Friday, December 21, 2018

Gratitude and Privilege and in Hebrew Hakarat Hatov and Z’chut

Ethan's graduation University of Wisconsin, Madison 2018
Wednesday, December 19th was my 2nd round of Chemo.  All went well. I am still wearing the Digni Cap during chemo, which freezes my head to 32 Degrees. It is not comfortable to say the least, but at the same time I am grateful for this new cooling technology, which helps to save your hair.  My goal was to have hair for Ethan’s graduation and I did. At my hospital I was able to participate and use this machine because a donor gave money for women to participate without having to pay out of pocket. I know that otherwise it would have been a very costly proposition. That’s a privilege I am benefiting from. For many other women, that kind of privilege would just be a dream.
This is how I feel all day during Chemo!

I have become so much more aware of my privilege, my Z'chut in other ways throughout my cancer journey. I live close to a wonderful hospital which I can access, due to my health insurance.  As I read in different online groups, I have realized that other women with cancer can not always afford their treatments, or pay their doctors’ bills. It is a terrible feeling to read these stories and recognize that a twist here, or a twist there and I could be in those women’s position. I don’t believe that in American, in 2018, that this should be a reality, but it is. What these same people must have gone through before the Affordable Care Act, I can’t even imagine. Thanks, Obama.

Through this all, I have worked to avoid acknowledging privilege as an exercise in guilt. Instead, I would rather express how grateful, Hakarat Hatov, I am for everyone and everything around me. I am grateful for all the support I have gotten from my family, friends and extended communities.  I had a delicious hot meal on Wednesday night, given by Denise and Jeff Goldberg, and Michelle Mutter and Rich Leonard after a long day spent with Arthur in the hospital. Wednesday morning my book club was graciously led by Lori Sagarin. I only hope they will still like me after being with such a professional. This Shabbat we look forward to a dinner from Cantor Arik Luck, Rachel Greenberg-Luck and their family! (to Sign up to help us out check out:

Special thanks to my sister, Wendy Shanker for coming in from St. Louis to make sure my parents and I are doing OK.  This blog would not be as well edited without Lital and Cole and this week they do their editing from Europe: Paris and Brussels.  Friends and family from far and near have checked in on me with a regularity which makes me feel so loved and cared for.

Fun weekend!
Cancer is not something anyone wants to hear or have as a diagnosis.  It is not a club you want an invite to, but it has been a reminder of what we too often take for granted. And even more importantly, it has shown me in real time that my family extends far beyond our Shabbat table. I am grateful to live among such family. Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Journey begins

It has been a whirlwind week, so I thought I would bring everyone up to date.  First chemo was Wednesday and it went well. I don’t have enough praise for all the nurses, CNAs  and other hospital staff who helped me through this first day of firsts. I wonder, is that a Shehecheyanu moment?  I will add some prayers next time I am in the chemo chair. We certainly add Shehecheyanu to the first night of Hanukkah which was Sunday December 2!

Shehecheyanu: Blessing for Beginnings
This blessing expresses gratitude for experiencing a new or special occasion, and is said whenever we do something for the first time in a calendar year. It can be recited on calendar milestones (for example: a birthday, the first night of each Jewish holiday) and other “firsts” (for example: tasting a new fruit, eating vegetables from your summer garden, wearing a new item of clothing, starting a new job, and dropping your children off for a new school year). (And I guess at your first CHEMO?)

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higianu laz'man hazeh.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

The most challenging part of chemo for me, so far, is the  Digni Cap. It is a new technology I am trying out. Here is how it works:
Scalp cooling is a proven approach to reduce chemotherapy-induced hair loss that has been used successfully by thousands of patients worldwide. They cool my scalp to a freezing 32 degrees. There is a built-in security sensor to ensure my scalp temperature always remains above 32° F/0° C.  
Freezing in in my Digni Cap
The cap was donated to the hospital by a former cancer patient. Putting on the cap lengthens my chemo by about 2-3 hours.  My motivation for trying this is for my youngest son, Ethan’s, graduation. He is graduating December 16th from the University of Wisconsin with a B.S. in computer engineering and computer science.   Hopefully, the Digni cap will allow me to still have hair for this special (shehechiyanu) moment and will be sure to share pictures! If after graduation I find the digni hat a little TOO challenging I may go without out next time.  For now it’s on!

It is still business as usual outside the hospital. I am working at Lakeside, doing a little walking to keep up my strength and taking care of myself.  Next chemo is after graduation and we will see if the steroids will again course through me like they did last week.  

The response to my blog and my news has been overwhelming.  I am so thankful for all of my communities and of course my family as it will take a village to shepherd us through this journey.  Our lotsahelpinghands site has already brought us dinners which are not only helpful, but delicious..  There will be more dates added as time goes on. If you have trouble with this site you can email Lital directly and she will help you out.

Many of you have asked for my Hebrew name to add to your  Mishaberach lists.  Here it is:

ונסה בּת משה לאה ויהושע
12-2 at Lakeside with Cantor Katzman
Vanessa Bat Masha Leah V’Yoshua.  It’s a long story on why Vanessa but that is for another post.  

I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me and I hope to get back to you over time.  I love reading your beautifully written messages and it certainly raises my spirits. Ok, sometimes if I read too many I cry, but it’s still so beautiful to read.  I look forward to seeing you, running into you and hearing from you.

Chag Urim Samaech
Have a wonderful Hanukkah!

Who doesn't love Radio Hanukkah?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

It's hard to give this post a name

Coming up with a headline for this blog has been a challenge. Below are some of the names my family and I thought about.
Last day of  Lakeside's Religious School 2018 with my children

She has a touch of cancer:  From John Green's Fault in Our Stars and before that Shakespeare: a little dark
Ovarian Story: Nah
Ovari Serious Announcement: Not the right tone
The Blog that shall not be named: Yes, for Harry Potter Fans
Belated Announcement: One of my favorite made up idioms

There probably is not a “right” choice for naming a blog like this and I can’t exactly bury the lead, although I have tried.  So here it is, I have ovarian cancer, which was just recently diagnosed. On a Thursday, I went in for a CT scan due to some pain in my abdomen.  A young doctor in the ER looked at the report and urged me to make an appointment with my doctor as soon as possible. He was adamant. I saw my doctor the next Monday and she said I should make an appointment with a gynecological oncologist.  That's when it sunk in. You don't see an oncologist just for abdominal pain, nor do they send you to one on a whim. The following week was filled with more appointments, more questions, more answers, and finally with Arthur in the doctor’s room with me, that’s when we heard the diagnosis.

Yes, it is  cancer; It is treatable; It might come back, but we will continue to fight it. My doctor was incredibly positive. He felt certain there will be even better treatments in the next few years; and we certainly hope there continues to be more treatments available.  
We don't realize how many people live with cancer as a chronic health issue.

Along with the diagnosis, I have struggled with a way to share this news with all my communities, friends, and family.  This blog is a good way to reach out and, of course, do some teaching. Who doesn't like to add some teaching, especially Jewish teaching? You all know I do.
A few FAQ's in my case, you know that I always get down to the concrete:
• I will have chemotherapy and then surgery. • Surgery, which may be in January, will be followed by more chemotherapy. • Don't google everything, it may not pertain to me or my particular case. • I will continue working and building our Adult Education at Lakeside-Solel in the years ahead. • I look forward to leading my book groups, leading services and Bible Study occasionally and helping B'nai Mitzvah with their D'vrei Torah.

When you teach, you should also have extra resources in your lesson plan. Here are some resources I do recommend:
  • Sharsheret, a Jewish organization which has just opened an office in Chicago, reaches out to women with breast and ovarian cancer. Click on the link for more information.
  • Did you know there are special makeup classes for those going through Cancer?
  • Find out more about your Jewish genetics from the Sarnoff Center.  You will hear more about this in later blog posts from me!
  • Take a look at the cancer wellness center website which is located in Northbrook and in different areas around the country and has educational classes and great resources.

Traditionally Jews recite the following prayer from our siddur daily.  From the Talmud: Eilu d'varim sh’ain l'hem shiur, These are the things we can do without measure:

1. Honoring father and mother,
2. Deeds of loving kindness,
3. Early arrival at the study-house, morning and evening,
4. Welcoming guests,
5. Visiting the sick,
6. Welcoming the bride,
7. Accompanying the dead (for burial),
8. Devotion in prayer,
9. Making peace between people
10. And the study of Torah is equal to them all because it leads to them all.
(b. Shabbat 127a)
People have already asked what they can do for me and for our family. You can see that visiting the sick is in the list above and many of you will have questions about everything that is going on. To answer them proactively, we will be posting on this website and I invite you to check in for a status update via the website which has a a meal train or by this blog. For those who want to reach out to me directly, the best way is through my email.  As much as I like to be in control, I know this journey is out of my control and I am doing my best to adapt and go with the flow. I am grateful for all my friends and especially my family.  I might not always be my upbeat self, but I look forward to hearing from you.
It is not easy for me to tell everyone about my medical status.  I hope to reach out to many of you over the next few days and weeks and touch base. I have also noticed that many people say to me that “they are so sorry” when I give them the news. That has consistently struck me as a funny response as you have done nothing and I have done nothing and we have nothing to be sorry for.  Talking with Ethan we settled on a response to the news that makes more sense from our perspective: I’m here for you. I know in my heart that you are all with me and my family.  
Lital and Cole's Wedding August 2016
Beyond your words, another way of supporting me through this journey is through fulfilling these other obligations outlined in Eilu d'varim sh’ain l'hem shiur: going to services, studying, and committing deeds of loving kindness.  That would make me just as happy, so please be sure to email me with the mitzvot you enjoyed the most!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Peak Experiences or a Kodak Moment!

This summer the faculty at URJ's OSRUI had the opportunity to read the book:  The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath.  This book teaches us that we can craft and create moments that will stay in our minds long after the day has passed.  We are especially good at camp at creating those peak experiences in different ways from using costumes, igniting large signs in fire and our all camp talent shows.  When you think back to camp or school you may remember these larger than life moments.  When I was growing up you called it a Kodak moment which is now defined as:
The term "Kodak moment" has earned a spot in The Online Slang Dictionary, which defines it as "a moment worthy of capturing with a photograph, especially an adorable moment.
What will become of Kodak moments with all of our digital cameras?  I am not sure but even at OSRUI before Shabbat Shira our all camp singing on Friday night ALL and I mean all of the chanichim, campers, throw their hands in the air and say "No Flash photography" which has not been a problem since flashbulbs went out of fashion about 20 years ago.  It started many years ago when flashbulbs went off during the singing and it was very distracting.  We have a new director and our chanichim still say No Flash photography and throw their hands over their heads and motion taking a picture with an old instamatic camera.  

How can we make sure we have a happy medium between out of the ordinary programming and programming that everyone will remember at least until they get home from camp or get into the car after Religious school.
Gene Simmons AKA Ross Orgiefsky 

Last year at Lakeside Congregation we brought back our "door" which was a time machine and introduced Israeli characters for Israel's 70th birthday to our Religious school every week.  We called it Dor (generation in Hebrew) L' Door.  We had a class of students who made this their project based learning and they picked who would come through the door.  The week before Purim, Gene Simmons of KISS came through the door as a bonafide Israeli citizen who was born in there.  I am sure my students will remember the door and I hope they will remember MOST of the people who made an appearance.

This year our door is moving to Beth Emet the Free Synagogue in Evanston and surprisingly it has the same magic features that it did at Lakeside.  In fact on Sunday September 16 Sarah (of Abraham and Sarah) came through the door.  She was able to pray with the students there and remarkably there was one girl in attendance named Sarah!  I hope that this will be a peak experience for the students at Beth Emet and that they will have as much fun as we have had over the years in welcoming guests to our sanctuary.
Sarah one of the Matriarchs arriving at Beth Emet

I know that educators and parents too have many peak moments that they are planning and crafting for the upcoming year. Some peak moments may also just happen when students and curriculum come together or a family manages to create a special memorable moment.  I love to be a part of any type of peak moment and will be planning some for this new year.

Friday, April 20, 2018

What does Mitzvah mean to YOU?

Lakeside Congregation at the Northern Illinois Food Bank 2018
One of the first things I teach in my school is that Mitzvah means commandment and it is not as many adults and students believe "good deed".  With Lakeside Congregation's Mitzvah day around the corner on Sunday May 6,  I hope that you will take a minute to think about this differentiation between a good deed and a mitzvah.  Many Mitzvot are good deeds, visiting the sick, comforting mourners and rejoicing with bride and groom.  These mitzvot are all listed in a prayer traditional Jews say daily and one that is in our siddur, Elu D'varim, these are the things you can do without measure.  You can always help sick people, study in the synagogue and honor your mother and father without any limitations.  These are commandments.  These commandments will not put in the poor house or really cost you any money and that is why they are all in one list.

I do believe that some of my younger students when think that mitzvot are good deeds. When asked to list mitzvot they will tell me that walking the dog, cleaning their room or taking out the garbage qualifies as a mitzvah.  I am NOT one to discourage our children from doing chores but I usually point out that not mitzvot.  I hope that this distinction can show our adults and students how Jewish values creep into their lives daily.  To honor your father and mother daily takes kavennah, intention.

Perhaps this list will help you as you strive to understand how Jewish values permeate your life without you really even realizing it.

Here is the English translation of Eilu D'varim:

These are the things the fruits (=interest) of which a person enjoys in this world, but the principal
remains for him in the world to come:
Alex collecting bikes to repair for his Mitzvah project
1. honoring father and mother,
2. deeds of loving kindness, (Gimilut Chasadim)
3. early arrival at the study-house morning and evening,
4. hospitality to guests,
5. visiting the sick,
6. dowering the bride,
7. accompanying the dead (to burial),
8. devotion in prayer,
9. making peace between a man and his fellow,
10. and the study of Torah is equal to them all.
(b. Shabbat 127a)
Mitzvah Day Fair of Mitzvah Projects
I am always surprised that when we ask our B'nai Mitzvah students to do 13 hours of Mitzvot or service over the years before their ceremony that we never get push back.  Students willingly find projects that they are passionate about and I am so proud of what they do.  If you count up the number of students over the years that have done projects since I instituted the practice it would be over 8,000 hours of Mitzvot.  Many of our students go on to do much more than just 13 hours of Mitzvot and they all mention their projects in their  d'vrie Torah (ok, perhaps it is on the outline that I give them and they HAVE to mention their projects).  I do believe that some students upon hearing that a friend has worked with Keshet, our local organization for children who are differently abled, thinks to themselves, hey I can do that too.  
After you have taken a look at this list I hope that you can find some time to sign up for Mitzvah day at Lakeside or in your own congregation.  I look forward to discussing on line or in person what is a mitzvah and how we can ask our children to do even more! See you soon or at least on Mitzvah Day!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Traveling to Israel-Come for the fun; stay for the experience!

Someone once asked me how did I get to be so crazy, mishugana, for Israel?  I started to think about it.  Was it my Rabbi growing up who talked about Israel as we studied in his library with my sister and 2 other students?  No, I don't think it was Rabbi Rose who did it, although he did emphasize the importance of learning Hebrew, which now that I think about it he taught us in Ashkenazi Hebrew.

In Jerusalem in early 1973
Of course my parents were influential in all that my sister and I did as we were growing up.  They traveled to Israel in 1968, 6 months after the 6 day war.  They had a very charismatic guide who sold them on the country which was only 23 years old at the time, and he taught them about our history and heritage.  My parents were excited to return as a family 5 years later with us in tow.  We too had a fun time in Israel in the spring of 1973 before the Yom Kippur war and some of the joy left Israel.

Junior Year Abroad in Jerusalem
Maybe it was the Israeli Hebrew tutor my mother found for us as she and her husband came out every week to McHenry, Illinois to teach the same 4 girls who also studied with our Rabbi.  This time we learned Sephardi Hebrew and could converse enough to order a coca-cola in Jerusalem when we traveled there.

It also could have been the Young Judea youth group my mom started at our synagogue.  My mom was a part of Hadassah and this was their youth group affiliate.   I became very involved and eventually chose to go to their national camp in New York, Tel Yehudah.  I went to a Jewish/Zionist summer camp with 500 other Jewish teens for 2 years.  Coming from Crystal Lake, Illinois I had never seen that many Jewish teens in one place before.

I eventually spent a year in Israel, Junior Year Abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where I met my husband, Arthur.  I loved that year and all my successive trips to Israel  more than any other place I have traveled. In fact,  you are not traveling in Israel you are going home.

Now is the time to make plans to come with Lakeside Congregation to Israel next December 2018.  I like nothing better to see Israel through the eyes of people who have never been and are coming back after a long time away.

We will be traveling with ARZA and I know that you will have the time of your life.  Take a look at out trip and call me and let me know if you are interested!  I promise you will not be disappointed!

Last Lakeside trip to Israel in 2013

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The time is now!

This week there was a confluence of current events which led me to believe that we must act now. First, I hope that everyone voted this week and plans to vote again at the midterms in November.  It is crucial if you want your voice to be heard whether it be in local or national government.  I was glad to vote in our Illinois primary and I am looking forward to voting in November.  I am also so proud of our High School seniors who voted for the first time in this primary! 

Second, Speaking of students, this Saturday morning students from all over the nation are joining with their parents and adults in the community to protest gun violence and advocate for gun control in the United States.  There was another school shooting yesterday in Maryland and I hope by the time you read this blog there will have not been another shooting.  It is frightening to watch ads pop up about bullet proof back backs and even sadder bullet proof preschool nap cushions.  What has the world come to?  I hope that in the future we can look back and say that this year with the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school leading the way that was the tipping point in gun control in this country. I pray that our representatives in Washington DC are moved to take action and pass REAL laws that will help us and our children in school stay safe.

Third, this week in our Lakeside Social action meeting with met with the Citizens' Climate Lobby. We learned about Carbon Fee & Dividend policy which levels the playing field between those who have the resources and those who do not and it also lowers carbon emissions which as science will tell you is the leading cause of the climate change.  Check out their website and see what they have to say.

Find your passion, pick a project and do something this week.  

Our sage Hillel  “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

It is up to us to start making the world a better place right now.  We can not be complacent about it taking on new tasks.  We must get up and get out to make sure our voices are heard.  Pick your task:  working on a political campaign, joining Citizens' Lobby, going to the March for our lives or just talking about some of this at your upcoming Passover Seder next week.  
We must tell the story in every generation and sometimes we must listen to what this generation has to say to us.  This year at my Seder we have asked our children to lead the Seder and engage us in discussion.  I am looking forward to their discussion and learning from them.  Have a wonderful Pesach and let me know what you discussed at your Seder!
Posters done by our Pre and Confirmation class

Friday, January 19, 2018

Are we coming or going in Parshat BO and I am going to #ARJE18 in Seattle Jan 22-24, 2018

From BIM-BAM, a great recap of the weekly Torah Portion!
In this week's Torah portion, Bo meaning either come or go in Hebrew, we see Moses and Aaron dealing with the last 3 of the 10 plagues (locusts, darkness and the killing of the first born male child).  We know from the text that Pharaoh's heart has been hardened.  The idea of a heart being hardened has always intrigued me.  When your heart is hardened it is set in stone and no one can convince you to change your mind. Again from the text we know that God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Why did God hardened his heart?  Did God want Pharaoh to keep the children of Israel in Egypt?  Did God know that the children of Israel would ONLY leave Egypt if they had been spared losing their first born and the Egyptians would want them out of their midst?  This is the text of our Pesach Haggadah and it is a intriguing tale.

Another point of deliberation is the name of this Torah portion.  BO, which in modern Hebrew means to come towards.  Why would this Torah portion have a Hebrew word that means to come when the children of Israel are LEAVING Egypt.  One interpretation is that Moses, Aaron, Miriam and company were being welcomed INTO the Eretz Yisrael.  This is confusing.  Are they being welcomed?  Are they being told to leave?  All these interpretations I believe are correct.  I also think that in the day and age of intentional speech and writing we need to take care with how we talk and how we are perceived.  I can also add that we must make sure our heart is not hardened and we take time to look at everything we a clean slate/a clean heart.

This week I am GOING to the Annual Gathering of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators, ARJE, and look forward to welcoming and meeting new colleagues from all over the states.  Want to take a look at our daily schedule feel free to check it out! This is an opportunity for me and other educators to learn, experience and network about Religious school, Jewish institutions who have participants of all ages.  We can take a look at new approaches and make sure that our heart is not hardened and that we give all of the new ideas and methods we are learning a chance especially when we come home to our institutions.

As I COME back home I will be able to begin integrating and sharing what I learned in Seattle.  It is important to always keep learning and renewing yourself so that you keep on top of current trends.  I hope that you will enjoy my twitter/facebook feed as I share in real time next week what is going on in Seattle.  I always look forward to having something to say on social media and an ARJE Annual gathering gives me what to say.  Have a good week as I look forward to Beyond the Box, our ARJE gathering in Seattle.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Vacation, Value and Visualization: Cartagena, Columbia December 2017

I was very lucky to vacation with my extended family in Cartagena, Colombia during part of the cold snap happening in Chicago. It was a wonderful 8 days of warm weather, family bonding and an opportunity to unplug, (OK not TOTALLY unplug but for the most part unplug). It is so important to spend time together as a family and just hang out. Our family realizes how fortunate we are to have this opportunity to take advantage of the time to have conversations.  

Why Cartagena?  No, it is not dangerous, (anymore) and no there were no drugs present at anytime.  We did take advantage of happy hour on the beach a few times and one or two times by the pool.   We picked Cartagena because it was warm, NOT too far away and an old city for us to explore.  

The city of Cartagena, known in the colonial era as Cartagena de Indias is a major port founded in 1533, located on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Regio.  The people are very friendly and we had 2 guides to take us on walking tours both of whom were very knowledgeable about the city and history.  I always compare everything to an Israel trip and just like in Israel Guides in Columbia are licensed and very knowledgeable.   We enjoyed learning about the walled city in Cartagena (my family members were nonplussed when I announced that they could celebrate Purim for 2 days in the old city because of the wall) and seeing the The Palace of Inquisition which is was finished around 1770, and currently serves as a museum showcasing historical artifacts from the Inquisition was very interesting. It does mention Jews who of course were notoriously tortured in Spain but during these times and anywhere the Spaniards were in control. They also persecuted the indigenous population and anyone who was not a practicing Catholic. 

We also had 4 days at a resort on an island which was a 2 hour boat ride from the mainland.  It was lovely to relax, swim, snorkel, scuba dive by the sea.  Coming home to about a 100 degree change in the thermometer was not an easy transition.  I am thankful for time with my immediate family and my extended family. We were blessed to go away with 3 generations and not just come back in one piece but also having had fun just hanging out.  You don't have to go to Columbia to have fun with your family but I highly recommend that you put aside intentional time with your family; in the end it will be a value which I KNOW you can visualize!