Stav Meishar, 28 years old, was born and raised in Israel. She is based in New York City where she founded the award-winning organization for creative Jewish education, Dreamcoat Experience. When she’s not shaping the futures of young Jewish minds, she is a stage artist specializing in Circus Arts.
Stav’s biggest project at the moment is a solo performance based on the true story of a Jewish acrobat who survived WWII by hiding and working at a German circus. She was due to spend a year in Australia developing her circus skills and bringing this project to fruition. Four days before her flight, Stav got diagnosed with colon cancer and was forced to stay in NYC and focus on her health. She has decided to chronicle her battle with cancer, one day at a time. This series of articles is a sampling of her cancer journal.
If you wish to support her art, check out her kickstarter.
Saturday 2/4/17: Chronicles of #TheGirlWithTheCancer
Today I had a difficult task to fulfill. I walked into my usual toddler shabbat service knowing that the families expected me to be in Australia, and had to deliver my news to them - in front of their kids, who are aged 3 and under.
I take pride and joy in my role as a Jewish educator, and have crafted a vision for Dreamcoat Experience that I stand behind every day. The Judaism I teach is such of human values and community, of remaining open to questions and not shying away from the doubts and challenges our Judaism raises in us.
I didn’t wanna lie to the families I serve. Nor to my kids, if I could help it. And last night, as my hair was being turned into a dazzling Dreamcoat of many colors, I had an idea. And I went with it.
When I walked into class this morning, everyone welcome me with surprise and joy - “We’re so glad to have you, but why aren’t you in Australia?” I smiled and replied - “I’ll get to that later.”
We did our usual service - welcome songs, prayers, shabbat songs. Then, instead of the usual (a book about the Torah portion of the week and a related activity), I pulled out a book about Sammy Spider doing the mitzvah of “Bikkur Cholim” — visiting the sick. The kids loved it.
After we finished the book, I explained that you don’t have to visit a sick friend to do this mitzvah. You can call, or wish them well, or ask how you can help.
Then I took out my little plush cancer friend. That gray, fluffy purse that my awesome friend Lior gifted me as a diagnosis gift. I said: “This is my friend. Well, not really my friend. He’s growing in my tummy right now and making me sick. But we’re gonna do something together that’s gonna make me feel a whole lot better. Kids, do you think you could do this mitzvah of bikkur cholim with me so I’ll feel better?”
Their tiny little faces looking up at me, their parents all confused behind them, the kids nodded immediately, ready for whatever challenge I’ll throw their way.
So I took out a handful of beautiful, shiny gift bows, the kind you stick on presents, and said: “Please pick one, any color you want, and take it to your ima and abba. Together, I want you to focus reaaaaally hard on this bow, fill it up with all your love and support and well wishes and joy and rainbows and all the happy things!”
They did just that.
“Now, I want you to repeat after me: ‘refuah shlema!’ that means ‘get well soon!’”
I’m gonna come to you with my friend, and I want you to take that bow that you filled up with good wishes and put it in his mouth, while saying ‘refuah shlema’. That way you’re gonna give me all that good energy and I’ll get better soon.”
One by one, my kids came up and stuffed the cancer purse with colorful, shiny wishes of health and joy. One by one they wrestled with the Hebrew and wished me good health, not even realizing what exactly is going on but helping out as best as they can, with a smile and a hug and a carefreeness only kids can have.
Then it was time for kiddush and I told the parents that they’re welcome to ask me anything they’d like. As their kids ate their challah, blissfully lost in the land of dough, the parents asked me about my diagnosis and treatment and how can they help, and they hugged me, big long hugs, and then some of them started crying, and then I had to hold back my own crying, and it was all really beautiful and powerful and strange and truthful.
It was life.
I’m proud of myself today. I faced a difficult task with grace, creativity and dedication. I am blessed with amazing communities, and I know that the love they show me is a reflection of the deep relationships we’ve cultivated over the years, and a testimony to my own success as an educator and spiritual leader.
Cancer comes with a lot of unexpected challenges. Today I won at a pretty major one.