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Rochelle L. Shoretz A"H
Sharsheret was founded in November 2001, four months after Rochelle Shoretz, a 28 year old young Jewish mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Immersed within a close-knit Jewish community in northern New Jersey, Rochelle had many offers to help with meals and to transport her sons to after-school programs. What she really wanted, though, was to speak to another young mom who was going to have to explain to her children that she was going to lose her hair to chemotherapy, and what it would be like to prepare for the High Holidays knowing she was facing a life-threatening illness. Though her grandmother had died of the disease, cancer was a taboo subject still not discussed within her family and, she soon recognized, within the Jewish community at large.
Rochelle found information about her disease in many places, but she could not find resources to help her live with breast cancer as a young Jewish woman. Literature and support groups did not target her age group nor did they address her unique concerns about breast cancer as it related to her ethnicity. Rochelle reached out to everyone she knew to help her find someone like herself. A friend of a friend introduced her to Lauryn Weiser, 31 years old, a Jewish mother of three children, and six months further along in her breast cancer journey than Rochelle. Soon, the two women were speaking every day. Realizing the positive impact of linking with a young Jewish woman like herself, someone who truly understood what she faced, Rochelle wanted to make the experience better for the young women who followed them by emulating their connection and the help they were able to give each other. She wanted a place for young Jewish women to turn during their darkest hours no matter where they lived, to find strength to face their fears, resources to address their questions, and “sisters” with whom to share in their cancer journey in ways that transcend blood ties.
Rochelle, Lauryn, and three other young women gathered around Rochelle’s dining room table and Sharsheret was born. Rochelle, calling upon her experience serving as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, assumed the role of Executive Director, and the other women volunteered in a variety of capacities for the first two years until Sharsheret had grown to a point necessitating a professional staff. Rochelle received critical training and support for her new role as a resident in Bikkurim and as a Joshua Venture Fellow. From its inception, Sharsheret received overwhelming support and recognition from the cancer, medical, psychosocial, and genetic counseling communities. What helped the organization grow, Lauryn noted, was “a tacit agreement from everybody that Sharsheret was filling a tremendous void.”
In recognition of her pioneering efforts, Rochelle was appointed a seat on the Federal Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women, named a Yoplait Champion in the Fight Against Breast Cancer, and appeared as a resource on The Today Show, national news programs, and in more than 100 media outlets across the country.
In 2007, Rochelle transitioned from her role as Sharsheret’s Executive Director to once again pursue her law career. It was a recurrence of her breast cancer that prompted Rochelle to return as Sharsheret’s Executive Director in 2009. Now living with metastatic breast cancer, she brought a new perspective to the leadership that guided Sharsheret’s next chapter.
On May 31, 2015, Rochelle passed away from complications of breast cancer, a disease for which she created a community of support for thousands. The Sharsheret community has lost our Founder, our leader, our mentor. The Jewish world and the cancer world have lost a true champion of women and their families. Rochelle’s legacy is her children and an incredible organization that only she could have built. Her passion and drive will forever remain the foundation of Sharsheret.
To make a meaningful gift in memory of Rochelle, click here.
I am deeply saddened – and still in shock - by the loss of my beautiful friend, Rochelle.
We went skiing in Colorado in March 2013, and it was a magical trip for me to spend days of quality time with her. As we all know, she was so busy and never stopped!
She was absolutely FEARLESS, insisting on skiing through a massive snowstorm against my advice. Her lungs were struggling in the altitude but nothing would stop her from getting in that chairlift. She told me she felt free as she skied downhill, and so off she went. Up, up, and up to conquer yet another mountain.
Determination must have been her middle name. She was determined not to let anything stop her from living life on her terms…not even metastatic breast cancer.
Rochelle was so special to me - brilliant, yet humble, bold and brave. I am so grateful to have known her. We lost her way too young, and her legacy of building Sharsheret into a strong organization stands as a testament to her incredible courage, intelligence, and conviction.
Rochelle, I will miss you and can’t believe you are gone. I looked up to you, because of your strength, courage, determination, kindness, and that funny wit. You will never be forgotten.
Rochelle once said to me, "Brenda, here's the good news. I'm looking good. There's a lot of running in breast cancer." Rochelle walked for breast cancer, she bicycled for breast cancer, and she ran. She ran to create awareness. She ran to put Sharsheret on the map so that nobody could ignore young Jewish women with breast cancer.
Losing Rochelle is not easy. It's hard, it's painful. Today I texted Sharsheret to find out when the service would be, as though I could fly from Florida to NJ in time to crowd into the shul. I wanted to grab a cab from Newark and be squished into the far corner of the sanctuary. I wanted to squeeze in with the other 500 people who came to mourn Rochelle. I don't know any of them-- I would just recognize her boys, her mom, her sister -- but I wanted to be part of the crowd.
But as the day wore on, I settled down. I was still upset but I thought about our history. Having her as a student was a complete gift. Not only did she listen and learn, she valued what you taught. (From 1990-2015, I always addressed Rochelle as "my favorite student" -- an inappropriate remark that never failed to make her smile.) Mentoring Rochelle was like having your funniest friend pretend to do an independent study in your office. I thought that this was why Ruth Bader Ginzberg called her down to clerk for her in Washington. She was probably tired of the usual earnest clerks. She needed an irreverent Jewish woman who could intelligently "dish" about the other justices
Unfortunately, Rochelle came back from Washington to a life-changing diagnosis. When she reached out for help, she discovered that there was no one there, no network of support. She also discovered that she was part of a statistically insignificant minority (young Jewish women with breast cancer) that did not inspire research. Insignificant did not play well with Rochelle. Being whispered about (or pitied) was not her style. So she turned up the volume, she started the conversation, and she created a chain of support. Now, her organization not only serves young Jewish women with breast cancer but also Jewish women with ovarian cancer.
Rochelle fought for this cause with the same fierceness, the same ferocity that she brought to all aspects of her life. She did not do things halfway. She didn't just read a play, she performed it. She didn't just interview Jewish women playwrights, she made herself crazy, crafting the perfect essay about them. She threw her arms around a subject, she made it her own.
Rochelle also threw her arms around her family, her friends, her community. Consequently, she created an organization that embraced Jewish women everywhere, an organization that would nurture and support them at their most vulnerable. She was a visionary, who could envision a world where Jewish women could fight the odds and defeat the cancers that challenged them.
As Rochelle often said, an organization needs a face. Thus, she was the face of Sharsheret. In that face, you can see her warmth, her intelligence, her love, her "neshama." A world without that face is too painful to contemplate, at least for now. As the days pass, however, we will have to accept that Rochelle is gone. Luckily, she has left behind a map -- a system of links -- Sharsheret. And if we follow those links, we will get back to the center. And if we stand at the center, maybe we will see the world that Rochelle envisioned.
Baruch dayan emet. Rochelle was a force of nature--and the light today is dimmed. Words escape me, but I join a community of mourners who were touched by her so deeply.
© 2016 Sharsheret: Your Jewish Community Facing Breast Cancer
Sharsheret is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization ID# 13-4198529
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