My husband, David, and I joined Temple Beth Elohim only a few years ago. We had been searching for a Jewish community whose members we could enjoy getting to know and whose services and programs would be accessible both to me with my very limited religious education and my husband, who grew up with immigrant parents who enrolled him in an Orthodox Yeshiva. We felt immediately that we had found what we were seeking when we visited TBE. We embarked on our new membership by attending services, by meeting clergy and various staffers, by attending a variety of programs and activities, and by joining the Sisterhood Committee. And at the start of COVID we were impressed with how quickly the Temple adapted to that new world and reached out to the membership, continuing to make us all feel involved in Temple life.
But it was the summer of 2021 that really changed our understanding of the community we had joined. In July, 2021, after a lifetime of good health, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was immediately enrolled in a clinical trial at Massachusetts General Hospital and began an exhausting regimen of chemotherapy and radiation that the doctors hoped would lead to surgery, the best hope of recovery they had to offer. It was a devastating diagnosis. And in the early months of telling my family and friends, and beginning the demanding treatments, there were many things for us to worry about. Many people asked how they could help. But we thought there seemed little active help that could be provided by friends when my devoted family was able to travel with me to the hospital for treatments and help me manage the many physical side effects of those treatments. This was especially true in 2021 when COVID protocols limited our comfort in being with other people and with having visitors at hospital visits.
But the people of TBE knew better than we what was needed and what help could be provided. We immediately received calls from Rabbi Philip Sherman (no relation!) and Rabbi Sissenwine. Soon my husband received a call from Susan Karon putting him in touch with a congregant who had been the husband of a patient with a similar diagnosis and who provided enormous support to all my family throughout this journey. But the help offered by the Caring Connections changed our understanding of what help meant. First we received a hand delivered gift of a challah and hand knitted shawl. Many of you know that patients receiving chemotherapy are often cold, especially as fall in New England deepens. This we learned by experience, and the soft shawl knitted by an anonymous TBE member of Caring Knitters wrapped me in the loving support of my community. And reminded me of the many people whose concern and affection became so important as we struggled forward.
But then Sandy Goldstein emailed me about the Mealmakers, another part of Caring Connections, who organize home meal delivery for ill congregants. They organize the process using the website Take Them A Meal. This meal delivery effort marshaled an amazing group of volunteers, who signed up weeks in advance and committed to making a meal that they would deliver to my house and that would meet my dietary limitations and would feed our family. The Sisterhood Committee also organized delivery of meals for us that were prepared by all the members of the Committee. These two wonderful groups, as well as some other of our friends whose meals the TBE groups happily and effectively included, all coordinated to provide us with nutritious food for the Fall months of 2021 during which I received chemotherapy treatments and then again after my surgery in March, 2022.
Most of the meals were delivered with notes so I could know the names of these fabulous volunteers. The notes and meals were so varied they reminded us of the wonderful variety of people we have at TBE. The meals were beautifully prepared, some at home, some involving children who were mentioned in the notes, some were old favorites and some were incredibly interesting and especially healthy preparations. Some volunteers provided meals from TBE Table, when their preparations suited my limitations, thereby combining two mitzvahs! All the meals scrupulously observed the guidelines included in the website by Sandy describing the foods I could eat. The meals became deliveries of joy and love which helped our hearts as much as our bodies.
Sometimes I couldn’t manage to eat the delivered meal on a particular night but those meals fed my husband and my daughter, who spent most of her time supporting us through those difficult months. The meals eliminated the anxiety of thinking about meals for all of us. The meals provided us with help we hadn’t even thought of needing before the treatments began. I had hardly been a wonderful cook or enthusiast of meal preparation during my healthy years. My husband and I often ate take out or hastily prepared (and often barbecued) dinners. But healthy meals are critical during illness, both for the patient (especially when there is little appetite) and the patient’s family. And the stress and precious time that would be spent by possibly inexperienced family members planning and shopping as well as preparing meals would be terribly taxing for people already burdened by the tremendous emotional and physical demands they bear as they support their ill family member and each other.
For us, the meals and their delivery gave us more than important help in the form of nutritious, tasty, and appropriate foods. They made us feel less alone in our struggle. They were proof that we were remembered and were being helped by people we did not even know. And the meals strongly made clear that we were part of a community, a community that stood with us in painful times and provided help without being asked for it. We look forward to the day, hopefully not too long in the future, when we can give back that help to others. We are blessed that at this time I am doing well. All my treatment has been completed and I am recovering my strength steadily. We are hopeful about the future and treasuring, what Rabbi Sapphire has so wisely called, our shehecheyanu moment.
We received wonderful support from the TBE clergy, staff, leadership and members who provided messages of concern and encouragement, advice on a variety of issues and simple friendship. We have been very fortunate thus far in our journey and we wanted to thank everyone in our community—it is not possible to overstate how helpful and how important to our mental and physical help your support has been. Thank You.
If you are interested in being a Mealmakers volunteer, please contact Sandy Goldstein, mailto:[email protected].