Health

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As the women's Zionist organization Hadassah continues its important research work in finding a cure for breast cancer, the organization celebrates 20 years since its researchers discovered that the risk of carrying the BRCA1 gene mutation – which is tied to increased cancer risk - is 1 in 40 for Ashkenazi women, compared to 1 in 100 for the rest of the population.

Cholent on Shabbat day. Brisket on Rosh Hashanah. Matzo balls and challah – lots of challah. Jews love food, and much of Jewish culture centers on sitting around the holiday table together, sharing stories and a meal. As more Americans, and even Israelis, are increasingly becoming obese, some wellness and nutrition experts are turning to Judaism to lose weight, writes JNS.org reporter Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week confirmed that one person has contracted the Zika virus sexually in Texas. The Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits Zika is not endemic to Israel, and only one Zika infection has been detected in the Jewish state, in a child that had been on a trip to Colombia. But given that the World Health Organization this week declared Zika as a world health emergency, the story has gone viral (pun intended) in the Israeli, American, and international media. Amid the numerous headlines on Zika, what’s fact and what’s fiction? JNS.org gains insight on the subject from Israeli expert Dr. Hagai Levine, head of the environment and health track at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical Center School of Public Health, and the former head of the epidemiology section of the Israel Defense Forces Medical Corps.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) this week praised a video produced by the Israel Collective, a project of Christians United for Israel, showcasing an Israeli charitable organization and medical center dedicated to saving the lives of children regardless of race, religion, or culture. Presented in Chicago on Nov. 3, the video—titled "The Heart of Israel"—was recognized as an “Official Selection” at the APHA's film festival. The video features the work of Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), a non-profit that provides life-saving heart procedures for children from developing countries. “We are very proud that this represents the best of Israel, based on the core Jewish values that each and every one of us has been brought up on, and that value is life,” SACH Executive Director Simon Fisher says.

In the midst of the ongoing wave of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis, a controversy has brewed with regard to how Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organizations decide whom to treat first on the scene of an attack. The firestorm began after Eli Bin, director general of Israel’s Magen David Adom (MDA) emergency response group, said that paramedics could choose to treat injured Palestinian terrorists before treating Jewish Israeli victims with lighter wounds. But in reality, how often does a clear-cut choice between providing first treatment to a terrorist or a victim actually exist? JNS.org examines the issue from the lens of Israel's major emergency response organizations.

BRCA. It’s the gene mutation that gives Ashkenazi Jews a higher risk of breast cancer than the general population. But the women’s Zionist organization Hadassah is using three of BRCA’s letters—b, r, a—as a platform to help American women lead healthier lives and become more educated about breast cancer. Through Hadassah’s The Uplift Project, participants—among them breast cancer survivors and celebrities—decorate bras to draw attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is marked annually in the month of October. 

Depression is laughable. It’s a bold statement. But it is one that Jewish author John Shuchart of Leawood, Kan., thinks could positively impact the 14.8 million American adults who suffer from depression. Shuchart, a successful entrepreneur and insurance salesman, retired and put any future career ambitions on hold to focus on a fight that is near to his heart. Four years ago, Shuchart himself was in such a deep depression that he nearly attempted suicide. His recently self-published book, “You are not the brightest of my four sons,” demonstrates how he uses humor and reframing in his struggles with mental illness, its stigma, and the words that hurt.

Daphna Krupp not only attends fitness classes at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, but also engages with the instructors and plugs the JCC’s social programs on her  Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” Krupp says. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more than 300 JCCs. All JCCs—in line with the bylaws of their umbrella organization, the JCC Association of North America (JCCA)—have a fitness center. Those centers, according to the umbrella, have goals that extend beyond the gym. “JCCs are not fitness centers, we are engagement centers,” says Steve Becker, vice president of health and wellness at the JCCA. “All fitness-related programs are structured to be relationship-building activities.” 

While marijuana is illegal for general use in Israel, the Jewish state is considered to be one of the world’s most forward-thinking countries when it comes to medical marijuana, with scientists and researchers flocking there to learn more about the benefits of the drug. “Our interest in Israel started because Israel has access to strains of marijuana that we weren’t able to obtain from our own federal government,” says Dr. Sue Sisley, a physician who had received U.S. approval to test marijuana on American veterans suffering from PTSD, but was later fired by the University of Arizona after a purported clash with state lawmakers over medical marijuana research.

Since hitting theaters on Valentine’s Day, the blockbuster film “Fifty Shades of Grey”—part 1 of a big-screen trilogy based on E.L. James’s wildly successful book series of the same name—has cast an international spotlight on the sexual practices known as BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism). Some BDSM practitioners have said both the film and the book do not accurately depict their lifestyle. But what does it actually mean to practice BDSM, and more specifically, what does that lifestyle mean for Jews who choose it? Clinical sex counselor Dr. Limor Blockman says that Judaism is the most “open religion” for BDSM because it is more “accepting of sexuality” than other major faiths and promotes the responsibility of one partner for the sexual satisfaction of the other.

As the debate on vaccination heats up again in the U.S., some “anti-vaxxers” are requesting exemptions from vaccinating their children on religious grounds. But what do their faiths, including Judaism, actually say about the issue?

Temimah Zucker, 24, is a modest young woman with an equally modest frame. But her smile, vitality, and drive fill a room. Her message and mission—that eating disorders are an expanding challenge in the Jewish community and need to be tackled head on—is not always a popular one, but it is a fight she knows could save lives. “When I meet people in the Jewish community and tell them I work with eating disorders, they say, ‘Me too! I never stop eating!’ There is an understanding that food plays a central role in Judaism. People overeat, emotionally eat, and it can be life-threatening,” Zucker says.

While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” Fuhrman tells JNS.org, “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care.” Fuhrman—a member of Jewish Vegetarians of North America—is best known for his popular 2011 book “Eat to Live,” which tries to make a case for how Americans should change their diets and for why what they usually eat is killing them.       

The growing demand for natural, organic, vegetarian, fiber, and gluten-free alternatives among kosher consumers was apparent at Kosherfest 2013, the annual trade show of the kosher food industry. “We are constantly looking to find ways to be innovative with modern health trends,” Manischewitz Assistant Brand Manager Avital Pessar told JNS.org

Famously dubbed the “Prince of Physicians,” Maimonides’ 10 influential medical texts find their basis in Jewish law and advance a philosophy with significant implications for modern doctors, nurses, and hospitals. “Historians can argue about dates and facts, but what is really important is the practical legacy of Rambam’s ideas,” Dr. Beni Gesundheit, pediatric hematologist-oncologist and stem cell researcher in Israel, tells JNS.org. “Maimonides said a physician should treat his patients with optimism, joy and utmost kindness. This is an extraordinarily strong message at the time that he was writing.”

For the past decade Life’s Door -Tishkofet, a non-profit organization founded by Dr. Ben and Dvora Corn, American immigrants to Israel, has been helping Israelis understand that illness and loss are part of the continuum of life, and teaching professionals as well as patients how to transform anguish, confusion, and denial into hope and personal growth. “It’s not just so you’ll ‘get through’ illness, but how you’ll grow. We want to ensure that whatever happens medically, there will have been a more fulfilling life,” says Dvora Corn.

The new JScreen initiative, launched in September through Emory University in Atlanta, employs an easy-to-use kit that allows individuals to test for the 19 known preventable Jewish genetic diseases in their own homes. “JScreen hopes to act as a resource for the community to do genetic testing and make a big impact in growing healthy families,” Jenny Rikelman, JScreen’s media representative, told JNS.org.

Gleason’s Gym has been an integral part of Jewish boxer Yuri Foreman’s life for more than a decade. It is the place where he trained and prepared for his championship bouts, where he met his wife, where he celebrated his wedding, and where he returned to heal after a career-threatening injury. “Yuri is probably one of the best fighters and nicest individuals I’ve met. He is on a positive road. I hope he regains his world title and becomes a rabbi in a very short time,” Bruce Silverglade, owner of the famed gym in Brooklyn, tells JNS.org.

In 2005, German gynecologist Dr. Frank Hoffmann came up with an idea to train blind women to conduct breast examinations. With his innovative program, Discovering Hands, Hoffmann hoped to give blind women an opportunity for a life-changing career and to turn their sense of touch into a breast tumor detection tool. With 17 Medical Tactile Examiners already trained and working across Germany, Hoffman's initiative has connected with a foundation dedicated to supporting people with disabilities in the Jewish community, forming a partnership that may enable Discovering Hands to branch out to Israel and the U.S.