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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 first met Rochelle when Sharsheret was an incubator project of Bikkurim here at JFNA, and her spirit permeated our office. In just a few minutes of speaking with her, I knew that she would be an outstanding speaker for our National Women's Philanthropy programs, and that we, in turn, could be helpful to the fledgling Sharsheret by giving it widespread exposure to our wonderful communities. The idea clicked immediately with both of us, and that was the beginning of a wonderful, collaborative relationship. Rochelle was an instant sensation with our Women's Philanthropy groups, our ILOJC and our Young Leadership conferences. She was truly a force of nature - seemingly tireless in her efforts on behalf of Sharsheret, but also - importantly so - on behalf of Jewish community in general. She spoke of being "Unapologetically Jewish" in everything we do on behalf of the community, because this was our truest expression of our ideals and values. We all learned so much from Rochelle, and we loved her personally - a funny, brilliant, warm and meaningful person who lived life with purpose and beauty. We are all bereft and send our love and support to her family. We will be true to her mission in life, to the lessons she taught us by her example, and we will never forget her, as we live unapologetically Jewish lives. May her memory be a blessing always. With love.
Few people leave this world knowing they have fulfilled to the upmost the mission Hashem laid before them. Rochie, you have always been ahead of the pack. Since we were kids, a natural leader, sharp as a whip, and demanding of yourself in every way. I have always been and still am in awe of you. May your children keep all your gifts alive.
Thoughts on the Shloshim (30 days since passing) of the incomparable, incredible Rochelle Shoretz:
Last evening was an incredible tribute that was an honor for me to attend. Like Rochie, it was open to all, not just her inner circle. It afforded a meaningful and of course, impeccably presented opportunity for all of us to find some fashion of closure and to salute her immeasurable persona and infinite accomplishments:
I first met Rochie before she even moved to Teaneck, before she was challenged by health. At that time, her two beautiful sons, close in age, sat in the same double stroller I had. Now, hearing them speak at the shloshim service, they took my breath away. Their poise, strength, clarity and perceptive grasp of the meaning of life are well beyond their years and a tremendous credit to their exceptional mom. It is clear to me that Rochi pulled off the miracle of her kids being more substantial people for her health challenges, rather than disadvantaged in any way.
I was there as a volunteer Rochie introduced Sharsheret in the old IDT building in Hackensack. Even then, it was clear that Rochie stood on the threshhold of greatness. From the moment of our meeting until today and indeed for my personal forever, I will be inspired by her belief in human dignity and possibility in all circumstances. She will continue to illuminate and inspire forever. May we pass down to our children and grandchildren all that she stood for. She shouldered millions under her umbrella. It's our turn now. I pray we make her proud.
My thoughts are prayers are with Rochie's incredible family and close friends, to whom she always referred with the deepest of respect and gratitude for their support and their own accomplishments.
It is so hard and so painful to think that she has left this world. It took thirty days to compose my thoughts and will take many, many lifetimes to carry forward her important work. Time to get down to business. That's what she would want.
© 2016 Sharsheret: Your Jewish Community Facing Breast Cancer
Sharsheret is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization ID# 13-4198529
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