The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

June 22, 2016 by

What Six Words on a Necklace Meant During My Recovery from Breast Cancer

It was the beginning of 2009. I had recently finished active treatment for breast cancer; I had also recently reconnected with a dear friend from college, Marla Wallerstein.

Marla went to the art school of our university and was known for her combination of beauty, humor, and creativity, in everything from her class assignments to her outfits to her presence as a friend. It made sense to find that she’d begun making gorgeous jewelry. She chose as part of her work’s mission to update traditional Jewish-themed pieces (large chai necklaces and the like). She jokes that she decided to take on this task “because someone has to”—but in all seriousness, the objects she creates based around Jewish texts and Jewish faith are quite stunning. 

“I design, cut, hammer, rivet, etch, and solder to create each piece,” she explains on her website. “More than a labor, it’s love.”

Marla chooses for these pieces Hebrew words or parts of prayers that particularly resonate with her. “With all your heart soul might” is etched on a necklace (English on one side, Hebrew on the other). “Where you go, I will go.” “Faith.” “Shemah.”  

marlaThough not surprised by the quality of Marla’s work when I saw it in photos, I was quite surprised when one of her creations arrived at my door, from her studio in Chicago, soon after we’d re-found each other. It’s a round silver pendant on a silver chain. Again in Hebrew and in English, it bears the etched inscription, “Light before darkness, darkness before light”—part of a text referring to the beginnings of the world: “He createth day and night, causing the light to recede before darkness and darkness before light.” 

Marla was telling me that after the darkness of the diagnosis and treatment would come light again; and she was right. In fact, I would realize later, the seeds of the coming light had been planted during the darkest times. 

Sometimes, if we’re very fortunate, we find when we’re young friends whose goodness and inspiration will take permanent root in our lives. Marla and I were 17 when we met. Amid the accomplishments and the dramas of college life, the all-nighters and lessons learned (in and out of classrooms), we developed a bond and an understanding of each other that hasn’t faded. Not to diminish anything I learned in school, but this quote from the Talmud comes to mind: “I have learned much from my teachers, but from my friends more than my teachers.” 

When I wear my necklace from Marla, I get lots of comments on its beauty. But perhaps my favorite view of it came from a 4-year-old who pointed to the subtly shining circle and said, “You got a medal!” Yes; in a way I did. Now, I give pieces designed by Marla for birthdays, graduations, Bat Mitzvahs, and other occasions for which a “medal” would be in order.

June 30th will mark eight years since I finished chemotherapy. And some of the days in those years have been very difficult—in my life and in the world at large—and others have been wondrous.   

Right now, the mood in this country is somber, for good reason. We are contemplating the darkness of the Orlando shooting. We are thinking of young lives lost; of grieving families; of why this keeps happening in the United States, and of what we can do that will truly turn the tide. 

Darker days, though painful, can teach us a great deal about ourselves, our communities, and the future we want to work toward. Brighter days strengthen our joy and our very commitment to life. In return for all our days, we have to do all we can to make sure that the world is kinder, healthier, and more peaceful for our presence. My “medal” from Marla reminds me of all of this. Light before darkness; darkness before light.


Visit Marla Wallerstein’s website here. And here is the necklace that appeared at my door.