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Henry's Letter

posted: March 31, 2011

Here are some words professor Henry Abramovitch from the Tel Aviv University, wrote about a workshop he had participated in July 2006.

Three self portraits Henry made and one (the reddish/pink one) made by his friend.


"I am a Professor of Medical Education and Behavioral Science at the Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University. Last year, I was also diagnosed with Non-Hodgins Lymphoma and underwent treatment at the Dept of Hematology, Haddassah University Horpital, Ein Karem. In that capacity I participated in a workshop led by Hanoch Piven for cancer patients. I am, therefore, in a unique position to evaluate that workshop both a participant as well as a professional concerned with the human side of medicine.

One of the central experiences of illness is loss. In English, the word for illness is “Dis-ease”.  The loss of ease –the ease not to know when your next treatment or blood test is coming.

The loss of ease that each sensation, pain, or ache

Each sweaty night, does not signal another medical earthquake.

Above all, for every cancer person, there is the loss of “my body as I knew it.”


For me, the bodily change was not just weight loss, a half closed eye, massively swollen spleen which stole sleep or even panicking white blood cells but one day after another chemo, touching my chin to see my beard fall like fresh snow. Since I was 19. I have had a beard. No one in Israel had seen my naked face. Not my wife, my children, my students or my patients. People did not recognize me; I did not recognize myself.

I would look in the mirror and say “Who stole my face?”

I would walk up to old friends and start speaking only to be told, ”Excuse me, sir, who are you?”

“Who am I, indeed?” I was another Henry: Henry the sick.


Around that time, Hematology Dept sent an invitation for a workshop with the great collage artist Hanoch Piven and my inner most soul felt “ah-ha”.

Here is a chance to do something about my beard.

I came with a bearded friend.

He brought pine needles from his garden and I brought dried foodstuffs (rice, beans, lentils, nuts, chickpeas, mushrooms) and kitchen utensils (wooden knives and metal choppers) – Kitchens are places of transformations, of the Great Mother, where the raw becomes cooked, something which can be eaten and digested.

Each of us recreated my missing beard.  Doing these collages helped me mourn my beard and all it represented: my masculine identity, my link to jewishness and my bearded ancestors and the “me” who was no more.

All the other participants felt they had undergone a truly unique experience.

Cancer takes away so much; but it also gives: opportunities to see the world, not how we want it to be, but as it is;to cherish, not the silly distractions of everyday life, but what is really important to discover what we really want to do as we face the possibility of imminent death. The workshop provided special use of creative imagination and even the beginning of healing.

Hanoch Piven is that rare combination of a true artistic genius who is also a real “mensch” who truly brings out the muse in those he meets. He is a living inspiration both in his own collages and in how he facilitates creativity in others. He helped me and all the others do something creative with the disease that attacked us and not remain passive victims. The seeds he has planted blossomed and bore fruit; and maybe even the beginnings of healing.

 I recommend the workshop enthusiastically. Come and you will not be disappointed.


Professor Henry Abramovitch Ph.D.

Dept. of Behavioral Science & Medical Education

Sackler School of Medicine

Tel Aviv University, Israel


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by Ania

May 09

Thank you, Henry!

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