For six high school juniors at Golda Och Academy in West Orange, breast cancer is personal. Among them they have mothers, grandmothers, and other family members who have struggled with the diagnosis.
“I know so many people affected by breast cancer. There are so many people within our community,” said student Shira Kalet of Millburn. “I’m really passionate about this, and I thought it was very important for me to do something.”
So along with five friends, Shira spearheaded an effort to start a Breast Cancer Awareness Club at the West Orange school last winter. Although such clubs exist at many high schools and Jewish day schools across New Jersey and throughout the country, there’s never been one at GOA. Typically, three-four new clubs start each year; the school currently has 30.
Since the launch of the club early last spring, between 30 and 60 people have been coming to biweekly meetings, which include PowerPoint presentations and true/false “guessing games” to clarify myths around breast cancer. For October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, members are also hanging posters around the school featuring facts about the disease.
“Most, if not all, of us have at least one person we know affected by breast cancer,” said Talia Feldman of Princeton, another founding member of the group along with Hannah Sturm of Maplewood, Emily Binstein of Metuchen, Maddy Lefkowitz of Livingston, and Mikayla Talmud of East Brunswick.
Organizers assumed that Breast Cancer Awareness Month would be their most active time of the year, but they also decided to hold one small event last May. They charged admission to watch classmate Mattan Poller donate his hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which partners with the American Cancer Society to provide free wigs made of real hair to women fighting cancer. A professional hairdresser came to the school for the event.
“We weren’t expecting much because we’re such a new club,” said Emily, but they were taken aback by their success. They raised $1,000 from the event, which they donated to Sharsheret, the national organization based in Teaneck that offers support for young Jewish women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Sharsheret is providing the club with educational materials for the group’s meetings, and it has featured the club’s October events on the organization’s webpage.
The club’s activities for Breast Cancer Awareness Month include a traditional “pink day” on Oct. 23, with opportunities to learn and donate to help find a cure. Partnering with the GOA athletic department, they’ve arranged for all the sports teams to wear pink socks to their games throughout the month. Whichever team raises the most money, based on the average per player, by the end of the month gets a prize. A pink tie-dye day was held on Oct. 8, when students had the opportunity to purchase and tie-dye white T-shirts pink, with proceeds benefiting Sharsheret.
The group is wary of the pink branding for awareness month, but has embraced it as an opportunity. “We are doing ‘pink day’ but so much more than just the surface pink. Pink is light, sweet, girly. People need to understand more and not just what’s on the surface,” said Emily.
Shira added, “Of course we show our support for the many people fighting this disease, but we also take the time to learn about it, to understand what people go through who have it, and what it entails.”
And as Maddy pointed out, “There’s not enough emphasis on how hard it is to struggle with breast cancer. We want to help people understand.”