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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.
Rochelle – one in a million; beautiful inside and out; smart; visionary. First impressions matter; that’s what we tell our children. It’s what people remember. My memory of my first interaction with Rochelle is the following. She called the non-profit where I worked and I answered her call. She said in her Rochelle kind of way, “Hi, my name is Rochelle Shoretz, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 28 and I am receiving chemotherapy now. I need to do something to make things better for young Orthodox Jewish women facing breast cancer. We have barriers….” She had an idea and wanted to run it by another breast cancer advocate to gauge interest; to see if she was on the right track. We had a lengthy conversation; it became personal since I was diagnosed 10 years before her and had three young sons. We related; personally and professionally. I hung up the phone and recall gazing out my office window moved by that conversation and how unnatural it felt to be talking to a woman at the start of her promising career as a lawyer only stopped in its tracks by this life-altering diagnosis. I knew that would not be the last time I heard from Rochelle and I believed that she would take action. And, she did.
I listened to Rochelle describe the unique needs of the young Orthodox Jewish community and the impact on her life and the lives of countless women and families. I concluded the call by stating that I thought she was on the right track and suggested one small tweak to her mission. The next thing I knew she had formed a 501c3 non profit – in less than four months from that call. Rochelle rolls up her sleeves and gets the job done. Always. She did that over and over during her career and the breast cancer community has benefitted from that and will continue to reap these benefits.
Over the past 14 years, Rochelle and I shared many conversations about life, work, and the needs of the Jewish community affected by breast cancer. She was a tenacious advocate; passionate, fearless, determined, honest, outspoken in an important and respectful way and bold. She pressed onward in the face of her illness taking on new physical challenges while maintaining her work schedule including sending a work email last Thursday, three days before her passing away.
Always thinking of others first – selfless, kind, loving and possessing a tremendous sense of wit and humor. I loved her laugh; I loved her smile; I loved her as a friend and as an advocate. I will remember her spending time with me comforting me after my brother died of complications associated with cancer four years ago. She didn’t leave my side – in fact, we shared some wine and great conversation for many hours. She was empathetic and caring – she was strategic, methodical and entrepreneurial. She had a clear vision and had the wherewithal to make it all happen, and in a very timely and collaborative way.
On Sunday, May 31, 2015 a brilliant light extinguished. The breast cancer advocacy world became dark, sad, stunned and shocked. Rochelle would never want anyone to remain in that darkness and so I will look upward and know that the incredibly talented, dedicated, loyal Sharsheret staff will continue her legacy to ensure that Jewish women and families affected by breast cancer have relevant support and information 24/7. My sincerest and deepest sympathies are extended to her beautiful sons whom she treasured, Shlomo and Dovid, and to her loving Sharsheret staff and family. I hope that in time the wonderful memories you shared will help ease your grief. Sending love and support.
While I do not know Rochelle personally, it felt like I did when I read her story. May this short period that you shared your life on this earth be remembered by all that you have touched. I pray you rest in peace because you are among Angela now.
Just came across the story of Rochelle Shoretz passing. After reading about her battle with cancer and how much she helped others I just wanted to say how much I admire her and feel her life had so much meaning. Many live lives of self indulgence and pity, but this lady really had living down. The world is a better place because she was in it :)
© 2015 Sharsheret: Your Jewish Community Facing Breast Cancer
Sharsheret is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization ID# 13-4198529
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