It’s in the Genes

Back in the 1970s, there was a major push to get Jews screened for Tay Sachs before they got married. If two parents carry the Tay Sachs gene, a child could be born with the deadly disease. The push was highly successful, but geneticists now worry the effect may be wearing off, as the number of couples who get screened for Tay Sachs has dropped, while the number of babies born with the disease seems to be on the rise.

This and other issues will be the topic of discussion at “New Frontiers in Jewish Genetics: Who Owns Your Genes?” on Saturday, Nov. 10.

Gene therapy, cloning and stem cell research are all likely to come up as panelists discuss the medical, ethical and historical background to predominantly Jewish genetic diseases, such as Gaucher, cystic fibrosis and Canavan disease.

The forum will feature Dr. Avraham Steinberg, a professor of medical ethics at Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School and Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, who will examine halachic and medical issues in genetic testing, therapy and engineering. He will be joined by Dr. Lawrence Platt, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UCLA; Dr. John A Barranger, from the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh; and Dr. Rena Ellen Falk, medical director of prenatal diagnosis at Cedars Sinai and professor of pediatrics at UCLA.

Sponsored by Young Israel of Century City, Hadassah of Southern California and the Health Care Professional Division of Orthodox Union West Coast, the evening is being paid for by a grant from the Genzyme Corporation, which develops diagnostic tools and therapies for genetic diseases.

Steinberg will also be the guest at Young Israel of Century City, 9317 West Pico Blvd, Nov. 9-10, addressing the congregation Friday night on the topic of being an observant doctor in Israel, and on Saturday afternoon on the topic of cloning.

For reservations for the Saturday night forum, call (310) 508-7753. For information about Shabbat at Young Israel, call (310) 273-6954. — Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Beit T’Shuvah Declares Independence

After 14 years of working together, Gateways Hospital and Mental Health Center and Beit T’Shuvah have parted ways.

As of September, Beit T’Shuvah, the rehabilitation center for addiction treatment, has become an independent nonprofit entity. Now operating as a 501(c)(3) under the auspices of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Beit T’Shuvah will continue with President Warren Breslow and Founding Executive Director Harriet Rossetto continuing in their respective positions.

Located near Echo Park, Gateways Hospital and Mental Health Center had its genesis in the Jewish community, stemming from the Jewish Committee for Personal Service more than 80 years ago. Since 1987, when the hospital undertook the Beit T’Shuvah program, Gateways’ mandate has been to serve the community at large, said Ken Weinberg, Gateways director of community relations.

Beit T’Shuvah’s decision to leave the Gateways fold was an amicable decision in the works for several years, said officials at both institutions.

Breslow and Rossetto, through Friends of Beit T’Shuvah, raised nearly $5 million to purchase and refurbish the West Los Angeles facility last year. The treatment center now accommodates more than 100 residents, up from the 29 serviced at its original downtown Los Angeles Lake Street address.

According to Rossetto, the approach to fundraising will remain the same at Beit T’Shuvah. Solicitations for donor support will continue, and Beit T’Shuvah’s annual benefit dinner, held each January, will continue in 2002 with a tribute to philanthropist Annette Shapiro. Last year’s dinner brought in $500,000.

The treatment center will remained unchanged in terms of programming, location and personnel and, except for the hiring of a business administrator, the only difference will be on paper. — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer