Read new Zell, Harpham books

Two people who on the surface may seem to have little in common: one a man, the other a woman. But look more closely, and you’ll see that both are members of our local Jewish community, both are published authors and both have brand-new books that are worth our attention.
The man is Rabbi Shawn Zell, spiritual leader of Tiferet Israel, Dallas’ traditional congregation. The woman is Wendy Harpham, doctor of internal medicine.
Life sometimes plays some funny tricks. Rabbi Zell has not (to my knowledge, at least) experienced anything quite like what Dr. Wendy has lived through. When her three children were very small, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She has defied the dreadful prognoses that most often accompany NHL and is now a grandmother. Zell is a knowledgeable, devoted congregational leader — and also a grandfather.
Harpham’s disease, with its many treatments, its ins-and-outs of remission, weakened her early on, sapping her strength and energy. She could no longer continue her medical practice, so she turned to writing about what she was experiencing and learning about surviving cancer. For Zell, writing has always been a natural adjunct to his rabbinical career. Astute and expressive, he educates and entertains his congregants weekly; his bulletin articles are filled with alliteration and clever wordplay. It’s no surprise that his books reflect love of language along with vast Jewish knowledge.
Zell’s first book, The Right Word, provides invaluable guidance to those who are tongue-tied when visiting a house of mourning, or trying to put sympathetic thoughts into a condolence note that says more and better than the routine, much overused “my thoughts and prayers are with you.” Harpham’s first book, Diagnosis: Cancer, quickly introduced her continuing emphasis in its subtitle: Your Guide to the First Months of Healthy Survivorship.
Zell introduced his second book, Passover Points to Ponder, at a recent brunch in his synagogue. With Pesach coming upon us so quickly, we might all ponder how to squeeze in some time to read at least a few of his profound, insightful explorations concerning the forthcoming holiday. Harpham’s Healing Hope: Through and Beyond Cancer will launch Sunday, March 18. It is a sharing of her own experiences and continuous learning, the mental skills that have kept her a positive survivor. And as a physician herself, Harpham has produced a small library of books targeted not only at cancer survivors, but also the doctors who care for them.
Do not get the idea that Zell’s Passover book is just another new Haggadah. There are so many of them already on the market; you can surely find one that suits whatever kind of Seder you’re having, and whatever mix of people will make up those seated around your table. In its pages, he delves deeply into Torah accounts of much that our people experienced long before the Exodus, tying them together to show how the roots of the latter are firmly embedded in the former. Since reading time is short during this period of holiday preparation, just choose a topic or two from his list of more than 30 — from Matzah and Kiddush to Adir Hu and Chad Gadya, and virtually everything in between — and let the learning begin.
Harpham’s previous books cover in sequence every step of her own life since diagnosis, but always with the emphasis on survival, providing a positive path for everyone with cancer — and anyone with any other life-threatening disease. The new one is perhaps the simplest yet, which may make it the most useful of all: It asks, at the start, “What is a Healthy Survivor?” and answers with brief vignettes and clever illustrations on knowledge, hope, action, meaning and happiness. It is a bright read for everyone, even — maybe especially — those of us currently in good health.
Aren’t we lucky to have these two gifted writers among us? May they — and we — have the happiest Passover ever.

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