Human Spirit: Riding Through The Long Night
November 18, 2011
Sofer , THE JERUSALEM POST
Yarden Frankl and his wife Stella focus on how good the present can be,
regardless of what life throws at them.
I’m talking to Yarden Frankl on the cellphone and watching his progress
on Facebook while he’s biking in the dark through Gush Etzion on to the
Western Wall and back again. But it’s not the technology that’s so thrilling.
I’m moved by the love and devotion of this man for his wife.
He’s riding until dawn. Night, he says, is the worst time for him ever
since he and Stella received their dire news.
They met 26 years ago in college, undergraduates at prestigious, bucolic
Colgate University in upstate New York. He was Jewish, she was Japanese.
He was majoring in African Studies, she was majoring in Asian Studies.
They belonged to the same coed fraternity. By senior year, they were engaged.
A justice of the peace presided at their wedding.
“My parents didn’t mind. We weren’t too religious at home,” he says. “They
Her parents didn’t mind, either, she says. They weren’t religious. They’d
immigrated from Japan to follow the American dream, which included blending
in. They run a Japanese steak house and own a winter home in Florida.
Stella liked Yarden’s ethnic identity. He ate bagels on Sundays, and his
family made a Passover Seder.
When the first children were born, they were living near Washington, DC.
Stella felt something was missing. Tradition, she called it. She began
“She dragged me along,” says her husband, adding that he’d never pressured
her to convert. She surprised him one day by declaring her intention to
do just that. Her nurturing Conservative rabbi insisted Yarden attend
“There was a lot I didn’t know,” he says.
As they became active in the Jewish community, they met Orthodox friends
and decided to become Shabbat-observant and stricter on kashrut. Stella
undertook an Orthodox conversion. That meant the children also needed
to convert again, and that she and her husband needed to have another
wedding, this time with an Orthodox rabbi.
“It wasn’t such a big leap at this point,” says Yarden.
“A friend who had become religious took me through a lot of it and taught
me to make cholent,” she says. She’s an enthusiastic cook. The recipes
her Shabbat guests most frequently request are sesame chicken and Won
Ton chicken – Chinese, she points out, not Japanese.
They visited Israel and decided on aliya. “We felt that Israel was the
best place to bring up our children as Jews,” she says. “And it would
be a chance for spiritual growth for us.”
Yarden got a job as a Special Projects coordinator for HonestReporting.
Stella works for the WebYeshiva, as a dental assistant and as a caregiver
for the elderly. They have four children and live in Neve Daniel, a mostly
modern-Orthodox community in Gush Etzion. Close friends had moved there
before them, and they liked the people and community-based lifestyle.
Both sets of parents had adjusted to Shabbat and the dietary laws. Having
them move to Israel was harder. Her parents declared that they wouldn’t
come to visit, but would send for them in the summers so they could know
Last summer, they were packed to go on one of those family trips to the
US. Stella, 44, had been suffering from a stomach ache. Her family doctor
didn’t think she had anything serious. Nonetheless, they turned to a hospital
emergency room before getting on the plane. Instead of reassurance, tests
revealed the unbelievable: Energetic, outgoing Stella, who walked the
dog and did spinning twice a week, had advanced stomach cancer. It was
Their lives changed overnight as she began chemotherapy.
Wrote her husband in his blog, which he calls “Crossing the Yarden”:
“I have lain awake countless times at around two or three in the morning,
when my strength is gone and keeping the nightmares at bay is just too
“Eventually, I give up on trying to get back to sleep and just ‘long for
the dawn’ as the Psalm (Tehillim 130) says.
“On both a literal and figurative level, the battle with cancer is like
one long night."
“You long for the sun to come up because usually you feel a little more
in control when the sun is shining."
“You feel a little bit more hope with each new dawn. When Stella is up
and we talk, I feel a bit more of a sense of normalcy and can often push
the nightmares back into the box where they hide out."
“But getting through the night gets harder and harder."
“And I am getting really tired."
“I’m tired of feeling helpless while Stella fights her courageous battle
with the cancer that has turned our lives upside down. Demonstrating love
and support and comfort are a given. Of course I do that as much as I
can. But I need to do more.”
“More” meant riding 12 hours through the night, a week ago Thursday. He
would raise money for the Gush Etzion sick fund to help families meet
He knew he’d be tired and aching by 3 a.m. “Stella has chemo every three
weeks. Maybe, maybe, I can feel a fraction of the pain she is going through
and can come up with better words of encouragement to support her in her
struggle. Or maybe I can’t, and it’s just some way I can focus on something
where my own effort will do some good.”
The months of chemotherapy, prayers and support have improved her prognosis,
“I’m hopeful and optimistic and living my life,” she asserts. The week
of the chemo is enervating, but then she snaps back. She’s swapped yoga
The Neve Daniel community came out to see him off. Young bikers did a
first lap with him. His lone ride picked up speed on the Internet, and
folks like me were following him from around the world.
“Colleagues in China are intrigued by this overnight bike ride,” wrote
one follower on Facebook.
“We just took a family walk in the cold, wet, dark Potomac in solidarity,”
wrote another from Washington.
Fueled by Stella’s banana bread, Yarden biked 231 kilometers in 12 hours.
Pledges, still coming up, have totaled more than NIS 80,000.
But who could guess such a ride would be romantic?
Wrote Yarden to someone who apologized for not being fit enough to join
him riding up the Judaean hills: “Stella and I would like nothing more
than for all those who have been following our situation to go take a
walk on the night of the ride. It makes no difference if you live in Neve
Daniel, Maryland, Oklahoma, Ireland, or wherever. Go out for a walk with
your spouse, child, friend, or anyone you love. Don’t talk about work,
errands, elections, or so forth. Just focus on how amazing it is to love
someone and be loved. Don’t think about the future or the past, for this
walk – just focus on how good the present can be.
None of us knows what tomorrow may bring. So let’s take advantage of what
we have. Leave the pedaling to me.”
Yarden's blog is Crossing the Yarden.
Stella’s Hebrew name is Tzuriya Kochevet Bat Sarah.