“I want to live.” This heartrending plea came from her last video, appealing to all of her friends to help her—financially, spiritually or emotionally. She appreciated all that we had done for her, but sometimes everything isn’t enough. Ahava Emunah Lange was diagnosed with ovarian cancer seven years ago, almost to the day. Last Thursday her soul returned to its creator. A mother of five, a wife, a sister, and a daughter, taken from us too soon.
I met Ahava when I was in sixth grade, back when we were just two Valley girls at Emek Hebrew Academy in Los Angeles. Ahava, who was in eighth grade, was assigned to be my “big” sister, to help answer all of my questions, and give me helpful pointers in the transition from elementary school to junior high. Even though she was older, high standing in the middle school hierarchy, she took her job seriously and took care of me—a small, awkward sixth grader. Ahava always had my back. This experience foreshadowed the rest of her life, as she became an exceptional wife and mother, loved dearly by her children.
Ahava was one of my first “friends” on Facebook. We all know how the Facebook experience goes: send or accept a friend request, then be labeled friends with someone you have absolutely zero interaction with outside of the occasional comment or like. Ahava was different. Even though she was in Israel while I was in New Jersey, Ahava made sure to private message me and reminisce regularly about our adventures through junior high. Ahava always knew how to make people feel special. While she was in the midst of painful treatments for her cancer, she made sure to message me and wish mazel tov on my daughter’s graduation. Can you imagine? How many of us would be so attentive and caring while going through such a turbulent and terrifying time? It wasn’t even like we were the closest of friends; it’s hard to stay in touch when you’re 6,000 miles away. But that’s who Ahava was: a person who cared about all people.
Many people who have faced Ahava’s predicament chose to stay private, an understandable decision. Yet, keeping with the theme of her life, Ahava decided to make her journey public, sharing with all her friends, whether on Facebook or in person, the trials and tribulations of her journey. She inspired thousands of people to appreciate every second of their lives, and to never take for granted Hashem’s marvelous gift of life.
I want to share a message from Ahava that gave me a real pick-me-up when I needed it, and continues to be a source of strength for me to this day. On one of her blogs she mentioned how we all suffer in this world, whether it be from illness, financial loss, infertility or whatever we perceive as a challenge. Everyone has something that makes them hurt, because life is a journey and being alive can be scary. We are here on this earth for a short time, and all we can hope for is to make an impact. Like only Ahava could, she went on to explain that her disease actually came with a gift. It taught her to really appreciate life and all the beautiful relationships that it brings, because it can all be gone in an instant. Her words were poignant and precise, and judging by the comments the blog accumulated, it got her followers feeling, thinking and appreciating all the blessings Hashem had given them.
Ahava, you said you want to live. Some may interpret living as synonymous to only the physical world, but I know that when you say living it refers to the spiritual realm as well. All of your writings and inspirational messages remain with us today, and I use them as a launching pad to shape my day and life, focusing on appreciating my time on this earth. I personally give my children a longer kiss at night and thank Hashem for all of my blessings because of you, Ahava Emunah: you are still living.
By Sharon Zwickler
Sharon Zwickler, LCSW, is a therapist in private practice, specializing in trauma with an office in West Orange. Sharon is also the intake coordinator and clinician at the Jewish Family Service in Passaic. Sharon can be reached at [email protected]