The 200 closely knit families of Burbank's Temple Beth Emet, heeding the precept that all Jews are responsible for one another, are accustomed to providing aid and comfort quietly and inconspicuously. But the congregation has been galvanized to very public action by news that the mother of fellow congregant Roni Razankova's mother, a citizen of Macedonia, has contracted liver cancer and needs urgent medical attention in the United States.
"I've never seen my congregants move like this," Temple Beth Emet Rabbi Mark Sobel said. He reported that Razankova's predicament -- a single woman alone in Los Angeles, newly connected to her Jewish heritage and newly inaugurated as an American citizen, trying to save her mother's life from 7,000 miles away -- has resonated with temple members.
In fact, as soon as Razankova shyly confided the news just before Mother's Day, the 50 religious school students began rolling out butcher paper and writing get-well wishes to mail to Macedonia to Rachel Razankova, 64. At the same time, the rabbi and the congregation, with the full support of the board of directors, brainstormed ways for their not particularly wealthy congregation to raise money. They created the Rachel Fund and, in about a week, with people taking shifts to photocopy, fold, stuff and stamp, succeeded in mailing out more than 500 letters explaining the situation and seeking contributions from synagogues throughout California and across the United States.
Still, a miracle may be needed. Obtaining a humanitarian visa, which is necessary to bring a foreign citizen to the United States for medical care, is not easy. Razankova, 40, who lives in Valley Village and works as an office manager for an insurance company, must show that she can pay for her mother's medical treatment, estimated at $50,000 to $100,000. And while donations are coming in -- including $100 from Congregation Har Shalom in Fort Collins, Colo., and $25 from an individual in Burke, Va. -- to date only $10,000 has been raised.
Meanwhile, an attorney and fellow congregant, who wishes to remain anonymous, is volunteering his services to help expedite the visa. In a two-pronged approach, he has prepared a packet of necessary documents for Rachel Razankova to take to the United States Embassy in Macedonia, part of former Yugoslavia, and has sent a duplicate packet to the State Department in Washington, D.C. At the same time, the office of Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) is requesting a visa from the U.S. Embassy in Macedonia.
The time element is crucial. Liver cancer moves aggressively, and Rachel Razankova is not able to get the treatment she needs from the single oncology clinic in Macedonia; it is severely overcrowded, underequipped and lacking in adequately trained personnel. Roni Razankova said that her mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer two years ago and, suffering what may have been a severe allergic reaction to the chemotherapy drugs given her, sank into a 24-hour coma and almost died.
Dr. Marina Vaysburd, a hematologist/oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Outpatient Cancer Center and Medical Center, has reviewed Rachel Razankova's available records and made multiple unsuccessful attempts via e-mail and telephone to consult with her doctors in Macedonia. Vaysburd has agreed to see the patient once she comes to Los Angeles, to confirm the diagnosis, an important first step, and help as much as she can. "I am trying to save my mother's life," Roni Razankova said.
She was a lawyer and part-time journalist in the city of Stip, Macedonia, and moved to Los Angeles nine years ago, attracted to the freedom and different lifestyle. Her move here also marked the beginning of a spiritual journey, as people began to ask about her religion, a question she never encountered in secular and communist/socialist Macedonia.
"I was raised to believe in government and country, not God," she said.
She was intuitively drawn to Judaism before discovering that her family was Jewish on her mother's side. For the past six years, she has studied with Sobel, becoming a dedicated member at Beth Emet and, recently, a religious school teacher for fourth- and fifth-graders. Without family in the United States, she has adopted -- and feels adopted by -- her synagogue.
"Temple Beth Emet is the best temple I have ever seen in my life," she said. "I'm going to be there forever."
For more information, contact Rabbi Mark Sobel at Temple Beth Emet, 600 N. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91505. (818) 843-4787.