Large)