I was saddened to read the first-person account of one anonymous woman’s struggle to live with serious illness and to date in the Orthodox community. As the founder and executive director of Sharsheret, a national organization supporting women and families of all Jewish backgrounds facing breast cancer, I have heard too often the concerns of mothers and daughters that knowledge of disease in their family may affect the ability of family members to marry.
Unfortunately, stereotypes of those living with illness — and related concerns about dating and relationships — affect persons of all religious affiliations. Whether Reform, Conservative or chasidic, young men and women facing serious illness struggle with how much to tell a prospective partner, and when. The fear of being defined by one’s disease is not an Orthodox-only issue.
We are making progress. In the 10 years since Sharsheret’s founding, I have witnessed a noteworthy change in the community’s willingness to discuss disease openly. We have engaged thousands of men and women in candid conversations about breast and ovarian cancer, topics that, in years past, had been shrouded in secrecy. Words like “breast cancer,” once taboo and merely whispered, have become the public subject of rabbis’ sermons, Jewish community center events and synagogue study groups. Organizations like Sharsheret have generated lifesaving conversations by giving a voice to those facing serious illness.
As a single woman living with a chronic illness, I will sign my name to this letter with the hope for continued progress — a growing voice for those who believe that love and companionship can follow even the most frightening diagnosis.