Group baking of pink challah, talks by breast-cancer survivors, and educational handouts are some of the ways in which about 150 Jewish institutions in 16 states are marking “Pink Shabbat” during Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October.
The annual Pink Shabbat has been sponsored for the last five years by Teaneck-based Sharsheret (www.sharsheret.org), a nonprofit organization offering confidential free information and personal guidance to support Jewish women who have breast cancer or are at risk for the disease, as well as their families.
According to American Cancer Society statistics, by the end of 2015 some 231,840 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. About 25,000 of them will be younger than 45. That’s the demographic on which Sharsheret focuses most.
Overall, white women have the highest incidence of breast cancer, and one in 400 has a BRCA genetic mutation, which increases a woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer up to 84 percent. However, women (and men) of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage have a 1 in 40 chance of being BRCA-positive.
“Breast cancer is not a Jewish woman’s issue; it’s a Jewish family issue, a Jewish community issue,” Sharsheret’s executive director, Elana Silber, said. “Welcoming so many communities to the Sharsheret Pink Shabbat program enhances our efforts and expands Sharsheret’s reach to Jews of all backgrounds.”
“Pink Shabbat has been very popular on college campuses and it’s grown tremendously in local communities this year, as has the number of women reaching out for support from Sharsheret,” she continued. “We’ve been putting a lot of effort into raising awareness and strengthening our outreach and education efforts, and people are responding.”
She noted that especially in reaction to media attention on BRCA mutations — thanks in large part to the actress Angelina Jolie going public about her prophylactic double mastectomy — more Jewish women are looking for guidance. In addition to information, Sharsheret offers 12 programs to fit specific needs, including the trademarked Pink Shabbat.
“At Sharsheret, we understand what it’s like to be a young Jewish woman or man reading all the confusing information out there, and wanting to know what you can do to protect your health,” she said. “We have trained, skilled professionals on staff to answer the questions people have. You can reach us on live chat, phone, or email, and we respond in a place and a time that’s good for you.”
Among the locally participating shuls are Kol Haneshamah in Englewood and Temple Sinai in Tenafly, which held Sharsheret Pink Shabbat earlier this month, and Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson at 53 Palisade Ave., which is planning Sharsheret Pink Shabbat programming this Friday, October 23, from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
Sponsored by the B’nai Israel Sisterhood, the service will focus on living a healthy lifestyle in thought and deed, and will include inspirational poems and some yoga moves. “We will also have literature from Sharsheret and will end the evening with some pink treats,” according to sisterhood chairs Andrea Collier and Tracy Ganbarg. Those who come are encouraged to wear pink.
Many Temple Sinai worshipers also wore pink clothing as a sign of solidarity in the fight against breast cancer, said Andrea Klein, a member of the board of trustees. The synagogue’s Pink Shabbat programming included a congregational dinner where the tables were graced with pink challahs, an upbeat Rock Shabbat service led by Cantor Nitza Shamah, and a “Pink Oneg” featuring pink-ornamented desserts. Information from Sharsheret was available for the taking.
“Our goal is to raise awareness and offer spiritual support and comfort to all the sisters, mothers, aunts, and friends who successfully battled breast cancer and those who are battling the disease,” Ms. Klein said. “Temple Sinai stands with its arms open in support during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”
According to Ms. Silber, Sharsheret is planning a major expansion of services over the next five years to implement more fully the vision of Sharsheret founder Rochelle Shoretz. Ms. Shoretz, who lived in Teaneck, died in June of complications from recurrent breast cancer. She was 42.
“We are proud to lead the Jewish response to breast cancer, providing hope, strength and support for thousands of Jewish women and their families facing breast cancer,” Ms. Silber said.
To learn more about hosting a Sharsheret Pink Shabbat in your community any time throughout the year, email Sarah at email@example.com or go to www.sharsheret.org/node/add/plan-event.