Rabbi Myra Soifer had just been ordained one of the first 10 female rabbis in the country and moved to New Orleans to begin her career in 1978 when she was diagnosed with cancer.
In an essay written in a recently published book, “Life, Faith, and Cancer: Jewish Journeys Through Diagnosis, Treatment, and Recovery,” Soifer says she is “one of the very lucky ones.”
Doctors were able to remove the malignant tumor in the fatty tissue of her left cheek, and she has had a long career since as head of Temple Sinai in Reno.
“They don’t get much luckier than I do when it comes to having had cancer,” she said.
The book captures how Jewish clergy use their faith to confront cancer. In her essay, Soifer shares the pastoral insight she received in the 48 hours after her surgery and the personal surrender that took her three decades.
When editor Douglas Kohn asked Soifer to contribute an essay to the book, she said she told him there was little to say about her decades-old brush with a disease that could have left her mute.
Kohn, who also is rabbi of Congregation Emanu El in San Bernardino, Calif., knew otherwise.
“Myra has got a richness that’s known within the rabbinic community,” Kohn said. “I was keenly aware that, although her humble protestations, she would be a wonderful contributor and that just being in Myra’s presence, seeing indeed her scar and seeing her management of herself that she had something to teach us all. I’m glad I asked her to reconsider.”
The weekend after her surgery, Soifer said she was alone in her apartment and felt as if in a fog, attempting to protect herself in a corner in the fetal position. “That weekend was just the most amazingly terrifying thing that I ever lived through,” she said.
It also would become a significant stage when she realized she had escaped death and had been given the opportunity to live an enriched life.