How Facebook is helping to fight my friend’s cancer
A modest online community is garnering unprecedented support for Pamela Weisfeld, a young mother of two in Jerusalem who was recently diagnosed with four types of cancers.
As I write this, it’s hard to believe that just one week has passed since we received the devastating news as a Facebook post. Our dear friend, Pamela Weisfeld, was diagnosed with brain, liver, breast and bone cancers. Two and a half months ago, Pamela, a nursing mother, started experiencing back pain. Her doctor then found a lump in her breast and associated it with a blocked milk duct. Medications were prescribed to deal with what, at the time, seemed to be benign symptoms. Now that the illnesses have been fully diagnosed, both chemo and radiation treatments are being employed.
I’ve known Pamela’s husband, Shmuel, for over ten years. After arriving in Israel from England and then serving in the army, he enrolled as a student at Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapell’s. My family lived in the Beit Hakerem neighborhood of Jerusalem, near the Yeshiva. During that time, Shmuel and I enjoyed sharing quite a few Divrei Torah coupled with single malt l’chaims over our Shabbat table. After his leaving the Yeshiva, our paths crossed on our various journeys. Most recently, Shmuel and his Rusty Mike radio sidekick, Stephen Rosenbaum, interviewed me on air for my organization’s Threshold project.
Pamela made aliya from New Jersey six years ago. She and Shmuel have been married for four years. They are blessed with two children, Shoham Adiel, two and a half, and Tehila Anael, eight months, and live in the Talpiyot Mizrach neighborhood of Jerusalem. Shmuel, in addition to his radio show, builds websites. Pamela has been working in social media and Internet marketing.
Tradition teaches us that the three weeks, particularly the nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av, are a dangerous time. Within the last two weeks, Israeli tourists in Bulgaria were murdered in a terrorist attack and midnight moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, were slaughtered in the theater. And here in Jerusalem, a young mother of two suddenly finds herself fighting for her life. How should we, the “unaffected,” respond?
For a group of the Weisfeld’s friends, the answer was obvious. Marna Becker, Kelli Brown, Matt Gleicher, and Samantha Robinson started a Facebook page, Refuah Shlema (a complete healing) for Pamela Weisfeld (Ayala Pamela bat Leah). Since its inception a week ago, it now has over 3,000 members and continues to grow rapidly. A website is about to be launched.
There are regular, very moving, Facebook posts on Pamela’s condition from Shmuel. In the world that we live in, where virtually nothing is private, a real concern is that we, the readers, become voyeurs. But there is a crucial difference here. We want to know because we care deeply and we will take positive action based on changing conditions. And technology is being employed to engage an expanding audience to do more mitzvot in the merit of Pamela’s recovery and to provide care for the family.
Besides praying three times a day in our Shmoneh Esreh (Amida) an insertion for Ayala Pamela bat Leah in the blessing for healing, there are opportunities to say chapters of Psalms and to “take challah” when making our loaves for Shabbat. To formalize the commitment, there are Google Docs set up where friends sign up. Special classes are being taught from Jerusalem to London to New York, all in Pamela’s merit.
Want to make a meal for the family? You can sign up at the meal Train website, but please, no pizza nor red meat.
And of course, there is financial need. Friends from across the globe have been recruited to be collection points and to help raise funds for treatment and for the family using PayPal and other online giving tools.
Our Temples were destroyed because of sinat hinam (baseless hatred). Our response, we are taught, needs to be ahavat hinam (unconditional, boundless love).
Shmuel, in his first post on Facebook, wrote, “I have learned many things in the last two days, but the one thing that keeps slapping me in the face is: I am more mystified and at a loss on how to handle the chessed (lovingkindness) that Am Israel has shown us than I am on how to handle the reality of my wife with severe cancer and maintaining my children's welfare. Thank you for introducing me to Hashem and the Jewish people… Thank you.”
When I received my Semicha (rabbinic ordination) some years ago, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger addressed us and said, “At the end of our life’s journey, after our 120 years, we are asked questions about how we lived our lives. But, there’s an additional question to be asked today. Did you have Internet? And if the answer is yes, did you use it to learn Torah?”
I would humbly add another follow up question. Did you use the Internet to do chessed, acts of lovingkindness? For those thousands involved in assisting the Weisfeld family in its time of need, the answer is a resounding “yes.” May it only be for a refuah shlema for Ayala Pamela bat Leah and shalom for the entire family.
For those who want to learn more and help in some capacity, Rabbi Yehoshua Looks can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.