Rochelle Shoretz—a former law clerk for US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg—was a busy wife and mother when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At just 28, she struggled to find a community of her peers facing the same fears and challenges. While a host of organizations were available for Jewish women her mother’s and grandmother’s ages, she couldn’t find a group that spoke to her own needs.
In 2001, she founded Sharsheret, and that need was met.
“We serve a unique population of young Jewish women,” said Rebecca Schwartz, director of community engagement. “Our programs are open to men and women of all backgrounds, but our expertise is young Jewish women, which was previously an underserved demographic.”
Sharsheret has number of national programs, which are all free and confidential. Since its founding, more than 23,000 individuals have been helped through the organization, through outreach initiatives, peer support and nationwide education programs.
“We provide a comfortable, safe environment for women who have a Jewish connection,” Schwartz said. “One in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carry a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene that can lead to the development of breast cancer and ovarian cancer, so that really does create a connection.”
Thanks to Sharsheret, more and more women are learning about that link. The group is a recipient of the New York State Innovation in Breast Cancer Early Detection and Research Award and a member of the LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance. In 2010, Shoretz was placed on the Federal Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women committee, under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With that kind of platform, Sharsheret is making it easier than ever to find like-minded individuals and receive pertinent information.
“There used to be a taboo in the Jewish community,” Schwartz said. “We’ve worked very hard to turn that on its head.”
Taboos aside, Schwartz said early detection goes far in helping young women get the care and treatment they need. And the first step is awareness.
“There’s a tremendous need for awareness, particularly for this generation,” she said. “A lot of people still don’t know there’s a genetic connection between Jewish women and breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and that’s especially true among young women.”
.ORG-Connection: Sharsheret, Hebrew for “chain,” is a national not-for-profit organization supporting young women and their families, of all Jewish backgrounds, facing breast cancer. Our mission is to offer a community of support to women diagnosed with breast cancer or at increased genetic risk, by fostering culturally relevant individualized connections with networks of peers, health professionals, and related resources.