Sunday, August 20, 2017

Two and a half years ago, on erev Rosh Hashanah, Dr. Josh Lipsitz, 55, Yehoshua Dan ben Naomi, a gifted clinical psychologist and full professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and, previously, at Columbia University, collapsed. He was ultimately diagnosed with glioblastoma (stage 4 brain cancer). 

Josh and his wife, Lesley, who made aliyah from the Congregation Beth Abraham/Bergenfield-Teaneck community to Bet Shemesh with their five children (now ranging in age from 19 to 27) in 2003, went through incredible stress with his illness the last several years. Lesley explained: “He had two brain surgeries, six weeks of radiation, and 17 months of chemotherapy, and thank God, did very well through all of it. After missing just one semester of teaching, he was back at work and enjoying a full life, despite his treatments and setbacks, thanks to his wonderful spirit and will to live!”   

However, Lesley, in a letter to her former community as well as family and friends sent shortly before Shavuot, shared that Josh’s cancer had come back as a “crushing recurrence,” and they went to Germany for three weeks for an experimental therapy, which they are now continuing from home. They had to pay for the care out-of-pocket, because the new cancer lobes that had formed were not responding to the previous treatments and there is no suitable treatment for him available in Israel.

The recurrence “has affected his gross motor abilities, and more significantly, he has neurological and cognitive impairment, devastating for someone with a brilliant mind who has a deep understanding of the brain. He requires constant care and supervision. Through all of this, I have been Josh’s primary caregiver, a full-time preoccupation rendering me unable to work,” she wrote. Lesley is an obstetrics nurse and midwife, formerly at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx and in private practice in Englewood, and in Israel at Medical CPU in Tel Aviv and at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. 

One bright spot is their children: “Our children have been exceptional— taking on so much responsibility, not an easy feat for university students, business owners and bnot sherut.”

However, the financial burden has been crushing. “The out-of-pocket cost of these treatments is over $15,000 every month. There are additional treatments we are hoping to be able to get as well, with even greater personal expense. Josh has now started another biotherapy drug in Israel, as his tumors unfortunately continue to grow, resistant to the chemo he was on previously,” Lesley wrote.

“Josh’s illness and suffering and Lesley’s suffering hits us all very hard,” said Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger, mara d’atra of Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, who also serves as rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University. “Personally, Josh is a long-time chavrusa and an honest and sensitive confidante; Lesley was involved in the delivery of my children and grandchildren, even as she is there for anyone who needs her expertise and insight.

“Communally, as well, the years that have elapsed since their aliyah have not minimized the many contributions Josh made to our kehillah, from establishing the 7:10 daily shacharit minyan to suggesting strategies to keep the davening respectfully quiet, to bringing Rabbi Soloveitchik’s parsha insights to the larger English reading audience,” said Rabbi Neuburger.  

“This family is one of our closest friends. To us, they are family,” said Teaneck’s Rabbi Elchanan Dulitz, sharing that the two families shared Pesach sedarim, Purim seudot and many milestones together over the years. A major highlight, Dulitz said, was getting the chance, along with two of his children, to watch as Josh and Lesley walked their daughter to the marriage canopy in Israel this past September. “They made aliyah 14 years ago (during the big blackout in 2003!) but we have stayed close. I have visited Josh many times over the past three years and have seen firsthand his major decline.” 

Dulitz is working with Rabbi Neuburger and oleh (and Jewish Link Israel real estate contributor) Gedaliah Borvick and others to help raise the remaining $150,000 of a staggering $360,000 medical bill. After the initial outpouring of support right after she wrote the letter on erev Shavuot, Lesley shared the following: “It is hard for me to express the emotion I (and our kids) feel. The outpouring of love and support; the generosity of friends (new and old), neighbors and people we do not know personally is simply staggering. Literally no words. We are going into this chag feeling enveloped by your warmth and good wishes, and of course, tefillot. May we all be zoche for b’sorot tovot for all am yisrael.”

“It’s hard explain what kind of people they are (and how difficult it is that they have had to ask for help like this). They are quiet people; an example is when they sold their house before their aliyah, they shook hands on the deal. The next day they got a higher offer, but they refused it. No papers had been signed, but they had shaken hands. They said they had already agreed to sell the house,” said Dulitz.    

Gedaliah Borvick also shared some thoughts about his friend with The Jewish Link. “Josh is a true renaissance man with many talents and interests. He’s a talmid chacham, a RIETS musmach who gives wonderful shiurim. He’s a world-renowned psychologist who has written numerous ground-breaking articles in his field. He has a brilliant sense of humor and he has a large, caring heart—and is always there for friends, to give guidance and support.”

One can visit https://www.youcaring.com/joshlipsitz-832556 to make a donation online. However, if one needs a tax deductible receipt for the donation, please either visit http://www.bethabraham.org and donate to the fund for Josh Lipsitz, or send a check made out to “Congregation Beth Abraham—Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund/for Josh” to: Elchanan Dulitz, 785 Washburn St., Teaneck, NJ 07666. 

 By Elizabeth Kratz 

 

 

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