In December 2018, Michael Jeser posted the following on his social media: “One year ago tonight, I was preparing for surgery from which I didn’t know if I would wake… So much has happened since. So much to be grateful for. So much to look forward to…”
Jeser, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, which cares for Jews in need, and builds and strengthens Jewish identity, was reflecting on his journey with esophageal cancer that began in 2017. At the time of his diagnosis, he, his wife, Laura, and 8-month-old daughter, lived in Portland. After enduring months of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to remove the tumor, he was declared cancer free.
Eighteen months later, a new chapter of Jeser’s story began to unfold. During a routine examination, the 43-year-old cancer survivor became a cancer patient once again. “My primary coping mechanism is to handle this directly,” Jeser shared with GB Magazine. “To be a good and compliant patient, to be public about it, to blog, and to share with family and friends.”
What has also helped is turning to the organization he leads for help. Jeser immediately reached out to Rabbi Ralph Dalin who heads the Federation-funded Jewish Community Chaplaincy Program that provides spiritual care during some of the most critical moments in life, including hospital visits and during grieving periods, as well as during joyous lifecycle events. “You never know when you need the Federation,” Jeser says, “until you do.”
It is one of many miracles Jeser is finding as Hanukkah – the Jewish holiday that commemorates the miracle of a small band of Jewish rebels who defeated the mighty Greek Emperor Antiochus – approaches later this month.
Jeser does not need to look far to see the miracles that are working in his life, from finding a local oncologist, to being surrounded by friends – including Federation donors, board members, and staff – who have been there for him. Because of this support, and despite Michael’s arduous treatment schedule, neither Jeser nor the Federation have missed a beat, ensuring that Federation’s work continues unimpeded. “I am being taken care of by my community,” Jeser says. “And I cherish that I am still able to do the important work of building community.”
Friend and spiritual mentor to Jeser, Rabbi Lori Shapiro, provides another perspective about miracles. “How about awe of the miracle that we even exist?” she asks. “What are the odds that we make it through infancy? Childhood? The misguided choices of our teen years? There is an awesome miracle in every moment that we breathe, an awesome miracle in every blue sky that we see, a miracle in every moment of love, the miracle of our body healing from sickness and the miracle of our scientists, doctors, caretakers and friends helping us heal, fully and completely, once again.”
Jeser is confident that this is the message he will soon share:
“I am strong. I will beat this cancer, I will continue to build community, and I will be grateful.”