For the 10 women who gathered on Sunday at the Elizabeth headquarters of Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, the key words were “empowerment” and “awareness.”
Those are the forces this core group envisages arising from a new program to deal with cancer, organized by JFS, the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, Trinitas Medical Center’s Cancer Center, and Sharsheret, the Teaneck-based organization serving Jewish women with breast cancer.
Funding for the new effort has been provided by the federation, through a “Kesher” grant to JFS designed to foster connection and greater outreach to meet the needs of the community.
The meeting in Elizabeth on Sunday was the second such focus group — the first was held in Westfield on Feb. 17 — designed to identify the needs and concerns the program will address. Shari Bloomberg, a clinical social worker with JFS, is leading the effort. She said she has found the two meetings very exciting. “A fascinating cross-section of people has come to them,” she said, “in terms of age, and situation, and concerns.”
Some were professionals in the field, others were looking for information for themselves or for family members or friends, and some were simply concerned and want to be involved. And, while Sharsheret’s initial focus was on Orthodox women, the gatherings — like the organization’s broadened nature — have also included people from a range of denominational backgrounds.
A larger-scale launch event is being planned, probably for early May. Bloomberg said she would like to see a focus on the question, “What is Jewish about breast cancer?” She is hoping to have as many as six events in the course of the year, addressing different aspects and taking place in different parts of the Central area.
The idea for the group came initially from Maxine Schwartz, president of the federation’s Women’s Philanthropy. Others were inspired to come on board after hearing Sharsheret founder Rochelle Shoretz, a breast cancer patient herself, speak last year at the Women’s Philanthropy opening event.
As Schwartz said that evening, the sharsheret — Hebrew for chain — links everyone involved in dealing with the disease, whether searching for a cure or seeking to minimize its impact on sufferers, survivors, and their loved ones. “All of you are saving lives and you don’t even know it,” she told those assembled that evening.