Independent Jewish Synagogue in Asheville, NC
Over Rosh Hashanah, I tried to make the case that the core message of the high holidays is
that we must learn to accept and internalize that our lives are temporary. Whereas life might be
viewed as a gift, a true gift comes with no strings attached. I believe our tradition understands it
more as a loan. That loan comes with obligations and accountability. And with an understanding
it must someday be returned. Conceptualizing our human mortality intellectually cannot be
compared to confronting it personally. We know, each of us, that it’s possible we could be the
victims of a tragic car accident on our way home, or experience some medical episode our
doctors did not anticipate. We also know, statistically, that not everyone sitting in prayer here
with us today is likely to still be in the room with us this time next year. That’s why we intone the
prayers “who will live and who will die…” Because these days are set aside to deal with all this,
we immerse ourselves in reflection and introspection and making things right with others. Our
tradition teaches us that not knowing the precise time and cause for our leaving this world
should be an occasion for reflection, introspection and making things right with others, not an
annual task, but actually a daily one.
I consider Alan Escovitz to be a dear friend. In the relatively brief time I’ve gotten to know him, I
cannot exaggerate the impression his spirit and courage have made on me. Here is an
individual who I believe strongly makes important decisions thoughtfully. He resolutely stays in
good shape, eats the right things and works out, he’s physically active. He deeply regards the
welfare of others. He builds houses for the homeless, he serves food to the hungry. He
volunteers for our community. He is devoted to our safety, working tirelessly on our CBI security
team. Alan received a diagnosis I suspect most of us fear to think about getting. True to his
nature, Alan is resolved to fulfill the biblical mandate to “choose life.” It makes sense. Through
his good works and irrepressible spirit, Alan has been “choosing life” all along. Not only for
himself, but for his community and those around him in need. Alan’s strength and generosity
brings him today to stand with me and before us all to speak about what he’s facing and going
through. It is a gift for each of us. One that I am confident we’ll remember and grow from.
Alan Escovitz’s sermon:
You’ve probably have heard my name mentioned weekly during the Mi Sheberackh “Prayer for
Healing” That in itself will serve as an appropriate introduction for my D’var today which speaks
to “The Will to Live” and “The Resilience of the Human Spirit” and asking HaShem to Sign and
Seal my name in the Book of Life.
The diagnosis of cancer is one of the most devastating and life-altering moments a person can
face and the first response is most often that of “awfulizing” the diagnosis.
Receiving my cancer diagnosis has triggered a range of emotions, including fear, anxiety, and
despair. I found myself suddenly confronted with my mortality, and an uncertainty that looms
over my future. However, within this emotional turmoil, I felt a spirit of strength and the innate
will to fight and will to live.
The will to live is an intrinsic force that is compelling me to persevere and fight–it is a potent
motivator. This will to live ignites a strong desire to continue living, cherishing moments with
friends and loved ones, and pursuing meaningful goals.
Cancer as many of you know can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or state of physical
fitness. My diagnosis has untapped both physical and emotional strength to recognize cancer
doesn’t define me! Despite the daunting nature of my disease, I am determined to focus on the
will to live.
I believe the power of the mind in shaping one’s reality is evident in the context of cancer. I also
feel a positive mindset, coupled with the will to live, will impact my response to treatment and
reinforce my hope and determination.
Cancer is teaching me to cherish and embrace life more deeply, find solace in the present
moment and to refuse to be defeated by my circumstances. I should add, the unwavering
support of my family, friends and my doctors, has empowered me to face my disease and to
accept life's uncertainties and find peace even in the face of mortality.
I’ve also have come to recognize a shift in health care toward understanding the wisdom that
both the psychological and the physical elements of a body are not separate, isolated, and
unrelated, but are vitally linked elements of a total system. One’s quality of health is increasingly
being recognized as a balance of many inputs, including physical and emotional states and
nutritional habits and exercise patterns.
So on this Yom Kippur, I especially recognize that I’m ultimately in HaShem’s hands and have
opened my heart to GOD’s heavenly words of comfort and restoration. I have actively enlisted
God in my thought processes in combating my cancer, using techniques such as meditation,
visualization in creating positive images about what is occurring in my body. As a side note, a
friend of mine reminded me that prayer is talking to GOD, and meditation is listening to GOD.
So no matter what our health status is, we can all benefit by listening to GOD. And on this Yom
Kippur, I especially recognize that I’m ultimately in GOD’s hands and open my heart to GOD’s
words of comfort and spiritual empowerment.
“G’mar chatima tovah” (“Have a good final sealing”) and thank you for listening to my journey.
[The rabbi posed 4 questions to Alan]:
“Alan, when you first received your diagnosis, you were understandably reluctant to let people
in shul know about it. After some time, your feelings about this changed and today you seem
comfortable talking about it. What changed? Can you help us understand how you became able
to stand here today and allow us in?”
Facing an incurable disease as Acute Myeloid Leukemia has contributed to some personal
mood swings. At first, I did not even share my cancer diagnosis with my own family and friends.
I moved through what Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified as five stages of grief over a matter of
weeks – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance
However, talking about negative thoughts and feelings about the process of my cancer was a
way of confronting resentment and anxiety and helped change my outlook.
“Alan, I think people can be anxious about ‘what to say’ when a friend or fellow community
member receives a challenging medical diagnosis. Some may think that since words can’t help,
they should just say nothing at all and not risk saying the wrong thing. Is there a ‘right thing to
say?’ Are there ‘wrong things’ to say?”
What do you say to comfort someone with a terminal illness?
Words, you can say the following: I love you and care about you very much. You are a
wonderful person and I am grateful for our friendship/relationship. These are the caring words
that anyone would appreciate hearing from their friends or family, even if they don’t have a
What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient
• "“I know you will get better!”
• “I know what you're going through. .
What do you say to someone going through cancer treatment?
Here are some ideas:
• “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care”.
• “I’m so sorry to hear that you are going through this”.
• “How are you doing?”
• “Please let me know how I can help”.
• “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers”.
“Alan, in your remarks, you say prayer can be a way of speaking to God whereas Meditation is a
way of listening to God. As you know, this isn’t exactly a typically Jewish approach. In our
tradition, we mostly say prayers written by someone else and in a language, Hebrew, that’s not,
for most of us, a language we’re completely fluent and comfortable in. Are you able to share
with us how you’ve made a personal connection with God a part of your life? Does this happen
for you during services or at some other times and places? Have you always had this
relationship, or did it begin with your diagnosis?”
• Talk to God …
• Listen to God's voice. …
• Be willing to trust God. …
I want to close with the message: “Talking to God is a two-way conversation, just as you would
from a trusted friend. I trust God wants to offer support and guidance to us.”
“Alan, you speak movingly of a ‘will to live.’ Of course , we all know that someday, despite our
will, you will die, I will die, and everyone here today will die. We all join you in praying for a
complete recovery from your cancer, and none of us can know in advance precisely when an
illness will take us. That said, has your cancer diagnosis opened the door to thoughts of
mortality you weren’t forced to face previously?”
Some of you may be aware that I went through the police academy for six months starting at
age 65 and finishing up at age 66. So honestly, I never confronted an end of life issue until this
past March when I was diagnosed with a treatable, but a non-curable form of cancer. Until then
I didn’t think about aging and mortality. However, sitting mindfully with one’s mortality means
not denying that someday you'll die or worrying about it without resolving your feelings. Getting
comfortable with death can mean getting used to talking about it, planning for it, and not being
afraid of it.
“Alan, you’ve served on our local Chevra Kadisha for a number of years, helping to prepare our
dead for a dignified burial. This experience, along with dealing with your diagnosis, has led you
to reflect on matters of mortality. Could you conclude by sharing some of your thoughts about
The Jewish protocol for tending to the dead governs almost every interaction between the living
and the deceased from the moment of death until burial. The ritual, which has been part of
religious law for two millenniums, mandates the protection of the physical and spiritual remains.
Participating in our synagogue’s Chevra Kadisha for the past 6 or seven years has solidified my
relationship with God and our CBI Jewish community. “With this connection and for myself,
knowing that I will be in the hands of people who care about me is what I want when it’s my