Conversations With G-d

Conversations With G-d

by: Helene Schonbrun

My youngest daughter is running around excitedly practicing songs and dances and a one-sentence part for her upcoming Chag HaSiddur (prayer book celebration). This event is a major milestone for Jewish day school first-graders, a culmination of their being skillful enough in reading Hebrew to be able to pray from a prayer book and of reaching a maturity level appropriate for beginning their formal conversations with G-d.

I remember when I received my first siddur 38 years ago and the sing-song prayers that became part of my daily routine. Unfortunately, the recitation of the prayers eventually became rote and the meaning of the words didn’t strike a chord anymore. Even after my father’s death when I was eighteen, the tunes remained comforting, but the words didn’t truly resonate until I faced breast cancer.

Last year, my prayers became different. I talked to G-d while I lay still in the diagnostic machines. Unable to move or breathe heavily, it was in my head that I pleaded with Him silently but urgently telling Him that I wanted to live, that I wanted to enjoy the milestones I had taken for granted, that I feared my young children would suffer the pains of losing a parent. Prior to my diagnosis, I had never deeply felt the words of the prayers. Now, as never before, I yearn dearly to be written in The Book of Life and tell G-d so outside of the machines.

How precious will it be sitting in the audience watching my seven-year-old daughter proudly receive her first siddur with her beautiful name embroidered on its cover? How incredible it will be that on that very same day, as she embarks on her own spiritual journey and begins her own conversations with G-d, I will be celebrating my first anniversary as a breast cancer survivor! And I will joyfully sing along with the kids when they close their show with, of all songs, the survivor’s anthem, the Shehechiyanu.

As I reflect upon my journey, I remember the first time I heard about Sharsheret when the organization’s Founder Rochelle Shoretz was honored at my synagogue’s annual dinner. I signed up for Sharsheret’s email list and while reading their e-newsletters over the following few years, it never crossed my mind that breast cancer would happen to me. I called Sharsheret the day of my initial diagnosis and said to the woman who answered the phone, “I don’t know why I’m calling, but I was just diagnosed with breast cancer.” I soon understood why it was a blessing that I had called. Starting with the receipt of a Busy Box for my children and continuing with the invaluable support, guidance, and education of Clinical Supervisor Shera Dubitsky, my Link (peer supporter), and the entire organization, I learned how to be a cancer patient, how to navigate through the panic while advocating for myself, how to take responsibility for my decision making, and how to address the issues faced by me as a mother of three young children. Sharsheret fills a much-needed niche and does it so well, a life raft thrown out to you after you’ve been set adrift.

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