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
“My parents didn’t mind. We weren’t too religious at home,” he
says. “They loved Stella.”
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 exploring
“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.
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
“It wasn’t such a big leap at this point,” says Yarden.
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.”
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.
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 their
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”:
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.
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
“But getting through the night gets harder and harder.
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 medical expenses.
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
The months of chemotherapy, prayers and support have improved her
prognosis, she says.
“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 for spinning.
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
“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.
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 www.crossingtheyarden.com. Stella’s Hebrew name is Tzuriya Kochevet Bat
Sarah.The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous
stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel Director of Public Relations
for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her
columns are her own.