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December 9, 2012: The Mountains of Potomac

A while ago, I asked Stella if she wanted to travel somewhere, anywhere in the world. I suggested that we could go someplace like Switzerland and look at mountains.

Isn’t that what people with cancer are supposed to do? Go see mountains and contemplate the meaning of life? Travel to exotic places — places that you always wanted to visit. To stop putting off things and squeeze the most out of life?

Stella was not interested in mountains. She turned down every suggestion I made (politely, of course.) Believe me, all she would have had to do is express a desire to go anywhere, and I would be online ordering tickets in a flash. But from Australia to Hawaii, she was not interested.

But when I asked wasn’t there any place at all in the world where she wanted to go, she finally said “Potomac.”

We lived in Potomac, Maryland for about ten years. Before that, we had lived at a few places in and around Washington, DC. But in these other places, we would rarely meet our neighbors. It’s not that we are anti-social, far from it. It’s just the way it was.

But everything changed when we moved to Potomac. Even as we were moving to our new house, a dozen families who lived nearby came to welcome us. For ten years, we knew that it was possible to hop next door in pajamas for a cup of sugar or advice on how to deal with infants. From kids’ soccer games to dinners on Friday night that would stretch late into the night, we felt at home. We had joined a community.

And we met great people. We still consider our Rabbi in Potomac to be our spiritual mentor. There are so many great friends that we shared so many special times with. When we announced that we would finally be fulfilling our dream of moving to Israel, it was a bittersweet moment. Yes we were excited at the prospect of our new lives in the Holy Land. But we also shed quite a few tears over the friends who we would miss so dearly. The food at the going away party was grand. But no one had much of an appetite.

But we did move. And we did rebuild our lives in our new home. We found new friends and a new community and found new soccer games and late night dinners. We love Neve Daniel. But that doesn’t mean that we ever forget for one second our other home in Potomac.

And then Stella got sick.

And the e-mails started pouring in. When we were dealing with the initial shock of the diagnosis, our Potomac “family” stood side by side with our Neve Daniel “family.” While Neve Daniel neighbors made lasagnas, Potomac sent money for pizza. It’s like we had never left. Even today, we sit in chemo and read e-mails and Facebook comments that roll right over the ocean, expressing the love and support that has been so vital in our progress so far.

There are three synagogues in Potomac. And on many issues, they maintain a distance. But when it came to Stella, all three communities joined together to say tehillim (psalms) and even did a solidarity bike ride wearing their Stella’s Army bracelets. We really can feel the prayers that are said in Potomac, even though we are so far away.

Stella understands something very basic and yet something that escapes most of us when we think about life. No matter how impressive a mountain may be, nothing is as impressive as a good friend. Before writing down “Climb Mount Everest” on any list of lifetime achievements, try “spend time with old friends.”

So I plotted and schemed. I applied for frequent flyer credit cards that I canceled as soon as I got the bonus miles. I took all the old points from my kids accounts and put them together. And I let a few folks into the secret so we could plan the weekend.

But I actually was able to keep it a secret from Stella.

Until tonight.

I can’t think of a present I enjoyed giving more than Stella’s Chanukah present tonight.

Of course, Stella immediately started thinking of ways to thank everyone, but I am going to make it easy on her and just say that the Kiddish is on us. (But no, Stella will not be making the cholent.)

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