Guest post: How breast cancer survivors transcend Middle East conflict

by Ruth Ebenstein
 Ruth Ebenstein, Oak Park Temple, July 12, 2015              photo by Matt Baron

I never thought something so good would come out of something so bad.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 42 while nursing my baby, I thought, I'm going to die. I had buried two other friends to the disease. Was there any other trajectory?
The pathology report on the lymph nodes scooped out of my armpit confirmed that the cancer had NOT spread. Though blessed, I lumbered around, all dark and down, in my apartment in Jerusalem. While my lumpectomy scars were still healing, I gritted my teeth and walked my fingers up the wall, stretching the scar tissue under my armpit.
Then, on a rainy Wednesday in January some four and a half years ago, I took a break from my exercises to check my email. There, I found a query that radiated a glint of light.
"Do you want to join an Israeli-Palestinian breast cancer support group?"
Walking into the first meeting, I wondered, Was something good going to come out of cancer?
The answer turned out to be No. Something wonderful was going to come out of cancer: friendship that grew to love, between me and Ibtisam Erekat, a bold, captivating Muslim Palestinian woman from Abu Dis, whose home was about fifteen miles away from mine.

                  Ibtisam & Ruth

Now we are like sisters. our feelings of family have extended to our kin. Our children play together, and we've befriended each other's siblings and parents. All this, even though we live on opposite sides of the concrete separation wall and a checkpoint that separate Israel and Palestine.
Over the next two weeks, I will share this story--of transcending the divide, of discovering hope, peace and love in cancer-- in Boston and Detroit.
Wednesday, July 15, 6:30 p.m. at Misselwood Estate, Beverly, Massachusetts, sponsored by CJP's Women's Philanthropy
Monday, July 20, 12 p.m. at Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, Michigan
Thursday, July 23, 7 p.m., at Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, sponsored by Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network
Come join me! I promise to feed your heart and your mind.
 You can read more of Ruth’s story here:
About a trip that a delegation of her group took to Bosnia and Herzegovina to meet local women who are also survivors and look past their ethnic and religious differences to support each other, in Tablet.
 About a family visit to East Jerusalem, in the Atlantic.
She is writing a memoir called  Ibtisam and I: An unexpected friendship across the Israeli-Palestinian divide (
 And, you can "like" the Facebook page that she’s set up for her memoir-in-progress. 
For more info, check out her website.