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A Son’s Song For His Mother

A moving tribute during Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Stephanie Butnick
October 08, 2014
(Photo courtesy David Schlusselberg)

(Photo courtesy David Schlusselberg)

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a time of year when Americans are even more attuned to the impact of breast cancer within their communities. Given the high rates at which breast cancer affects Jews, and the predisposition among Ashkenazi women for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations linked to breast and ovarian cancer, the October surge of education and awareness efforts is acutely felt by the Jewish community.

One particularly moving October tribute comes from David Schlusselberg, a 27-year-old rabbi and teacher at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston who’s also an aspiring songwriter and musician.

Schlusselberg was nine when his mother Marion died of breast cancer in 1996, and last week he released a song in her honor, “I Miss Her.”

“I was nine years old when my mother passed away, and I don’t have too many memories of her,” Schlusselberg wrote in an email. “Of course, I vividly remember the day she passed away, being taken out of school in the middle of the day, and my father’s face as he told me my mother had passed away.”

Schlusselberg began playing guitar when he was 12, and he started writing songs as a teenager. He wrote “I Miss Her” while working as a camp counselor in the summer of 2004, eight years after his mother’s death. “I remember being on my hour-long daily break, sitting on my porch with my guitar in my hand and a piece of paper on my lap, writing the words to this song,” he said.

It wasn’t another 10 years until Schlusselberg’s vision for the song would be realized.

After setting aside his musical ambitions for rabbinical school and professional pursuits, last year he recorded Mizmor L’Dovid, an album of Hebrew prayer verses set to original tunes, on which he sang and provided guitar, piano, violin, and cello accompaniment. “After releasing the album last March, I knew I wanted to do something more,” he explained, and a roommate suggested he revisit “I Miss Her” in the recording studio. “I wanted people to connect to it, and for the lyrics to express what someone feels when they go through a challenge like this.”

Schlusselberg is donating 75 percent of the proceeds from digital sales of the song to two breast cancer organizations, Sharsheret and the National Breast Cancer Foundation. You can purchase the song here and here.

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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