The Young Israel of East Brunswick recently went pink to create awareness and show support for breast cancer patients and survivors.
The program was run in conjunction with Sharsheret, a national nonprofit based in Teaneck that supports Jewish women and their families facing breast cancer.
Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent have an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer because of a BRCA gene mutation.
“We wanted to raise awareness of why breast cancer is particularly relevant to the Jewish community and raise awareness of the resources available to members of our congregation,” said Rabbi Jay Weinstein. “Oftentimes it’s the rabbi or friends who get the first call, and knowing there is an organization is a great piece of the puzzle and a great resource for the community.”
The Orthodox shul held its first Pink Shabbat on June 6 featuring three events focusing on education and awareness, including a “survivors’ salon” and caregivers’ forum.
On June 3, 30 women and teens baked pink hallahs and learned about the disease and the work of Sharsheret.
The purpose of the program, said synagogue member Melissa Rosen, Sharsheret’s director of national outreach, “is to have fun and create a delicious conversation starter. We asked participants to invite guests for Shabbat and explain why they have a pink hallah on the table. It spreads awareness beyond the initial program.”
Another goal is to help women “be proactive and take control of their own health,” Rosen said. “It is important for women to take ownership of their health, by learning their family history, recognizing what is normal for their bodies, and committing to the appropriate screenings, based on their own history. ”
Sharsheret (sharsheret.org) provides assistance to women and their families facing breast or ovarian cancer before, during, or after treatment.
Rosen cautioned that the organization does not offer medical advice so women need to talk to their doctors to find out the appropriate medical course.
At Shabbat morning services, Rosen talked about the impact of breast cancer in the Jewish community.
“One in 40 Jews of Ashkenazi descent — both men and women — carry the BRCA gene mutation that significantly increases the risk for hereditary breast, ovarian, and related cancers,” said Rosen.
The survivors’ salon, held Shabbat afternoon at the home of Weinstein and his wife, Sharon, provided a safe setting for those currently in treatment, survivors, and those at heightened risk.
Sharing their experience at the event were a couple, who asked to remain anonymous, who have faced breast cancer as both victims and caregivers.
The week’s events were held just a few days after the death of Sharsheret founder Rochelle Shoretz, of complications from breast cancer (see box).
“The message we would like to send is that we are dedicated to continuing Rochelle’s legacy and are committed to growing our program to support more women and grow our education and outreach,” said Sharsheret director of operations Elana Silber. “In her memory we will intensify our efforts in the Jewish community.”