By Dena Gershkovich
For the Mitzpeh
Around 100 Jewish students participated in a cupcake wars event Saturday night and raised over $700 for Sharsheret, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering awareness and support for Jewish women diagnosed with breast cancer.
The event, which was organized by leaders of Kedma, was an extension of a “PINK Shabbat,” the first Shabbat at this university designed to raise awareness for breast cancer in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The event took place in Hillel’s multipurpose room and lasted two hours. Students signed up in teams, with each member donating $9 to Sharsheret to participate. Teams were provided with frosting, edible decorations and 10 cupcakes.
Cupcakes were judged on their connection to Sharsheret, as well as their professionalism and creativity. Judges included Kedma Shabbat Chair and sophomore public health science major Shoshana Kott, Rabbi Elie Schwartz and Jill Krause, a breast cancer survivor and Sharsheret peer supporter.
The Ekacpuc Cupcake team, which included junior environmental science and policy major Yakira Gerszberg, junior studio art and pre-med major Mollie Schwartz, and sophomore Abe Gellman who is in letters and sciences, won the event. The team created a person out of the cupcakes and decorated it using pink and white frosting.
Over 20 teams participated, according to Kott, who organized the event.
“On a really large campus, there’s always other things happening on campus,” Kott said. She added that finding a weekend and a time with no other events occurring was something she anticipated being a challenge, though in the end turnout was larger than expected.
“It’s a big one for the community,” said Kedma Social Chair and junior kinesiology major Shira Clements, who organized the event with Kott. Clements, whose mom is a breast cancer survivor, said her “number one priority was to make Kedma and Sharsheret one and one.”
“So many of my friends here didn’t even know that my mom was a breast cancer survivor and I thought that very interesting. I was very taken aback by it at first,” she said. “In order to raise awareness, you must create events and have speakers like this one.”
Kott said she feels her goals for this event of combining awareness with socializing and fundraising were met.
“A lot of people have been coming up to me and giving me really good feedback,” she said.
Before judging the cupcakes, Krause shared her breast cancer journey with participants. It was Krause’s first time sharing her story in public.
“I couldn’t breathe. I started to cry. I went numb,” said Krause, describing the moment she found out she had cancer when she was 38. “Plans had to be made, people told, schedules changed, consultations made, surgeries and treatments to prepare for,” she said. “Our life was now in cancer control and I was in full survivor mode.”
Krause said she explained her cancer to her young kids by using a tree as an analogy.
“We explained how just like the leaves in autumn fall off the tree, Mommy’s hair would fall off because of the chemo,” she said. “We explained how in the spring the leaves come back more beautiful than ever and that my hair would come back as well.”
Krause said that although she received lots of help from her family, friends and oncologist while she had cancer, she yearned for a peer she could connect with. After recently discovering Sharsheret through Facebook, Krause became a peer supporter for the organization so she could mentor other women with similar diagnoses, ages and marital statuses to herself.
“I am so passionate about being a peer support for my community and for Sharsheret,” she said. “It’s an organization like none other that I’ve heard about in my journey.”
Sharsheret provides free genetic counseling, peer-to-peer support and other resources for those who have breast cancer or are at a high-risk of developing breast cancer due to a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, according to the organization’s website.
1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carry a mutated BRCA gene, according to the website, while only 1 in 500 in the general population carry that mutation. Though the organization specializes in helping young Jewish women, Sharsheret will help “everyone who reaches out,” including non-Jews and men, according to the website.
We can all make a difference by sharing what we know and learn, according to Krause. “There is such empowerment in sharing and knowing that you can touch somebody through your story,” she said.
“I don’t cry ever. And I cried. It was really beautiful,” Kott said regarding Krause’s speech.
“There are busy wonderful days where I don’t think about cancer and there are days that I still worry,” Krause said. “But I have 4 children and positivity is still my anchor.”
Cupcake wars were a great way to spread awareness for what breast cancer is and help those struggling with it, according to freshman education major Elana Sichel. Sichel’s team, Battered Up, designed their cupcakes in the shape of a necklace, since the Hebrew word sharsheret means chain.
“I think that [breast cancer] is something that’s usually kept on the down low. It’s something that people struggle with and it shouldn’t be a secret anymore,” said Sichel. “I think creating an open environment really creates more awareness and helps people realize that this is something we should be in together and helps people feel more comfortable to explain their experiences.”
Kedma is still raising money for Sharsheret. Those interested in donating can Venmo Avi Denicoff (@Avi-Denicoff) with the memo “Sharsheret.”