Public figures are not allowed a private life. And so, when an oncologist has cancer, or when a politician has pneumonia, or when a rabbi becomes seriously ill, his battle has to be shared with his or her community. And sometimes, a certain suspicion takes place. How can he be a cancer doctor when he cannot protect himself from this diease? How can she be a leader when she herself has taken ill? How can he teach us how to live the way God wants us to when he himself has become seriously sick?
Rabbi Stuart G. Weinblatt understood this truth when he found out that he had cancer just when he was about to leave on a synagogue tour to Israel. Instead of trying to hide his illness, he wrote an e mail to the entire congregation, telling them what he was going through and promising to keep them informed. He went through his first chemotherapy and then left for Israel to catch up with the synagogue tour. And when he came back, he began preparing for a High Holy Days that he knew would be different, both for him and for his people, than any that they had ever experienced before.
The service was pretty much the same as usual, except for the fact that this year he could not shake hands or hug everyone as he went around behind the Torah for fear of catching anything while his immune system was weak, and except for the fact that when he announced the Prayer for the Sick and invited all those who had someone whom they cared about who was ill to rise for the prayer, the entire congregation rose in support for him.
The service may have been pretty much the same, but the sermon that day was different, because Rabbi Weinblatt spoke about what he was learning from the illness that he was struggling with. What he said that day was not very different from what he had said many times before, and from what every other rabbi has said on the High Holy Days, but this time his sermon had a note of urgency to it that made the obvious truths that he uttered feel powerfully true.
Synopsis: Living in the Shadow of Death: A Rabbi Copes with Cancer is a heartfelt account of how Rabbi Weinblatt confronts cancer after receiving this devastating diagnosis, this memoir traces his journey from beginning to end. It deals with his emotions, fears, and treatment and offers comfort, encouragement, and inspiration from a Jewish perspective. Using humor and coupling it with the wisdom of Jewish and Biblical sources as reflected in his sermons and other communications and writings, his words are a vehicle for sharing his experience and insights as he battles this disease. As a comforter to others, as well as a recipient of comfort, support, and love from family, friends, and members of his congregation, Living in the Shadow of Death is also a valuable tool for clergy and health care professionals who interact with and counsel individuals in similar situations.
Critique: Candid, informative, and ultimately inspiring, Living in the Shadow of Death: A Rabbi Copes with Cancer is a compelling read from beginning to end. Rabbi Stuart G. Weinblatt (founder of the Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland) has done a tremendous service to others having to face similar threats of terminal illness. Living in the Shadow of Death is very highly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community and academic library collections.
In an extraordinary display of unity, a broad cross-section of American Jewish organizations joined to declare this coming Shabbat to be a “Shabbat of solidarity with the African-American community.” In light of the horrific act of violence in Charleston, South Carolina, leaders of the Jewish community are asking their members to participate in this Sabbath of solidarity.
Among the suggested actions for rabbis, congregations and organizations are to speak out in synagogues this coming Shabbat on the issue of racism in society and to express rejection of hateful extremism. All rabbis and congregations are encouraged to reach out to AME churches in their communities with expressions and demonstrations of support. Continue reading “Statement of Solidarity by the Jewish Community”→