Adam Krief with his wife, Lia Mantel Krief. Photo courtesy of Hope4Adam/Facebook.

Adam Krief, whose battle with cancer united community and attracted celebrities, dies at 32


Adam Krief, the cancer-stricken Jewish man from West Los Angeles whose search for a bone marrow transplant rallied the community and gained the notice of international celebrities, died on March 14. He was 32.

Donor drives to find a match for the father of three young children were held all over the United States and in France, Israel and Mexico. Several matches resulted and Krief underwent a bone marrow transplant in December. But in a tragic turn of events, his body rejected the transplant and his condition deteriorated quickly, according to Jeremy Braun, a family friend.

Braun, who went to college with Krief’s wife, Lia, said he grew much closer to Adam over the last year. He said that even in his dying days, Adam was focused on the impact his story could have on others.

“He said that Hashem gave him this to save other people’s lives,” Braun said. “That was consistent throughout. He never wanted people to be in the [national bone marrow] registry just of his sake. The drives organized for him have found matches for at least 13 others and has saved lives.”

Last summer, Krief began chemotherapy to treat a rare form of blood cancer called primary myelofibrosis. To save his life, he needed a bone marrow transplant but there wasn’t a single match in the national bone marrow registry’s 13-million person database.

A “Hope4Adam” Instagram account and Facebook page with more than 13,000 “likes” documenting his story got the word out. “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik and reality television star Kim Kardashian West were among those who helped publicize a search for a matching donor, encouraging people on their social media accounts to join the registry and become donors.

Braun, his wife Michal and other community members rallied behind the Krief family as well. Many relatives, friends and neighbors signed up to become bone marrow donors and created a “hot meal train,” signing up and taking shifts to deliver food to the Krief household. Late night prayer sessions were arranged at the Krief’s Fairfax-area synagogue, Baba Sale Congregation.

Bikur Cholim, a Jewish medical charity organization, provided platelet donors for Adam when his hospital ran low. Platelets are tiny cells in blood that form clots and stop bleeding, and they’re often critical to fighting cancer.

People dropped by the hospital to visit Adam to play guitar and sing Havdalah songs after Shabbat. Jews from around the globe captivated by Adam’s story flooded the Kriefs with pictures, prayers and videos with words of encouragement.

“It’s been really special and takes away from feelings of isolation and aloneness,” Adam’s wife Lia said for a December story in the Journal. She also called those who helped out in any way her family’s “vigilantes” and “knights in shining armor.”

Braun said he told Adam how much his courage has meant to the community when he visited the hospital on Sunday to say goodbye to his friend.

“I told him, on behalf of entire world, I want to say thank you for inspiring us and making us better people,” he said. “Thank you for making us do good for other people. Thank you for changing the world. I told him you have my commitment that this isn’t over. We’ll continue to do blood drives for people who need it.”

Braun said so far donor drives held on behalf of Adam — an avid basketball fan, skateboarder and snowboarder—have resulted in more than 60,000 new bone marrow donors to the national registry.

“He was this young, vibrant guy and his life was turned around and taken from him in one quick year,” he said.

Krief is survived by his wife, Lia, and their three children, Lev, Joel and Luca. Services were scheduled to be held March 15.

Creative medicine: David Agus battles cancer by looking at the big picture


It was a $200 million conversation. 

Over breakfast one day, Oracle CEO and technology entrepreneur Larry Ellison asked his friend, cancer specialist Dr. David B. Agus, to share his vision for tackling cancer. The latter described a center involved in cancer research, prevention and treatment, one that would embrace a wide range of disciplines, from engineering and physics to art and food. 

The result? Ellison in May announced a $200 million gift to establish the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC, with Agus at the helm. 

Agus brings impressive credentials to the new role: The 51-year-old heads the USC Norris Westside Cancer Center, and the Center for Applied Molecular Medicine, co-founded two personalized medicine companies and regularly appears on “CBS This Morning.” The author of three best-sellers, including his most recent book, “The Lucky Years,” released in January, Agus spoke with the Journal about getting the institute up and running — it’s expected to open on the Westside in two years at a yet-to-be-determined site — as well as how technology is revolutionizing health, and what he learned from his grandfather, the rabbi.

Dr. David B. Agus is the founding director of the recently announced Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC. 

Jewish Journal: You’re a professor of medicine and engineering. That’s an unusual combination.  

David Agus: My life changed when Walter Isaacson, head of the Aspen Institute, invited me to do a session there with [Nobel Prize winner] Murray Gell-Mann. Murray’s probably the greatest living physicist. He discovered the quark, string theory. … Murray viewed the world differently. He thought like a physicist. And it taught me that we’ve been thinking the same way for generations — thinking like biologists.  

Around the same time, [former Vice President] Al Gore [connected] me with Danny Hillis. Danny was at Disney Imagineering. Danny built the first supercomputer. … [He’s] one of the great engineering thinkers. Suddenly, I was talking about cancer to an engineer and to a physicist and it really started to show me that we have to think differently. … So if I want to treat cancer, I don’t just want to target the cell, I want to target the whole system. 

JJ: You disagree with what you call the reductionist view prevalent in cancer research today. 

DA: [Researchers] keep looking at the cancer cell and forgetting everything else. This [bias stems] from germ theory, which says that as soon as you know what you’re up against, you know how to fix it: You look in the microscope and see what bacteria it is, and you know how to treat it. And that’s correct. The problem is, human diseases — Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease — are from within, not from without. So looking at one cell [only gives] you a tiny piece of the puzzle.

JJ: Is it fair to say that you believe the emphasis on cancer should shift from treatment to prevention?

DA: It just makes a lot more sense. I was with the vice president [Joe Biden]. … He asked me outright if I think we’ll be able to cure cancer in my lifetime. And I said no. We’ll be able to hopefully control it and manage it and reduce the suffering dramatically, but we’re not going to be able to cure cancer. Yet most cancers — not all, but many — can be prevented.

JJ: You’ve written about the role of data in promoting health and preventing disease.

DA: The National Library of Israel asked me to speak [at the launch of] their new building … to talk about Maimonides with a contemporary view. … Maimonides would look at everything he did and record what happened. It got into some graphic details, like what foods he ate and how they affected his sexual performance. He listened. Data is just that. It’s the accumulation of not just one person, but lots of people pulled together where we can start to look at outcomes and … learn things … we wouldn’t be able to [recognize without pooling] large numbers of individuals.

Studies came out recently, for example, [showing that women with] ovarian cancer who took a beta-blocker — an inexpensive, generic drug for blood pressure — lived 4 1/2 years longer [than those who didn’t]. That was identified by big data. And now, there are prospective [clinical] trials to [validate this result]. … We need a new culture of sharing our own data. Obviously, in a privacy protected, anonymized way. But if we do that, we can transform medicine.

JJ: Data are macro. Proteomics, something else you endorse, is micro. Can you explain what proteomics means and how it relates to cancer prevention and treatment?

DA: “Omics” means “the study of.” So proteomics is the study of proteins. … In 1976, if [a woman thought she was] pregnant, we took a tube of blood … and injected a rabbit. Five days later, if the rabbit’s ovaries were enlarged, we knew the woman was pregnant. That was the state-of-the-art in 1976. In 1977, along comes this company, Warner Chilcott [makers of the first home pregnancy test kit available in the U.S.], and for $9 they had the first proteomic, or protein, test. Rabbits of the world rejoiced and we radically changed maternal health and neonatal health by looking at one protein. Now, through technology, we have the ability to look at all the proteins in the body. We can actually listen to the body talking [at the cellular level].

JJ: Your second book, “A Short Guide to a Long Life,” makes disease prevention seem so simple and doable.

DA: Those 65 rules … are based on the data. If one practices them, one can dramatically reduce one’s risk for disease and dramatically increase the chance of a longer life with better quality years. The difficulty is, how do you get individuals in their 20s to do something that changes them when they’re 40 or 50 or 60? How do you get people to think in decade horizons? Not just about today, but about tomorrow. That’s been the challenge in health. 

JJ: What would you tell someone in their 50s or 60s, who perhaps hasn’t practiced such great health habits, who might feel discouraged and think, “Well, I’ve already blown it?”

DA: At any age, if you begin to practice these habits, you’re going to do better. If … you start walking just a few hours a week — not getting your heart rate up, just moving — you live longer. The data are very clear. These are not dramatic changes. The data show that if you live with someone, you live longer. And if you own a pet, you live longer. If you eat your meals at regular times and nothing in between, you reduce the risk of certain diseases. … Evolution selects for having good children, not for living into your 90s. The reason we need to tweak [our behavior] is because our bodies weren’t evolved to last to the 90s and we want to do that. And we can do that — with quality years — if we do the right things.

JJ: Tell me about the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine. 

DA: We will have a building where we address the full scope of health from wellness to cancer, both on the patient care side and the research side. … The greatest thinkers across the globe … will come and live there and be engrossed. … 

The only way of bringing in the different sciences to help in a cross-disciplinary way … is to [enable them to] live and smell the disease. Patients will have the choice of letting people watch their treatments or having them in privacy. Radiologists will go over scans with groups of scientists from different disciplines. Same thing with the pathologists. There will be artists making art. Chefs making food. And so it really is vertical in a different way.

My job is not just to treat cancer but to change how we treat cancer. The more resources I have — the more philanthropic dollars or federal grants — the more I can do and the quicker I can move. Several times a week, I look a patient in the eye and say, “I’ve got no more drugs to treat your cancer.” I don’t want to do that anymore.  

JJ: What brought you to medicine, and to cancer medicine specifically?

DA: I was in a lab at an early age [due to a test that identified children with an aptitude in science]. … My first scientific presentation in a meeting was at 14. I was a geek. I had remarkable mentors. My father was a doctor.

I still remember the day when I was training at [Johns] Hopkins and I went to the head of medicine — my boss at the time — and said, “I’m going to go to Sloan Kettering and focus on cancer.” He looked at me and said, “Are you crazy? It’s barbaric. It’s giving poisons to people. … Go into something like cardiology or pulmonary, where you can actually help people.” That made my resolve stronger. I wanted to go into the field that was in its beginnings … something where I could work in the lab and translate that right away to patients … [and not wait] two decades later to see it benefit patients. Literally, it could be a month later. 

JJ: Does Judaism play a role in your life, or in your practice of medicine?

DA: It certainly plays a role in my life. We’re members of a remarkable synagogue here in L.A., IKAR. Rabbi Sharon Brous is a guiding light for myself and my family. 

[Judaism] plays roles in how I approach problems, my morals and ethics. My mentor is Shimon Peres. He wrote the introduction for the Hebrew version of my first book [“The End of Illness”]. He wrote that when the mirror came along, the world changed. People looked at themselves differently and all human interaction changed. The technology described in the book is the new mirror. It’s such a beautiful way of looking at it.

In my field, it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it. We’re privileged to have the background of Judaism, which changes what I do and changes how I approach — whether an individual patient or a problem.

JJ: In what way does it change your approach?

DA: One thing that Judaism does is make us think of … the whole. Especially in today’s world, where literally there’s a discovery happening every week, we have to think of the impact. We have to think of what it means on a larger basis.

JJ: Any other thoughts you’d like to share with Jewish Journal readers?

DA: We as Jews, because we are a relatively inbred population, have certain diseases we have to be aware of. Atherosclerotic (heart) disease and certain kinds of cancers are dominant in our ethnic group. You need to listen to your body and to look at your history. 

One of my jobs is … to educate. Early on, I didn’t view it as that. [The late engineer and author] Andy Grove … pushed me to schedule literally hundreds of talks in several years to get better at public speaking and presenting. He said, “It’s your obligation to educate. What good does it do if you have the knowledge and nobody else gets it from you?”

JJ: Clearly, you took that to heart.

DA: It’s a very powerful way of thinking about things. I also got that from my grandfather. My grandfather [Rabbi Jacob B. Agus] was one of the great scholars, and yet he felt an obligation to have a pulpit — to communicate. Because to educate just the intellectuals with his books … [wasn’t enough]. He had an obligation to speak to a congregation. That made an impact on me. 

[Last year], I went back to Baltimore when his synagogue invited me to give a talk. And so I got to stand at his lectern. I still remember as a kid, running up there after Shabbat services or Rosh Hashanah, running up there to hug him. … Getting to speak from there was pretty remarkable.

Cures for age-old problems


When it comes to the health of boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 —  there’s both bad news and good. The bad news is that, try as we might, this generation cannot stop the march of time and will increasingly face chronic medical issues that tend to develop with age, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. 

The good news is twofold: Research demonstrates that boomers can significantly lower the risk of developing many of these health conditions by eating healthfully, staying physically active and avoiding tobacco. 

It also helps that scientists are pursuing a vast array of efforts to combat or treat these conditions. Here is a sampling of encouraging developments locally and in Israel that should give hope to boomers.

Heart disease

Heart disease risk increases significantly for those 45 and older, and it’s the leading cause of death for adults older than 60. The heart cannot regrow tissue damaged by a heart attack, but researchers are exploring how to help damaged hearts regenerate tissue, as well as creating materials to enhance heart function. 

At the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, Professor Eldad Tzahor and his colleagues were able to regenerate heart cells in mice by temporarily activating a protein involved in embryonic heart development. “Much more research will be required to see if this principle could be applied to the human heart,” Tzahor said in an Institute bulletin, “but our findings are proof that it may be possible.” 

Dr. Ronen Beeri, director of Hadassah Medical Center’s Cardiovascular Research Center, is collaborating with colleagues at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York to use gene therapy to replace failing heart cells. They are using viruses to transport specific genetic material into the heart cell.

A “cyborg heart patch” combining living tissue with integrated electronics has been created by Tel Aviv University professor Tal Dvir and doctoral student Ron Feiner. The material can expand and contract like human heart tissue, while regulating itself like a machine. “We expect this to move cardiac research forward in a big way,” Dvir said in a news release. He believes the patch, along with sensors, could be used to send data about the heart to a physician or even eventually to administer treatment, for example, by releasing anti-inflammatory drugs if it senses inflammation.

Here in Los Angeles, researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute have identified a possible way to address a common but difficult-to-treat type of heart failure that occurs when the heart muscle is so stiff that the heart cannot fill with blood. Laboratory rats with hypertension and this specific type of heart failure regained heart-pumping function after receiving infusions of cardiac stem cells.

Cancer

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, and 86 percent of cases in this country are diagnosed among those 50 years and older. A developing approach in cancer treatment called immunotherapy harnesses the body’s own immune system to fight the disease. 

At UCLA, investigators are testing an immunotherapy drug for advanced melanoma, the most aggressive and deadliest type of skin cancer. The drug “releases the brakes” on the body’s immune system, enabling it to recognize and attack cancer cells. UCLA is one of six national cancer centers comprising the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, a collaboration launched this year to maximize the potential of cancer immunotherapy research. 

Weizmann Institute professors Yoram Salomon and Avigdor Scherz have helped to pioneer a new therapy for treating early-stage prostate cancer that involves using a laser in combination with a new drug, called TOOKAD Soluble. Patients receive the drug intravenously, then immediately undergo infrared radiation administered via thin optic fibers inserted into the cancerous tissue. The 90-minute procedure allows for treating large, deeply embedded cancerous tissues, and the minimally invasive approach appears to decrease side effects. 

At the Keck School of Medicine of USC, Dr. Gabriel Zada was among California’s earliest adopters and teachers of a new approach enabling the removal of deeply embedded (sub-cortical) brain tumors. The NICO BrainPath is a tool combining imaging and navigation technology with an instrument that’s about the width of a highlighter with a tip the diameter of a pencil tip. The instrument can gently spread brain tissue without damaging the cortex (gray matter) and brain fibers. “It’s a highly accurate way of finding and accessing deeper brain lesions while protecting all the important superficial layers,” Zada told the Journal. “Now we can get to tumors or blood clots in a safer way than we could before.” 

Type 2 diabetes

Boomers will be happy to learn that researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba report that having a daily glass of red wine helps people with Type 2 diabetes moderately reduce cholesterol and improve cardiac health. Individuals with diabetes are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and have lower levels of “good cholesterol.” Professor Iris Shai was principal investigator of the two-year trial, which also involved Harvard University and two European institutions.

Students in Hebrew University’s BioDesign program paired pressure-sensing socks with smartphones to reduce foot ulcers in diabetic patients.

Another challenge facing many people with diabetes is foot ulcers attributed to nerve damage that diminishes sensation in the feet. Members of the BioDesign: Medical Innovation program, created by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Hadassah Medical Center, developed an innovative way to address this problem. Hebrew University’s Danny Bavli and doctoral student Sagi Frishman, along with Hadassah’s Dr. David Morgenstern created SenseGO pressure-sensing socks. The machine-washable socks register pressure and send signals to a smartphone app that can alert patients to problems, helping them to avoid developing foot wounds.

Depression

In the past year, an estimated 6.7 percent of the U.S. adult population — or about 1 in 15 — had at least one major depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Depression affects around 6 million Americans ages 65 or older.

At UCLA, researchers are looking to the brain’s electrical system to develop and fine-tune treatment for depression. They are using an approach called neuromodulation, applying magnetic or electrical energy to modify the brain’s signaling processes. 

“Traditionally, we think of treating depression with chemicals that affect how individual nerve cells function,” Dr. Andrew Leuchter told the Journal. “The latest treatments … use a source of energy … to reset the mood regulating networks of the brain … and frequently restore normal moods in patients with depression.” 

One form of this treatment, called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), involves placing an electromagnet on the scalp to pulse the brain’s mood-regulating area with electromagnetic energy. Leuchter says that about 60 percent of patients who failed to respond to antidepressant medication received “substantial benefit” when combining medication with this noninvasive treatment.

Researchers at Hebrew University found that targeting a certain type of brain cell, called microglia, may provide a new avenue for treating depression. Comprising roughly 10 percent of brain cells, microglia carry out immune system functions in the brain. Professor Raz Yirmiya and his team, along with researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, found that microglia also cause symptoms of depression in response to stress. Blocking the stress-response activation of these cells in mice halted their symptoms of depression. The findings, Yirmiya said in a media release, “suggest new avenues for drug research, in which microglia stimulators could serve as fast-acting anti-depressants in some … conditions.”

Alzheimer’s disease

Of the estimated 5.4 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s disease, all but about 200,000 of them are age 65 and older. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of seniors with Alzheimer’s is projected to reach 7.1 million by 2025, a 40 percent increase over this year’s figure. 

By the time symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear, the patient may have been developing the disease for as long as two decades. At Cedars-Sinai, researchers are focusing on preventing the disease and detecting it early. The Cedars-Sinai Alzheimer’s Prevention Program includes an 18-month study looking at whether lifestyle changes can slow the buildup of amyloid plaque, the destructive brain plaque typical of Alzheimer’s, in patients with mild cognitive impairment or a family history of dementia. The program recommends lifestyle changes including eating a Mediterranean diet, exercising regularly, reducing stress and getting adequate sleep.

In addition, Cedars-Sinai researchers have developed optical imaging technology used in a device with potential to detect Alzheimer’s years before symptoms develop. The retinal imaging device detects amyloid plaques in the retina, which may precede the development of plaque in the brain.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (Rambam Medical Center) and Harvard University are investigating the possibility of detecting Alzheimer’s via a blood test. They identified a specific protein found in high levels in individuals with cognitive decline. The next step will be to take these findings into clinical trials with the hope of eventually creating a “pre-Alzheimer’s test” to identify individuals who would benefit from early intervention measures.

Eye problems

The risk of severe eye problems increases significantly with age, especially in those older than 65. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, experts predict that rates of vision loss to double by 2030 because of the country’s aging population. 

Hebrew University Professor Uri Banin and graduate student Nir Waiskopf have developed an artificial retina that absorbs light and stimulates neurons. It is hoped that the wireless implant might be used in the future to create a prosthetic device to replace damaged retinal cells in those who are blind.

Bar-Ilan University researchers also are working on a way to help the blind to “see.” Professor Zeev Zalevsky, along with Sheba Medical Center professor Michael Belkin, have developed a prototype contact lens that processes digital images and translates them into tactile sensations. The cornea can feel these sensations, helping wearers form a picture of their physical surroundings. 

Also at Bar-Ilan, Dr. Yossi Mandel and researchers at Stanford University have developed a device that enables patients with glaucoma to monitor the fluid pressure inside their eyes using an implanted lens and a smartphone. The hope is that this technology will relieve the burden of visiting the ophthalmologist for frequent pressure tests, as well as provide a source of more frequent and reliable data.

Beating health scares, Jonathan Sarna seals status as rock star Jewish historian


When Jonathan Sarna was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1999 at the age of 44, it changed his life.

Already a highly regarded historian at Brandeis University, Sarna was in the midst of writing his seminal study of American Jewish history when he realized with alarm that he might never finish it.

He underwent chemotherapy, radiation treatment and surgery. Though he didn’t know it at the time, doctors gave him a one-in-five chance of surviving. Then, slowly, the professor began getting better. After a year, Sarna was writing again with renewed focus and a firm deadline: He wanted to finish the book in time for the 2004 celebrations of the 350th anniversary of American Jewish life.

The book, “American Judaism: A History,” came out in March 2004. The organization in charge of the 350th celebrations anointed Sarna its chief historian. He traveled the country delivering lectures, and “American Judaism” won the Jewish Book Council’s Book of the Year award.

“That book was life-changing,” Sarna told JTA in a recent interview in his large, cluttered office at Brandeis.

“I would say my great regret at the time of my illness was that I had not finished ‘American Judaism,’ and I promised myself that if all went well I wouldn’t take on other things until the book was out,” he said.

The book was translated into Hebrew and Chinese, sold more than 30,000 copies and became an indispensable resource on the subject. Today, students at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Conservatives’ Jewish Theological Seminary and Orthodoxy’s Yeshiva University don’t study the same edition of the Bible, but they all study “American Judaism,” points out Sarna, who is working on updating the book for a new edition.

“I consider that my most important book. It certainly took me the longest, and it allowed me to put my stamp on the field,” he said. “It sold more books than any other I have done. It does change your life a little bit when you realize that you can talk to a broader audience beyond the academy. In the eyes of many people, I became ‘the American Jewish historian.’ It was a breakthrough.”

Now 61 and several books later, Sarna is something of a rock star in the world of Jewish academia — though neither he nor any of his colleagues would ever use that term to describe the diminutive professor with sparkling blue eyes and a vocal inflection that often bears traces of his parents’ British roots.

Sarna is the chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, chairs the Hornstein Program for Jewish Professional Leadership at Brandeis and recently concluded a stint as president of the Association for Jewish Studies. He’s on the board of JTA’s parent company, 70 Faces Media, and too many other institutions to count. He commands $5,000 a speech.

Last month Brandeis crowned Sarna, who has taught at the school since 1990, with the title university professor – an exceedingly rare distinction. Brandeis bestows it on faculty whose “renown cuts across disciplinary boundaries” and “who have achieved exceptional scholarly or professional distinction within the academic community.”

Among journalists, Sarna is known as the go-to scholar for erudite, succinct, quotable analysis on American Jewish history. But he’s also a favorite sage for aspiring Jewish academics; more than 30 doctoral dissertations have been written under his direction. That’s partly why he decided to make Brandeis, the Jewish-sponsored, nonsectarian university founded in this Boston suburb in 1948, his professional home.

“I came to Brandeis not only because I thought that Brandeis should be a major center of American Jewish history, but also because I thought I would enjoy teaching a wide span of future Jewish leaders covering all the movements,” Sarna said.

Brandeis also was his undergraduate alma mater and until 1985 the professional home of his father, the late Bible scholar Nahum Sarna.

In recent years, Sarna has become a sought-after commentator on contemporary American Judaism, too. Though he demurs from offering predictions about American Jewry’s future, Sarna draws on his deep scholarship to highlight some of the lesser-noticed trends he believes will play a big role in shaping that future.

Those who talk with certainty about where American Jewry is headed based on current trends, such as declining affiliation rates, should remember that the story of American Jewry has been more cyclical than linear, Sarna cautions. In the 1930s, community leaders watching young Jews becoming communists and leaving synagogues predicted the disappearance of American Jewry, but they failed to foresee the great religious revival of the 1950s.

American Jewry may be in a “religious recession” today, Sarna says, but that’s not necessarily predictive of tomorrow.

Among the other trends Sarna says are worth watching:

  • Worldwide Jewry is at the tail end of a great consolidation, with some 80-85 percent of Jews living either in Israel or North America. Even in America, the vast majority of the community lives in about 20 large metropolitan areas.
  • American Jews are now fully mainstream, underscored by the fact that both leading presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, have Jewish sons-in-law – something that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Americans no longer view Jews as a minority.
  • The nature of Jewish intermarriage is radically changing. Once, those who intermarried were thought to be lost to the Jewish community; today, intermarried Jews play a big role in Jewish life.
  • New technologies are having a dramatic impact on religion broadly and Judaism in particular.

 

“These are changes of enormous significance that desperately need to be thought about,” Sarna says. “Today there is a massive disjunction between how we think of ourselves and how we actually are.”

Even as a kid, Sarna seemed destined for academic greatness. His parents were both British intellectuals who immigrated to America in 1951. His mother, Helen, was a librarian at Hebrew College. His father taught at Philadelphia’s Gratz College and then JTS before settling at Brandeis, where he achieved wide renown. Jonathan, born in 1955, was the family’s first American-born child; he has an older brother, David.

When Sarna chose to focus on American Jewish history, it turned out to be one of the few Jewish subjects his British-trained father knew nothing about. His interest in the subject dates back to his teen years. His senior thesis at Brookline High School in suburban Boston was about the history of American anti-Semitism, and even in his driver’s education course Sarna went historical, writing about Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism for a required car-related essay. He got an A on the paper but failed the road test.

“Henry Ford had the last laugh on that one,” Sarna said wryly.

When Sarna started his career – he earned his doctorate at Yale and then taught at HUC in Cincinnati before landing at Brandeis – the field of American Jewish history was still in its infancy, he says. The challenge of the field was to synthesize not just knowledge of American history and American religion, but of Jewish history and Judaism.

Sarna’s career has spanned the colonial period to the present, including book-length histories of the Jewish communities of New HavenCincinnati and Boston. His most recent books, “Lincoln and the Jews: A History” (co-authored with Benjamin Shapell) and “When General Grant Expelled the Jews,” both won critical acclaim.

The professor takes particular pride in being something of an insider in each of American Jewry’s three main religious denominations. Until the age of 10 he grew up at JTS, the flagship Conservative institution where his father taught. Sarna himself was reared in Orthodox institutions, including a post-high school year at the rigorously Orthodox Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem. And Sarna taught for more than a decade at Reform’s HUC.

Sarna attends an Orthodox shul, but his wife, Ruth Langer, a theology and liturgy professor at Boston College, is a Reform rabbi. The couple have two children: Aaron Sarna works for Google, and Leah Sarna is studying to be an Orthodox clergywoman at Yeshivat Maharat in New York.

“I know the whole spectrum of the American Jewish world as an insider in a way I think few people do,” Sarna told JTA. “That’s given me a breadth of understanding and even sympathy with each community. I think I’m at my best when I help different groups in American Jewish life understand one another.”

His most recent book, too, almost didn’t happen. In May 2014, during a weekend visit to Yale for his daughter’s graduation, Sarna collapsed while walking back from the Hillel center to his hotel and went into cardiac arrest. Because it was Shabbat, he wasn’t carrying a phone.

Fortunately, a cardiologist happened to be driving by and Sarna immediately was taken to nearby Yale-New Haven Hospital. The speed of the emergency response not only saved Sarna’s life but also helped him avoid the irreversible brain damage that often occurs in patients who suffer cardiac arrest. His physicians told Sarna that his heart blockage could be traced back to the radiation treatment he had received for his cancer a decade and a half earlier.

Two years on, Sarna has had to slow down a bit – five or six hours of sleep a night is no longer sufficient, he says ruefully – but his rate of production hardly shows it.

Before he even left the hospital at Yale, Sarna resumed edits on his Lincoln book. This fall, he’ll be going to Jerusalem on sabbatical, where he’ll be at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies working on his new book about a little-known 19th-century American Jewish female writer and poet.

“This is what I’ve been put on this earth to do,” Sarna said, “to write about and read about the American Jewish experience.”

Ronit Elkabetz, actress and filmmaker, dies at 51


Ronit Elkabetz, one of the great luminaries of the Israeli film industry, died Tuesday morning after a private battle with cancer. She was 51.

The actress and filmmaker was known equally for her striking dark looks and immense emotional vulnerability onscreen. Her life ended just as her career flourished at an all-time high: In 2014, Elkabetz’s film “Gett: The Trail of Viviane Amsalem,” which she co-wrote and co-directed alongside her brother Shlomi Elkabetz, was awarded the Israeli Ophir Award for best film, the Jewish State’s equivalent of the Academy Award. “Gett” went on to serve as Israel’s 2014 entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, and also earned a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2015 Golden Globes.

Read more at Variety

Alan Rickman, British actor, dies at 69


British actor Alan Rickman, whose roles ranged from Hollywood villains to Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, has died after a battle with cancer aged 69.

With his aquiline features and cultured – if often menacing – English accent, he became one of Britain's best-known actors of stage and screen over the last 30 years with a career stretching from the Royal Shakespeare Company to sci-fi spoof “Galaxy Quest”.

“The actor and director Alan Rickman has died from cancer at the age of 69. He was surrounded by family and friends,” his family said in a statement on Thursday.

A graduate of London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Rickman got his big break appearing the Broadway version of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” in the mid-1980s before making his first major film appearance as Hans Gruber in “Die Hard” soon afterwards.

That was to be the first of many performances as a villain, including “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and as the Sheriff of Nottingham in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, for which he won a Bafta, the British equivalent of an Oscar.

He also won a Golden Globe and an Emmy during his career and despite his reputation for playing the “baddie”, he was also acclaimed for more sensitive roles in films such as “Truly Madly Deeply”, and “Love, Actually”.

“Everybody loved Alan. He was always happy and fun and creative and very, very funny,” veteran British actor Michael Gambon told BBC radio. “He had a great voice, he spoke wonderfully well, he was intelligent, he wrote plays and he directed a play. So he was a real man of the theatre and the stage.”

The Guardian newspaper said Rickman was always politically active with the left-wing Labour Party and his wife, Rima Horton, his partner of more than 50 years whom he married in secret last year, had been a Labour councillor in London.

“Really sad to hear about Alan Rickman. Brilliant actor, deeply principled man. My heart goes out to Rima and his family,” Ed Miliband, Labour's former leader who led the party to defeat in last year's election, said on Twitter.

After cancer, Thanksgiving will never be the same


In fiction, the scenario would seem implausible: While attempting to console my husband as his little sister drew her final breaths, I noticed an unfamiliar number flash across my screen. I let it go to voicemail. The number flashed again. It was my physician, who informed me when I called back that the morning’s ultrasound indicated that my persistent stomach aches weren’t caused by a virus after all, but likely by ovarian cancer. I had a variant of the same disease that would kill my 47-year-old sister-in-law as the sun set that Friday evening in February.

My world, already dimmed by the unimaginable loss of my sister-in-law Ali, darkened further into a nightmare that was beyond my comprehension.

In the blur of the months that followed, the tragedy of Ali’s death stayed in the furthest reaches of my mind. Likewise, I pushed thoughts of my own peril as far away as I could manage.

Many days I spent largely in bed. Some days the physical discomfort overtook me, and I would drop my body into child’s pose, waiting for medication to soften the pain. As the chemotherapy continued, new side effects emerged. I slept many hours, but fitfully. Some nights, the sweats of sudden menopause shook me awake as I tossed aside one set of pajamas after another.

By summer, after an eight-hour surgery and the resumption of chemo, I’d lost so much weight that I stared at my hollowed cheekbones with little recognition. In the mirror, my eyes appeared red-rimmed and naked, bereft of brows or lashes. I searched the reflection for vestiges of the old me.

And yet, once I learned that my cancer was beating a hasty retreat, my spirits stayed largely aloft. In my strange new universe, with few obligations other than getting well, almost every day became a day of thanksgiving. I would stare out the window of our new Upper West Side apartment, the home we’d moved into during that surreal week in winter when Ali died, admiring the sparkling Hudson River, meditating on the sparrows alighting on the bare branches, so grateful to be close to nature and living in the bustling city that I adore — grateful to be living at all.

I discovered that I was lucky in love. I already knew that I was deeply blessed with a husband and parents who would do anything for me, and with two healthy, gloriously growing children — who in appropriate adolescent fashion alternated between hugging and hating me.

But now I was basking in the warmth of an entire community, people from my daily life, as well as those who had vanished years before. Friends sent me lines of poetry and crafted personal prayers. We received a steady stream of food and flowers and favors.

One friend designed a felt banner emblazoned with a single word: “Courage.” Another sent over a Chabad rabbi to outfit every doorway of our new apartment with protective mezuzahs. Yet another visited several times a week to provide a “healing spa,” soothing my soul with the melodies of Rabbi Andrew Hahn, who goes by the moniker the Kirtan Rabbi. As the iPod played these Hebrew songs, which incorporate the sounds of India, my friend would carefully remove the fluid pressing against my lungs, draining it through catheters that protruded from my upper back.

Jewish tradition, often a source of comfort for me, didn’t play the supporting role I would have expected. I couldn’t get to synagogue much. Several rabbis reached out to me, but they mostly didn’t know what to say.

At the same time, gratitude is deeply embedded in Jewish practice — and finding something to appreciate even in the midst of great sorrow was tremendously uplifting. Jews are not meant to devote just one afternoon in November to thanksgiving, but every day of every year.

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me,” the theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel reportedly whispered from his sick bed.

Similarly, in “The Book of Blessings,” Marcia Falk writes, “In a richly faceted world, full of surprise and infinite variation, the source of blessings is everywhere to be found. No wonder the rabbis of the Talmud proclaimed it forbidden to enjoy anything of this world without first saying a blessing.”

I didn’t recite 100 blessings each day as traditional Jews strive to do; I didn’t even consciously aim for gratitude. Without warning, my first glimpse of budding flowers in spring made me sob, first because Ali didn’t get a chance to experience them, and then from my appreciation that I could.

The afternoon before Yom Kippur, I received my final infusion of chemotherapy. I’m in remission, officially. It is a time for rejoicing.

Nevertheless, as we approach the national Thanksgiving Day, I often find myself more anxious than ever.

In some respects, my days are starting to resemble those of my old life. I write a little; I exercise; I care for my children. Still, I sometimes feel as if I am masquerading as myself. I am disoriented, dislocated, changed in ways I find difficult to articulate. My future is more precarious than I ever imagined. Will meditation help? Therapy? A medical trial?

I am navigating the waters of my “new normal” without a captain, without a clear idea of which current to follow. I yearn for the calm I found earlier this year, when I simply followed my oncologist’s program, buoyed by the familiar rhythm of weekly chemo and doctors’ visits. Now I’m sometimes so fearful that I feel as if I can hardly breathe.

At other times, though, I am awed that I can fill my lungs with so much oxygen, and then expend it climbing the hills of Central Park at a blistering pace. Often, when I’m not hyperventilating with fear, I am filled with wonder at this season’s startling beauty.

I allow myself, for brief moments, to mourn the woman who sometimes felt like a sister to me. I want to call her to chat. We would have so much to share.

(Elicia Brown is a writer living in Manhattan.)

U.S. workers sue Monsanto claiming herbicide caused cancer


A U.S. farm worker and a horticultural assistant have filed lawsuits claiming Monsanto Co.'s Roundup herbicide caused their cancers and Monsanto intentionally misled the public and regulators about the dangers of the herbicide.

The lawsuits come six months after the World Health Organization's cancer research unit said it was classifying glyphosate, the active weed-killing ingredient in Roundup and other herbicides, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

One suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Sept. 22, names as plaintiff 58-year-old Enrique Rubio, a former farm worker in California, Texas and Oregon who over several years labored in fields of cucumbers, onions and other vegetable crops.

His duties included spraying fields with Roundup and other pesticides before Rubio was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1995, the lawsuit states.

A separate lawsuit making similar claims was filed the same day in federal court in New York by Judi Fitzgerald, 64, who claims she was exposed in the 1990s to Roundup when she worked at a horticultural products company. Fitzgerald was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012.

Attorney Robin Greenwald, one of the attorneys who brought Rubio's case, said on Tuesday that she expects more lawsuits to follow because Roundup is the most widely used herbicide in the world and the WHO cancer classification gives credence to long-held concerns about the chemical.

“I believe there will be hundreds of lawsuits brought over time,” said Greenwald.

Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord said that the claims are without merit and that glyphosate is safe for humans when used as labeled.

“Decades of experience within agriculture and regulatory reviews using the most extensive worldwide human health databases ever compiled on an agricultural product contradict the claims in the suit which will be vigorously defended.”

The lawsuits claim that Roundup was a “defective” product and “unreasonably dangerous” to consumers, and that Monsanto knew or should have known that glyphosate could cause cancer and other illnesses and injuries, failing to properly warn users of the risks.

The lawsuits claim the Environmental Protection Agency changed an initial classification for glyphosate from “possibly carcinogenic to humans” to “evidence of non-carcinogenicity in humans” after pressure from Monsanto.

WHO scientists cited several studies showing cancer links to glyphosate, though Monsanto has said the findings are wrong.

Since the WHO action, some product liability lawyers have been seeking out plaintiffs for potential class-action lawsuits over glyphosate, postings on legal websites show.

Goldman CEO Blankfein says has ‘highly curable’ form of cancer


Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc, said on Tuesday he had a “highly curable” form of cancer and would be able to work mostly as normal during treatment.

The veteran Wall Street boss, who navigated the U.S. investment bank through the financial crisis, told employees and shareholders he would undergo chemotherapy for lymphoma over the next several months in New York.

The bank's shares slid 2.6 percent to $178.56 after the surprise announcement, which puts Goldman's succession plans under the spotlight, although the market was broadly lower.

While Blankfein, 61, is undergoing treatment, other senior bank officials, including his top deputy, Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn, will assume some of his responsibilities in dealing with the public, a person familiar with the matter said.

Cohn, who is seen as the most likely successor to Blankfein if he left his post in the near future, replaced his boss at the last minute at a public discussion in New York on Monday night.

The firm has a number of long-serving senior executives, including Vice Chairman Michael Sherwood, investment banking co-head David Solomon, Chief Financial Officer Harvey Schwartz and Chief Strategy Officer Stephen Scherr, who investors said offered stability.

“The culture of the firm transcends one person,” said Mike Donnelly, senior vice president and portfolio manager at CS McKee, which manages $10.5 billion and owns Goldman shares.

“Obviously Blankfein has done a great job and embodies the culture, but in terms of this changing the investment thesis given the valuation, no absolutely not.”

In a statement, Blankfein said he underwent tests after not feeling well in late summer. He did not disclose the type of lymphoma, a cancer that affects the immune system, or how advanced it is.

He received a final diagnosis on Monday around midday, and informed Goldman's board of directors around 4 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT), the source said.

RAGS-TO-RICHES STORY

Blankfein has led what is viewed as the most powerful U.S. investment bank since 2006, and bank executives say he has never hinted at when he might retire or his plans after Goldman.

The New Yorker is credited with helping to keep the firm afloat during the financial crisis with an early decision to rein in exposure to risky mortgage-backed securities and a successful appeal to Warren Buffett to invest in the firm during the chaotic days after Lehman Brothers went bust.

Goldman's role in the U.S. housing bubble and the billions of dollars paid out in bonuses to its top staffers have made the firm a magnet for popular anger about Wall Street. Rolling Stone magazine once referred to the firm as the “vampire squid” of finance.

Blankfein, a former chain-smoking gold trader, has helped improve the bank's public image and make the transition from a pure investment bank to one with a greater exposure to commercial lending.

Blankfein's No. 2, Cohn, has followed a similar career path as his boss. Like Blankfein, Cohn got his start at commodities firm J. Aron & Co, which Goldman then acquired. He has been COO as long as Blankfein has been CEO and is 6 years younger.

Blankfein's life is a classic rags-to-riches story. Born in the South Bronx and raised in a housing project in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, he worked his way through Harvard College and Harvard Law School, helped by financial aid.

Blankfein's disclosure comes a little more than a year after JPMorgan Chase & Co CEO Jamie Dimon said he had throat cancer. Dimon continued to lead the bank during treatment.

Dimon wished his rival a fast recovery on Tuesday.

Lymphoma is cancer that begins in the lymphatic system, which is a part of the immune system that carries away waste and transports white-blood cells that attack disease. It can occur as Hodgkin lymphoma, which has a five-year survival rate of about 86 percent, or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which has a five-year survival rate of about 70 percent.

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, an oncologist who is deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said chemotherapy is the main treatment for both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin disease. Individuals in their 60s and 70s are more likely to have the more common and harder-to-treat non-Hodgkin variety of the blood cancer, which affects the body's infection-fighting white blood cells, he said.

Depending on where enlarged lymph nodes are found, and their size, he said doctors may use radiation as well as chemotherapy.

“There are many people who are dealing with cancer every day,” Blankfein said. “I draw on their experiences as I begin my own. I have a lot of energy and I'm anxious to begin the treatment.”

Death makes life matter: Thoughts on my brother’s passing


Last February, I joined a club. It wasn’t my choice. It’s one of the worst clubs around, and if you’re not already in it, I hope you don’t become a member. If I could quit, I would. But the bylaws forbid it.

Like all clubs, this one has its benefits, too. It provides a community and helps clarify relationships with friends and relatives. It also force-feeds wisdom — and lots of it.

This is the club of people who have lost a loved one at a painfully early age. Within the clubhouse, I’m in the room with people who have lost a sibling. And in that room, I’m at the table of people who have lost a brother. 

My older brother, Aaron, died on Feb. 3. He was 34 and had been diagnosed in March 2014 with metastatic bladder cancer. It’s a freak diagnosis for a young, otherwise healthy American male. There are a few hundred such diagnoses per year. 

Aaron was an observant, intensely curious Jew and had a brilliant mind with seemingly endless interests (philosophy, politics, physics, the list goes on). In his final months, he never acted bitterly toward the world or toward God. He actually became sweeter, kinder and more grateful than he already was.  

A crisis, the saying goes, doesn’t build character — it reveals it. And cancer, with its intense, painful and exhausting regular infusions of chemotherapy, plus – in my brother’s case – regular trips of hundreds of miles between hospitals, is an indescribably horrible crisis. It steals both your energy and your time. You have to feed yourself and the cancer, or the cancer will simply eat you. It forces you to rely on others when you’re accustomed to relying on yourself. It makes the simplest tasks — going to the bathroom, getting a cup of water — Herculean challenges. It makes every normal activity hurt and sets your default mood to depressed. Being happy takes a lot more work. Cancer is pure destruction. It’s the ISIS of the biological world.

Amid all that, Aaron’s character revealed itself as fundamentally decent. If he was in particular pain at any given moment, he would ask those who he knew would particularly worry (like my parents) to leave the room for a bit. My family and Aaron’s friends weren’t the only ones to lose a lot when he passed. The whole world lost a gift. And although I believe he’s in a better place, we’re certainly not. 

This experience has confirmed for me that someone needs to write a short guide to avoiding well-meaning but inane words of comfort, such as “It’s all part of a plan” (How do you know that?), or “God wanted him” (Why can’t God want Kim Jong-un?), or “I know exactly how you feel” (That’s impossible, even if you’re in the club), or — and this is my (least) favorite — “At least he’s not suffering anymore” (I assure you, he preferred pain to death).

But death also has a built-in silver lining. It’s what gives time meaning. Death limits time. Economics 101: The less of something there is, the more valuable it is. Aaron’s struggle with death didn’t only force him to think about the Big Questions. It forced me, and, I presume, all those who loved Aaron, to ask themselves the Big Questions. The most important one: If I were to die tomorrow, what would I regret about my life?

Aaron’s passing taught that this is the most important question to living a meaningful life. Knowing that my defining fear in life is to have regrets before I go has influenced my long-term plans for career and family, and, in the short term, how I spend my time every day. I more clearly understand that every second really does matter, and it takes flirtation with death to make that obvious. 

Aaron was a private person. I know that he re-examined his own life. But I don’t know what he concluded or what he would’ve done differently. I do know, though, that he wanted his life to have a lasting impact. I don’t buy the saying, “He’s not dead as long as we remember him.” Let’s change that saying to, “He’s not dead as long as he continues to impact.” 

To that end, my family is working with UCLA, where Aaron spent his final weeks, to create a kosher helping us raise money for the Shabbat closet, are creating this sacred space to commemorate Aaron’s life and death. Keeping alive Aaron’s positive impact in the physical world is not just about allowing us to remember him — it’s about creating something in his name that lives on. It’s about performing good deeds in his name. It’s about giving to the world what he would have wanted to give, but no longer can.

Death forces us who are here to re-examine our own lives and complete the unfinished tasks of those who died. And at Yom Kippur, we can take time to become more focused and to get moving, so that when our own time is up, most or all of our tasks will be completed.

For more information on the Shabbat closet at UCLA, please email jareds@jewishjournal.com

Israeli scientists make steps toward decoding human genome


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

[Jerusalem] Scientists at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University have announced the creation of an internet tool that they hope will be a step forward in tackling illnesses associated with mutated genes passed from parents to children. A number of cancers, such as ovarian and breast cancer, are more likely to occur in people carrying genes that can be prone to mutation.

Scientists are able to identify how certain human genes correspond with specific traits in a person, such as blue eyes or a propensity towards breast cancer, but have yet to map out the entire network of correlations. By examining the evolution of a variety of animal species scientists were able to identify correlations between specific traits and their corresponding genes.

“The idea is very simple – what we are looking at is a very interesting pattern across evolution,” Dr. Yuval Tabach, a researcher from the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada at the university’s Faculty of Medicine, told The Media Line. Through study of species that had once possessed a certain quality and then lost it, such as vision in moles or cave fish, the researchers identified gene patterns.

Using this research Tabach’s team developed an internet tool which they hope will allow doctors or scientists to investigate the properties of a gene “according to its evolutionary profile.” In theory, anybody would be able to go online and use the application, with “the push of a button,” Tabach said, though the scientist did admit that interpreting all of the output information might take some understanding.

The significance of identifying gene properties was highlighted in 2013 when actress Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy after discovering she had inherited a gene mutation from her mother which increased the risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Her mother had died of the disease at 56.

In Israel the section of the population carrying gene mutations which increase their risk of breast and ovarian cancer stands at 2.5%, compared to the global average of 1%, Miri Ziv, CEO of the Israel Cancer Association, told The Media Line. In part this is due to a higher risk of carrying mutated genes among people with origins in Jewish Iraqi and Ashkenazi communities. Such is the increased risk that the National Health Service of the United Kingdom places Ashkenazi women – Jews with origins in Eastern Europe – in its high risk category for breast cancer, Ziv said. There are moves to do the same thing in Israel with increased screening for Ashkenazi and Iraqi women, the CEO added.

Like Jolie, any women who has relatives who suffered from breast cancer or who had themselves been diagnosed with the disease is recommended to seek a medical consultation to identify whether they carry the mutated gene. The genetic trait can be passed down via the father’s bloodline, not just the mother’s.

Israel bears the unique difficulty of dealing with the children and grandchildren of families who came through the Holocaust, Ziv said. They often don’t know their family histories.

But of those diagnosed with breast cancer only 10% carry the genetic marker – the remaining 90% have contracted the disease due to some other reason. This means that all women should be aware of the risks, Ziv said.

Former U.S. President Carter says he has cancer


Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said on Wednesday that recent liver surgery revealed he had cancer that had spread to other parts of his body.

“I will be rearranging my schedule as necessary so I can undergo treatment by physicians at Emory Healthcare,” Carter, 90, said in a statement. “A more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.”

Carter, a Democrat, served as the 39th president from 1977 to 1981 after defeating Republican incumbent Gerald Ford. He was defeated for re-election in 1980 by Republican Ronald Reagan.

The Carter family has a history of pancreatic cancer, including his parents, two sisters and younger brother Billy Carter.

Carter told the New York Times in 2007 that he and other relatives had given blood for genetic studies seeking to help doctors diagnose the disease.

Asked why he has escaped cancer for so long while it devastated the rest of his family he blamed smoking. “The only difference between me and my father and my siblings was that I never smoked a cigarette,” said Carter, former governor of Georgia and a state senator. “My daddy smoked regularly. All of them smoked.”

Jimmy Carter's health became a matter of concern in recent months after he cut short a trip to Guyana in May to observe national elections. At the time, the Carter Center in Atlanta said only that he had returned to his home state of Georgia after “not feeling well.”

The Carter Center said last week that he had undergone elective surgery at Emory University Hospital to remove a small mass in his liver and his prognosis was excellent.

The White House issued a statement saying that Democratic President Barack Obama and the first lady sent their “best wishes to President Carter for a fast and full recovery.”

It added: “Jimmy, you're as resilient as they come, and along with the rest of America, we are rooting for you.”

Republican Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and his wife issued a statement saying Carter was “in their prayers as he goes through treatment.”

Carter also received words of sympathy via Twitter from Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr, who said the former president “raised the moral chin bar for public service.”

A Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist on a range of issues from global democracy to women and children's rights, as well as affordable housing, Carter published his latest book last month, titled “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety.”

In July, he gave a wide-ranging interview to Reuters Editor-at-Large Sir Harold Evans on his life from his childhood on a Georgia peanut farm to his presidency. (http://tmsnrt.rs/1f8BND2)

Carter recalled growing up in a home without running water or electricity, at a time when he said the daily wage was $1 for a man, 75 cents for a woman, and a loaf of bread cost 5 cents.

He said the civil rights movement led to important progress toward racial equality in the United States, but lamented “there's still a great prejudice in police forces against black people and obviously some remnants of extreme racism.”

Cancer took her limb, not her life


Veterinarian Erica Heim has no idea where her left arm is. It  turned to ash, most likely, more than a decade ago.

For years, the 42-year-old Encino native treated days-long bouts of excruciating shoulder pain with Tylenol, physical therapy and acupuncture, until an MRI located a nugget of deadly saboteur cells in the upper third of her left arm. It was Ewing’s sarcoma. Cancer. 

Eight months later, her surgeon amputated Heim’s arm, shoulder and half of her collarbone. After that, she says, she lost track of the limb, though its phantom pain haunts her every day. And though Heim’s Jewish roots run deep — her father, Fred, is a Holocaust survivor — she feels that her religious upbringing did little to prepare, support or help her cope with her frightening cancer and life as an amputee.

For starters, Heim, who said she felt “horribly fatigued and nauseous” from chemotherapy, had no idea that her villainous limb didn’t have to be cremated, like the majority of appendages amputated in a hospital. She was unaware that, for practicing Jews, the rabbinic ideal is to go underground.

“If it’s a full limb,” said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, chair of the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, “it’s supposed to be buried.” This is no proscription writ in Torah, only oral law derived from a central Jewish tenet that our bodies belong to God, and therefore require respect in death as well as in life.  

“Just like a body should be buried,” advised Yossi Manela of West Hollywood’s Chevra Kadisha mortuary, “so a toe, finger, certainly an arm, should too be buried and not be discarded.”

But this isn’t your usual Jewish burial. First, because hospitals usually have the amputated limbs cremated offsite, patients must request burial. Second, mortuaries often inter limbs for free. Third, the burial is performed without ceremony: There’s no formal recitation of prayer, no graveside service, no casket, no covered mirrors — just the simple act of interment in an unmarked plot.  

Although Heim didn’t have her arm burried according to Jewish custom, the idea appeals to her.

“Burying, in some ways, sounds kind of beautiful,” Heim said. “I think it honors … that it’s a part of your body, and that your body can be a beautiful place. I think it is also burying the evil that is your cancer, or whatever ugliness caused you to lose your limb.” 

Undergoing amputation doesn’t just change a person physically, of course. There can be intense emotional adjustments as well. Spiritual leaders encourage individuals to find a way to say goodbye before their surgeries.

“You have to stop and mourn loss,” said Rabbi Jason Weiner, a chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “It can be therapeutic and cathartic to say goodbye to the limb in a formal way, to help you recognize that it really happened and that life is different now.”

Reading a poem or psalm is one way to honor the impending loss. Other times, a patient might dialogue with God. “Dear God,” Weiner might start off, “I’m here with so-and-so, and they would like to say …” 

These rituals can help patients face emotional responses such as spikes of grief and profound doubt. For Heim, who attended Jewish day school until the seventh grade, the disease that took her arm also shook her faith. 

“Having cancer called into question everything I believe in,” she said. “I don’t even know if I believe in God.”

Her spiritual life thrown into a tumult, Heim nevertheless bid adieu to her limb in her own way, asking an artist to create a mold and plaster cast of the arm, immortalizing it forever. “I always had the thought of taking it to a foundry and having it cast in bronze,” she said. 

Burial and a parting ritual can bring some comfort to patients, but what of finding ongoing support after surgery? When someone is sick, you bring them soup. When someone dies, you wear torn cloth, recite prayers, feed their family. But what is the Jewish way to assist someone who’s lost part of his or her body and continues to live on? 

Jewish law requires that as a community, we care for the sick and the disabled, Dorff noted. An amputee is merely a person who is disabled in a specific way. 

However, Internet searches reveal scant resources specific to Jewish amputees, and organizations for disabled Jews don’t typically work with those who have lost limbs. 

The fact is, beyond burial guidance, there are few edicts addressing an amputee’s physical, mental and emotional needs. Instead, these individuals temporarily transition into the realm of the sick or disabled until corporeal wounds heal. After that, the level of care depends largely on family and friends. 

This is partly the result of the relatively small number of amputation cases. Chevra Kadisha, for example, may receive just five requests a year for limb burial. 

Apart from seeking counsel from a rabbi, an amputee’s most complete support network exists beyond Jewish circles. For Heim, the most uplifting sense of community came from a ski trip to Mammoth with Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra.

“It was a lot of great energy,” Heim said. “It wasn’t the pity party that I envisioned.” 

Today, Heim grapples with daily phantom pain, weekly questions and stares, and the fear of cancer's return. But for the most part, Heim lives a full, happy life. She’s the medical director at Best Friends Animal Hospital in Valley Village. In 2010, she married a man she met before her amputation. 

“My relationship to the arm … is sort of unemotional,” Heim said. “I think it’s funny and weird and I’m totally OK with it. I don’t need a ceremony.”

To Heim, the real burial is of the four-limbed life she used to live.

“The woman who existed in the 30 years before this happened is a different person,” Heim said. “And then there’s the one-armed person after that. I identify with her.”

All women win as Israel battles breast cancer


As October Breast Cancer Awareness Month came to an end, the Old City walls in Jerusalem were illuminated with pink lights. But Israel’s promotion of breast cancer awareness is not just for show—Israel continues to be a global leader in breast cancer detection, research, and treatment.

A recent Buzzfeed post listed ten ways in which Israel is fighting the battle against breast cancer. The article highlighted Israel’s Octava Pink, the first blood test for breast cancer detection. Octava Pink has a wholly owned R&D subsidiary in Israel with headquarters in Miami, Florida. This diagnostic tool alerts doctors to unusual immune system reactions to the presence of a malignant tumor, supplementing unclear or false-negative imaging results. According to the online news magazine “Israel21c,” the Octava Pink test has achieved “astounding results” in Israel and Italy, will soon be marketed in Europe and Asia, and is currently undergoing clinical trials to receive U.S. FDA approval. If approved, Octava Pink “would be only the second approved breast cancer screening test, along with mammography,” to which the company’s president says, “that’s big news!” 

Another innovation is led by IceCure Medical (founded and based in Caesarea), which has developed a revolutionary system to treat breast cancer in only 10 minutes by penetrating the tumor and then engulfing it in ice. This renders surgical procedures unnecessary and “does not require reaching past the tumor as is the case in other [cryoablation] devices.”

Breast cancer is said to affect one in seven women in the western world, making the field of breast cancer research vital for millions of women and their families. In Israel, the research is paying off. While Israel ranks fifth in incidence of cancer, it ranks ninth in mortality. This may be due not only to innovative treatments and detection mechanisms, but also to education. The Israel Cancer Association “encourages women to learn their own bodies and watch for changes to catch breast cancer early.” 

But a crusade exists that advocates rejecting these life-saving treatments. Those who challenge Israel’s right to exist – singling out the Jewish State, the only democracy in the Middle East, for perceived human rights violations. 

Only ignorance and hatred would abide by the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement – dismissing such advances in defeating cancer the way other Israeli products are targeted by anti-Israel movements.

Could you imagine a woman with an inconclusive mammogram refusing the blood test that could detect her cancer? Or a woman who would opt for invasive surgery to remove a tumor rather than undergoing a 10-minute procedure because the technology is Israeli-made and she doesn’t like how the Israeli government protects her citizenry? Of course not! 

Cancer doesn’t care about your religion, race or nationality. Disease is blind and doesn’t differentiate between Jews and Muslims or Israelis and Palestinians. Arab Israelis surely aren’t boycotting this one. According to the National Breast Cancer Program organizer, 70 percent of Arab women in Israel receive routine mammograms, many from the Israel Cancer Association’s mobile mammography truck that “enables women in more remote locations to access this important service.”

These Israeli innovations in the fight against breast cancer illustrate Israel’s dedication to women’s health. Octava Pink and IceCure Medical are just two of these innovations that could be a game-changer for women and cancer research. Israel’s success in this field should work as an equalizer, gathering support from everyone who truly cares about women’s health and the fight against cancer. 


Eliana Rudee is a contributor to the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. Follow her @ellierudee.

Terminally ill Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon to donate his $100 million fortune to charity


Back in 2012, Sam Simon — best known as one of the creators of The Simpsons — was told he had terminal colon cancer and only three to six months to live. Since then, he’s been preparing to give away his entire fortune to the causes that matter most to him.

In a recent interview with NBC News, Simon explained that most of these causes directly involve animals. He as worked closely, for example, with PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk.

“I think that my passion for the animals and against animal abuse is based on the knowledge that these creatures who feel and think can’t speak for themselves and they’re dependent on us for that,” he told interviewer Maria Shriver. “And so I feel it’s my responsibility to speak for those that can’t speak for themselves.”

Read the full story at TIME.com.

Oh so sorry


I’m sorry I haven’t eaten more hot dogs. 

Saturday is Selichot, the time when the whole Jewish world sings with Connie Francis, “I’m sorry,” and vows to do better next time. Many of us are focused on the wrongs we’ve done to others, or even to God. 

This year, however, as I contemplate in yet a new way the impact of lung cancer, there’s no one to whom I owe apology more than myself. 

Yes, many of my apologies go to me. I should have eaten more hot dogs, with mustard and sauerkraut. And even more hush puppies, which in Jewish delis are hot dogs wrapped in potato knish, served best (if not only) in New York. 

I know what you’re thinking: you were only watching your health. But if you want a hot dog and never give yourself a hot dog, what are you accomplishing? Fear of food is, I think, a crime against the soul, the shutting down of the appetite by which we show our confidence in being alive. 

For years I refused to eat popcorn at the movies. I was a college student and deemed myself too good for plebeian food. That year, a New York theater started popping its kernels and brewing its own coffee to sell with the latest Belmondo film. Popcorn brought great enjoyment to my next James Bond movie. Sean Connery is such a hunk, and I apologized profusely to myself for having missed out on the great all-American experience — albeit without butter. 

If I’m going to keep the appetite going, I have to respond to where the taste buds tingle. 

Since I received a lung cancer diagnosis, I’ve been macrobiotic, lived on smoothies, Chinese herbs, Ensure shakes. But even before I was fanatic. I ate pasta with broccoli. Broccoli, with Vitamin C, may reduce breast cancer. I never smoked cigarettes, which is linked to 85 percent of lung cancers. 

Today, when it might help, my body is in overdose. I avoid any food colored green. I’m no doctor, but any one of these regimens destroys appetite in all its meanings faster than a hot dog now and again. It’s the luck of the draw. Eat a hot dog or not, you can get cancer anyway. Might as well live. 

And although early on I cut out sugar and dairy, ice cream is now my dinner of choice. 

I begrudge myself nothing. If you don’t express your appetite, what comes next? Soon you won’t have any. A friend will ask if you want to eat by the ocean, and you won’t know. Soon enough, you miss the summer sunset, and the blooming begonia, and the loveliness of a child’s smile. It takes will to live. 

More hot dogs. More fun. 

Lung cancer taught me that what we do today is fun. Tomorrow the bill comes due. Develop taste. Don’t be a snob. Don’t live in regret. Don’t worry about where your cancer is going to come from. When you have to know, you will. 

One year, when I was new to Selichot, I sent around a list. I knew what I had done to everyone. They, of course, had long ago forgiven me. But it’s different to pardon myself. 

At the base of the apologies I owe myself, is a youth spent trying to stay in control. I thought I had it covered. I didn’t know anything. 

S’lach lanu. Forgive us. Forgive me for thinking I had anything under control. 

That’s not the only amends I owe myself. I’m sorry I kept slipcovers on the living room couch for more than a decade. I regret that it took me years to decide to paint the kitchen, and less than a month to get the job done. 

I underestimated the pleasure that comes from pleasure; that playing the piano badly is not a crime against humanity; that nothing beats the joy of making up my own mind and paying my own way. 

I’m sorry, but I’m not guilty. I’m sorry for the false truths accepted and fun cut short without thought. I’m aware of hours spent trying to explain myself — what a waste. Years spent pursuing trivial goals — why? I was definite about ideas I knew nothing about. 

So much gets squeezed on to a hot dog.

Cedars-Sinai to host symposium on inherited cancer risk


As a gynecologic oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in the late 1980s, Dr. Beth Karlan and her colleagues noticed that cancer seems to cluster in certain families. In 1991, they established the Gilda Radner Hereditary Cancer Program to investigate the role heredity plays in cancer.

A key discovery in 1994 shed light on the relationship between heredity and cancer: Mary-Claire King, a researcher at UC Berkeley, identified an alteration on a single gene that made people more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancers. King named the gene BRCA1, for breast cancer gene. Soon afterward, a second gene alteration associated with increased cancer risk was identified and given the name BRCA2.

Discovery of these genes constituted a “seismic change to the landscape of hereditary cancers,” said Karlan, now director of the Women’s Cancer Program at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars. “[It gave us] an understanding and ability to focus on some of the ways these cancers are transmitted.”

To mark the 20-year anniversary of this discovery, the Women’s Cancer Program is hosting a symposium Sept. 13 exploring advances in screening, prevention and treatment of hereditary cancers. Presenters also will discuss some of the controversies around this issue, such as prophylactic measures for preventing cancer in individuals who have tested positive for a BRCA gene.

The symposium, titled “Advances in Care for the New Millennium,” will be held at the Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. The first portion of the day is designed for physicians, geneticists, genetic counselors, nurses and other professionals whose work concerns BRCA-related cancers. 

A free afternoon session, “Strategies for Managing Hereditary Cancer Risk,” begins at 4 p.m. and is open to the public, though registration is required. It is geared toward those with an interest in the topic, such as people who carry or are related to a carrier of a BRCA mutation, those with a strong family history of hereditary breast or ovarian cancer, those seeking strategies for lowering cancer risk and detecting it earlier, and women considering prophylactic measures to limit cancer risk. 

BRCA gene mutations account for about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers and about 15 percent of all ovarian cancers. Ashkenazi Jews have a higher prevalence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations than the population at large.

Speakers at both portions of the symposium include Karlan; Dr. Steven A. Narod, director of the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit of Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto; Dr. Judy E. Garber, director of the Cancer Genetics and Prevention Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston; and Dr. Sue Friedman, executive director of FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered).

Karlan, who is Jewish, says that the BRCA gene mutation will not manifest the same way in everyone. Researchers hope to untangle the environmental and genetic factors that determine why some carriers develop cancer and others don’t, and why those who do may develop different types of cancer. 

“There are also noncancer implications of BRCA genes,” Karlan told the Journal. “These mutations are present in every cell of the body.”

She urges women to know their family health history. 

“You can inherit the BRCA gene mutation from your mother or your father,” Karlan said. “Find out what runs in your family and see if genetic testing is appropriate for you. It could end up saving your life.”

https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1519392

 

“Strategies for Managing Hereditary Cancer Risk,” takes place Sept. 13, from 4-5:30 p.m. at Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. Registration is required. Contact Fay Shapiro at (310) 423-5800 or fay.shapiro@cshs.org. To register for the afternoon public session, contact Fay Shapiro at (310) 423-5800 or fay.shapiro@cshs.org.

Bernard Madoff’s son Andrew dies after long battle with cancer


Andrew Madoff, the son of convicted fraudster Bernard Madoff, died on Wednesday from cancer, his lawyer said. He was 48.

“Andrew Madoff has lost his courageous battle against mantle cell lymphoma,” lawyer Martin Flumenbaum said in a statement. “He died peacefully at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on September 3, 2014, surrounded by his loving family.”

Bernard Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to operating a massive Ponzi scheme estimated to have cost investors $17 billion in lost principal. His other son, Mark Madoff, committed suicide in 2010 on the second anniversary of his father's arrest.

Both Madoff sons denied knowing about the fraud and were never criminally charged in connection with the scheme. They turned their father in to authorities in December 2008, saying he had confessed to them.

However, the guilty plea of former Madoff adviser Paul Konigsberg in June included reference to the brothers as “co-conspirators,” suggesting prosecutors were still considering criminal charges against Andrew Madoff, sources told Reuters.

Meanwhile, the trustee seeking to recover money for Bernard Madoff's victims filed civil claims against Andrew Madoff and the estate of Mark Madoff, accusing the brothers of aiding the fraud and collecting millions of dollars in illicit profits.

Most recently in July, the trustee, Irving Picard, asserted in a court filing that the brothers deleted emails linking them to the scheme at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC and used sham loans to buy luxury apartments in Manhattan.

Defense lawyers denied the claims and pointed to a ruling from the United Kingdom's High Court of Justice last October against Picard that concluded the brothers did not suspect fraud.

A spokeswoman for Picard said in a statement that the trustee and his team “were very sorry to learn of Andrew Madoff’s death and they extend their sympathies to his family.”

Last year, Andrew Madoff told the magazine People he would “never forgive” his father for his crimes and blamed a recurrence of his cancer on the stress caused by his father's arrest and conviction.

A German saves a Jew


It was 3 p.m. on a November weekday when Frank Hebroni found out who had saved him. He recalls the moment in perfect, vivid detail, a strobe of intense light after so much darkness:   

“It was nine hours ahead — midnight for him,” Hebroni, 26, said of his bone marrow donor, who lives in Germany. “My mom was, like, ‘I’m gonna call right now.’ He answered, but he barely spoke English. He said something in German. My mom was, like, ‘Bone marrow donation! America! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!’ ”

For Hebroni’s mother, Hengy, this was a victory call — a triumph of modern medicine over odds and distance, an achievement of humanity over the evils of history. She would not wait another minute to share this epic moment with the man who had saved her son from a ruthless foe.  

It wasn’t Hitler, but there had been a Pharaoh living inside Hebroni’s body. 

When he was 9, the Iranian-Jewish boy was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma (rab-DO-MYO-sarcoma), a rare malignant tumor that Hebroni described as “in my face, behind my eye, close to my brain.”  

Because of the tumor’s proximity to his cerebrum, doctors would not operate. For a year, Hebroni endured a punishing regimen of radiation and chemotherapy that forced him to miss the fourth grade. What would that matter, though, if it meant he would live?

Five years later, Hebroni was a freshman in high school when a routine check-up with his oncologist served him another blow: acute myelogenous leukemia, probably a result of the radiation he had undergone for the tumor.  

He spent a year of high school in isolation at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, watching and waiting as the poisonous chemo serum worked its magical madness on his cancer. And before he could surrender to the pain, nausea, hair loss, weight loss, loneliness, boredom or despair, the malevolent molecules disappeared into remission. 

“After being sick, you would think I would get disgusted by the medical field, by always being in the hospital and stuff,” Hebroni told me by phone last week. “But, after that, I wanted to be a doctor.”

Nine years passed. Then, in May 2011, as Hebroni was nearing the end of his second year at UCLA medical school and was about to take his board exams, he got a sore throat. It soon became a sinus infection, then bronchitis, then pneumonia. “At a party, just walking around the party, I was short of breath,” he recalled. “And I had a bad feeling in my gut. I thought, maybe I’m sick again.” 

The chances of his cancer recurring after nine years of remission were very low, but Hebroni insisted on a visit to the oncologist for a blood test. His heavy dread proved prescient; the leukemia had returned. 

“I got so mad,” Hebroni recalled of his third cancer diagnosis before turning 25. “I grabbed [the doctor’s] coat and started shaking him back and forth, yelling ‘You have to treat me or I’m gonna die!’ ” 

His family and friends were stunned when it took only one round of chemo for the cancer to retreat in remission. But Hebroni’s doctor was not relieved; if the cancer were to recur again, he explained to the family, the strain could be so aggressive that chemo might be powerless to stop it. “He thought we should really do something more permanent,” Hebroni recalled.

The solution would be a bone marrow transplant — if only a match could be found.

It was June 2011, half a world away in the tiny German town of Bad Lippspringe (population 15,000) in North Rhine-Westphalia, when 59-year-old Peter Entz was contacted through a donor registry and asked if he would donate stem cells. Entz had entered the registry some years earlier when a local donor drive was organized to save a young man with leukemia from his town, but before a donor could be found, the boy died. Now, Entz was approaching 60, the cut-off age for bone marrow donation. 

“When they asked me, I was speechless,” Entz wrote me by e-mail in his striving English. “I thought that I would be too old. I only needed some moments [to think about it] and I said, ‘Yes, of course, I do it.’ ”

A week before the procedure, Entz self-administered injections that gave him extreme nausea “and malaise,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, I still endured because I wanted to help the sick person. I never had any doubts.”

Entz was not given information about the recipient; after the donation, he was told it was a person living in the United States. 

At City of Hope National Medical Center, outside Los Angeles, Hebroni and his family were anxiously waiting for the transplant to take its course. For a mandatory 100 days, they watched as Hebroni’s body attacked itself, through a complication known as graft versus host disease (GVHD), a condition that made him supremely vulnerable to infection. For months he had to remain strictly isolated in a special unit of the hospital. Visitors had to wear full body gowns to see him. And almost daily he needed blood, platelet and electrolyte transfusions. He could only eat through an I.V. 

The complications from the transplant beset Hebroni with a series of illnesses and trials that would radically alter his life for years to come: his bones grew so thin he couldn’t lift a spoon; he couldn’t keep food down but had to swallow 45 pills daily; he lost 50 pounds. He underwent more surgery, and he had to wear a germ-repellent mask in public.  

After two years, Hebroni was finally able to contact Entz and tell him that he would return to medical school.

This Passover, Hebroni’s family invited Entz and his daughter to visit Los Angeles and share their seder. “It was an unbelievable feeling of happiness and thankfulness to meet Frank and his family,” Entz wrote to me. “Never before [have] I had contacts to anyone in the U.S.A. It is a great pleasure and grace for me, that life led us together.”

Of the seder experience, Entz added: “It was a deeply moving and impressive moment to experience this Jewish holiday in the circle of the entire family. We spent a wonderful night together with many conversations and Iranian dancing.”

The symbolism was so stark, I had to ask Entz what it meant to him that he had saved a Jewish life more than half a century after the Holocaust. 

“That I was able to save a human life is for me the greatest pleasure in my life,” he wrote. “The Jew[s] and the German[s] have a very bad past. I am very happy to have made a piece of redress through my donation for a Jewish person.”

Premier cancer researcher cites successes and sees hope


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Dr. Larry Norton is the Deputy Physician-in-Chief of Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York and hailed by many as one of the foremost cancer researchers in the United States.

Dr. Norton was in Israel for a conference hosted by Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, highlighting the new frontiers in cancer research.

Dr. Norton was interviewed by The Media Line’s Felice Friedson.

TML:  Dr. Norton, why Soroka Medical Center?

Dr. Norton:  Soroka [Medical Center] is a wonderful place to do the kind of research that we have to do. It is, first of all, populated by wonderful doctors and scientists; and in addition to that, the Negev [the southern desert region of Israel] has 1.1 million people and they’re all served by that one hospital. In addition to that, the hospital has immaculate electronic medical records. So, we started the project there several years ago looking at the relationship between bone health — that’s osteoporosis or the opposite, which is bone density — and breast cancer. It’s a very diverse population and they all go to Soroka for healthcare and they all have great records.

I learned something else when I was [in Be’er Sheva], which is that there is a pioneering spirit in that part of the world, where people have a lot of confidence in the future. They have a confidence in themselves and they are willing to try new things and they’re willing to try exciting things, and that sense of confidence and doing things that are new and unconventional is very important for research.

 

TML:  In what year did you begin this collaboration?

Dr. Norton: Well, it’s about two-and-a-half years ago. We’ve already discovered something really important that we can’t explain and of course, great science always happens when you can’t explain something.  If you have breast cancer, your bones are more brittle than people without breast cancer, but it’s not osteoporosis necessarily. Of course, osteoporosis makes it more likely that you’ll get a fracture, but people with breast cancer seem to get fractures at a level of bone strength that is higher than the level at which you would expect people to get those fractures. So something about the breast cancer is making the bones weak, and that tells us that there is signaling between the bones and the cancer:  that’s a very important clue for what makes cancers cancerous. It’s a whole new definition of cancer.

 

TML:  How do you go about trying to define how that works within the framework of cancerous cell research?

Dr. Norton:  That’s what’s wonderful about Soroka. These patients are all being followed, taken care of by excellent physicians; we’re going to look at their blood to see what some of the factors that are involved are. We’ll also examine their tumors — everybody has been diagnosed with breast cancer so there’s a tumor sample that’s available. Of course, all of this will be done very carefully and very ethically, but our intention is to do the best studies we can to try to figure out the connection between bone health and breast health. And we intend to explore other areas as well, for example, the terrible impact of obesity on breast cancer. And it’s not just the fat that’s in the breast tissue, it’s actually fat anywhere in the body. We’ve learned that fat can actually teach white blood cells to support the growth of cancer. A certain kind of white cell can be stimulated by fat tissue to actually promote the growth of tumors:  it’s another reason not to be obese.

 

TML:  So much has changed in cancer research during the last decades, so what can you point to that’s different today?

Dr. Norton:  The main thing is the availability of tools that we can use to really examine the molecules that make the cancer cancerous. It used to be that we would study one molecule at a time; now we can study thousands of molecules at the same time and use very sophisticated computer tools and computer modeling to see the way they all inter-react. We’re getting down to the very fundamental understanding of what life is all about at the level of molecules. Never before in the history of the world have we had that capability.

 

TML: Your research concerns the basic biology of cancer, tumor causation, and growth, with an emphasis on the approach to improving diagnosis, prevention, and drug treatment. You co-conceived the self-seeding theory that alters the way we look at breast cancer. Can you explain this in layman’s terms?

Dr. Norton:  Yes, this was actually the first lecture done by my colleague Elizabeth Comen. We have discovered that when you have a breast cancer some of the cells can go loose into the blood stream and we all know that those are dangerous cells because they are capable of going to other parts of the body, such as if they start in the breast where the original breast tumor is, they can travel to the lungs or the bone or the liver and can cause trouble there. In fact, most people who die of cancer die not from the disease where it started but from where the cells spread. But we discovered that cells can leave the primary tumor and come back to it. Also, cells can go from one metastatic site: in other words, if it’s in the liver, it could leave the liver and go to the bone or go from the bone to the lung and cells can move around. This has totally transformed our notion of what cancer is. We’ve always thought of it as cells dividing and piling up and building up, but now we know they also move around, and so one very important feature of this is that we can start to develop drugs that stop them from moving. Also, when the cells move, wherever they go they attract white blood cells and blood vessel cells and the blood vessel cells and the white blood cells all come from the bone marrow and they go to the place where the cancer is, and help it grow. And that’s enabling us to develop approaches to cancer that treat the white blood cells and the blood vessels and not just the cancer cells. You know, nobody ever died of cancer cells. Cancer cells themselves are harmless — they’re only harmful if they form tumors and masses. And those tumors are actually cancer cells and white cells and blood vessel cells and other kinds of cells and we’re learning how all of that works together and its giving us great insight in how to prevent the disease and treating it.

 

TML:  Dr. Norton, this begs the question, why aren’t physicians looking at the body as a whole rather than at isolated areas like the breasts?

Dr. Norton:  Well, the research is hard and I think doctors are looking at the body as a whole now and I think that’s one of the great revolutions that is happening in contemporary medical science. It’s not just about the cells themselves, it’s also about how they connect to each other. It’s all about communication, and that community of cells is really where the action is, and we’re learning that.

It also tells us important things about what we can do to stay healthy. If, indeed, fat tissue can teach white blood cells to support the growth of cancer cells, that’s another reason not to be obese and exercise is a not only a good way to control your weight but it strengthens your bones and having healthy bones may be a very important thing as well we’re discovering. So, the whole body works together as a unit.

 

TML:  Well, to what end? How can a physician understand an individual’s bone metabolism as a preventative measure?

Dr. Norton:  Well, we study the bones and we study the cancer and we study the white cells and we study the blood vessel cells and all the other components, and then putting it all together in one package — that’s where the challenge is and that’s why the huge advances in computer science is so important because computers can calculate millions and millions of possibilities in a fraction of a second and we can simulate all sorts of different relationships and see which ones actually match the reality. We could never do this before.

 

TML:   There are varying opinions on the frequency in which woman should have mammograms or CT scans and what age they should begin. What does research tell us?

Dr. Norton:  Well, mammography is still the very best way we have of diagnosing cancer when it’s tiny. And we know for sure, in breast cancer, diagnosing it when it’s small is very very important. In the United States, our recommendation is very firm that women should get an annual mammogram starting at age 40 — that’s for an average risk woman. If you’re at higher risk, you might want to start earlier, depending upon individual factors. I know that in Israel the more usual thing is to start annual mammograms at age 50, and again, that’s a local decision I’m not going to challenge. But probably somewhere between 40 and 50 is the right place to start it.

One of the exciting topics that we’re talking about is trying to individualize screening, so we call it risk-adjusted screening, for some women, starting at age 25 might be the right thing; for other women they may not need it at all, and so classifying the risks for the individual and putting them into an individualized screening program is something that we’re working hard to accomplish and I think that’s going to be a big advance.

 

TML:  How would you determine that a woman does not need it at all?

Dr. Norton:  Well mostly by analyzing her genes. You know, you can inherit a bad gene from your mother or your father and if you do that your risks of breast cancer are huge. So for that individual, if they choose screening, they should really start very young, probably at age 25. We also add other things such as MRIs for the breasts to get a better handle on their early diagnosis, so that’s a very high risk situation. We haven’t yet identified a group of people who have such a low risk that they don’t have to be screened at all but that’s one of our goals. Because of your genetic makeup and lifestyle issues and past medical history you may fall into a situation where your risks are low enough that screening doesn’t make sense. We haven’t found that yet, so we’re still recommending for women to have annual screening.

 

TML:  The big question on many people’s minds is what causes cancer? In the case of women, does hormone therapy expose women to cancer?

Dr. Norton:  Now most cancers are probably caused for reasons that we don’t understand and there may not actually be any cause, per se. What’s the cause, for example, of aging? There is no cause of aging: it’s just something that happens as time passes for a human body. And similarly, cancer may be one of those things that isn’t actually caused by any abnormality in the environment or anything the person does wrong, but some women are at higher risk than others. One thing you can do to put yourself at high risk is to take estrogen and progesterone in your post-menopausal years. This has clearly been proven by careful research that it very significantly increases your risk of getting breast cancer so that is not something that I recommend.

 

TML:   What are the current statistics, the data of women who are getting breast cancer in the US and in the world; and the survival ratio?

Dr. Norton:  Well, that depends on so many factors it’s almost impossible to say in a simple sentence. It depends upon your own family history, it depends upon your environment, and as I said it depends on such things like obesity and hormone use. It can be said that if you live to a ripe old age in the United States, your chances of not getting breast cancer are in the range of about eight out of nine, which means one in nine will get breast cancer at some time in their life and that’s a fair statistic. That’s of course a lot of women and therefore it’s really imperative that we get better at diagnosing and treating the disease to save more and more lives.

 

TML:  You developed and identified an approach to therapy called dose density, which maximizes the killing of cancer cells when minimizing toxicity. How has this been implemented?

Dr. Norton:  Well, this is actually a well-established approach. With my colleague, Richard Simon, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, we confirmed that cancers grow by a pattern of growth that is fast at the beginning and slows down as the tumor gets bigger. When we saw that pattern of growth we realized that one of the big problems with killing cancer cells was if you let too much time pass between your doses of therapy, the cancer could grow back very quickly. So, the hypothesis was that getting in a reasonable dose of drug very often was better than getting in a very high dose less often. In fact, 10% more patients were cured of cancer by just giving the drugs every two weeks instead of three weeks. So it’s become standard to use that in the treatment of breast cancer right now, and many many patients in the United States and throughout the world are getting dosed-in therapy, it shows that not only good science but good mathematical science can have a huge impact on our ability to cure cancer.

 

TML:  Dr. Norton, you’re the principal investigator of a program through the National Cancer Institute whose aim is to bring breast cancer laboratory advances into clinical practice. What’s the forecast for breast cancer research in 2025?

Dr. Norton:  Well, we need to make sure that the funding stays intact – national cancer state funding, philanthropic funding, and all the sources. The amount that’s spent on research required is actually very very tiny considering the magnitude of the problem. So that’s something I just want to emphasize: it’s very very important to continue the research and to keep it very robust.

 

TML:  Dr. Larry Norton,  one of America’s – and the world’s — foremost cancer researchers,  thank you very much for your time and for your important work.

Finding a cure


Israel’s reputation as a tech pioneer extends far beyond wireless technology and computer chips to the biomedical field. While some of the most ingenious treatments are being developed at Israeli universities, others are being launched by private start-up companies.  

Here is a sampling of the many advances in the industry — some in the pipeline, others already on the market. 

Cervical cancer can be cured if it is caught early, but that rarely occurs in the developing world, resulting in 250,000 cervical cancer deaths a year worldwide. MobileOCT, a Tel Aviv start-up launched in October 2012, has developed a scope that can be attached to a smart phone, a digital camera or an endoscope to capture the data required to make a diagnosis. The device absorbs the light reflected from cervical tissue and turns it into a high-resolution image that is then analyzed by an algorithm developed by MobileOCT. 

According to Ariel Beery, the company’s co-founder, 2 billion women lack access to cervical cancer screening. In December, Beery and MobileOCT won the $100,000 first prize in the International Startup Festival’s Elevator World Tour, a competition for top startups. Now in the testing phase, the prototype is expected to go live in 2015.  

Many patients with sleep apnea, characterized by brief interruptions in breathing during sleep, live with this potentially fatal condition because the pressure masks their physicians prescribe, which are meant to keep oxygen flowing, are just too uncomfortable. Discover Medical Devices has created SomnuSeal, an adjustable mask it describes as nonintrusive and “much more comfortable” because it doesn’t come into contact with any sensitive oral or facial structures.   

The mask uses continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to keep the airways open. This is the same treatment used for preterm babies whose lungs haven’t fully developed, according to the National Institutes of Health. Discover Medical, which is marketing the product in Europe, hopes to enter the U.S. market as well. 

People with type-2 diabetes who depend on insulin injections may have an alternative in the foreseeable future. Jerusalem-based Oramed Pharmaceuticals has developed an oral insulin capsule intended to take the place of daily injections. The capsule is in Phase II clinical trials.

 “Going to market is a few years downstream,” said the company’s COO, Josh Hexter, referring to the long clinical trial process required before any medication is approved.

The company believes the capsule will be most beneficial in the early stages of type-2 diabetes, when it can still slow the rate of degeneration of the disease by providing additional insulin to the body before the pancreas can no longer produce any insulin. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which a person has high blood sugar, either from the body not producing enough insulin (type 1) or because the cells have developed a resistance to the body’s own insulin (type 2).

Professor Zeev Zalevsky at Bar-Ilan University has developed a bionic contact lens that, he believes, will eventually give sight to people who were born blind. The product utilizes a small camera, held in the hand or worn on glasses, that transmits information to a special contact lens. Electrodes transmit signals of the image, which can be described as “electronic Braille,” which are in turn felt by the retina. 

“It’s like reading Braille, not with your fingertips but with your eyes,” Zalevsky explained in an online university newsletter. “We can encode an image with many more points than the Braille system and use these to stimulate the surface of the cornea.”

Zalevsky’s team is conducting feasibility studies on people with normal sight as a prelude to seeking approval for clinical trials. 

When President Barak Obama visited Israel last year, the government invited him to see some of the country’s most impressive tech inventions. The ReWalk exoskeleton was one of them. 

Awaiting FDA approval in the U.S., the exoskeleton created by Argo Medical Technologies, southeast of Haifa, enables paraplegics to sit up, walk and climb stairs. Used in rehabilitation hospitals in Israel, the U.S. and Europe, ReWalk is also available for private use in Europe. 

Powered by batteries, the exoskelton’s motorized legs are controlled by portable computers and motion sensors. The developers are currently examining whether ReWalk increases patients’ bone density and improves bodily functions. Featured on the TV show “Glee,” the product was named one of the “25 Best Inventions of the Year” for 2013 by TIME magazine.

Na-Nose, which was developed by a team of scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, is a system that tests and detects lung cancer from exhaled breath with a high rate of accuracy — it is able to differentiate between different types of cancer up to 95 percent of the time.    

The company’s goal is to detect early stages of cancer in a noninvasive way. A year ago, the scientists teamed up with the Boston-based company Alpha Szenszor, which manufacturers nanotube sensing equipment, to conduct more testing and seek FDA approval within five years.   

Na-Nose analyzes the more than 1,000 different gases that are contained in a person’s breath and identifies those that raise red flags. The gases bind with nanomaterials and the results are analyzed. The developers are seeking ways to apply the technology to the detection of multiple sclerosis, kidney disease and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other cancers.  

OrCam, a device that reads text from newspapers, road signs, menus, food labels and more, helps the visually impaired navigate the world. The product, made by a Jerusalem-based manufacturer of the same name, consists of a tiny camera that attaches to a pair of eyeglasses. A cable links it to a pocket-sized computer, which converts the words into speech when the user points to an object. 

Available only in the U.S. and in English — although it is currently sold out, according to its manufacturer — the manufacturers are planning to distribute the device more widely and in different languages. 

Terminally ill teen who covered Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ loses fight with cancer


Olivia Wise, the Jewish teenager from Toronto whose cover of Katy Perry’s “Roar” became a viral hit, died of brain cancer on Monday, CNN reports. She was 16.

Wise made the moving recording in September after learning her condition was untreatable. She was wheelchair-bound, unable to stand or walk, but her spirit was evident nonetheless.

The video touched many — including Perry, who shot back a video message of her own.

“I love you, a lot of people love you, that’s why your video got to me,” Perry said. “And it moved everyone who saw it.”

Perry responded to Wise’s death late Monday night. “Olivia Wise, I can hear you singing with the angels now,” the pop star tweeted. “Your spirit & strength has inspired me & so many others… May you rest in peace.”

Named in her honor, the Liv Wise Fund has so far raised over $90,000 in support of brain tumor research. You can make a donation here.

Moving and Shaking: Larger Than Life-L.A. Family’ 10th anniversary & ADL counter-terrorism training


From left: Rakefet Aharon, president of Larger Than Life-L.A. Family, honoree Margo Barber and Shay Diamant, chairman of Larger Than Life-L.A. Family at the organization’s Oct. 13 gala. Photo by Orly Halevy.

Larger Than Life-L.A. Family, which supports cancer-stricken children from Israel and Los Angeles, celebrated its 10th anniversary Oct. 13 when more than 1,200 people gathered at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for an evening gala of music, awards and more.

Among the predominantly Israeli crowd were 38 children from the Jewish state, including Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze who are fighting the disease.

“Cancer does not discriminate — a sick child is a sick child, so we do not discriminate. It’s very simple,” said Ran Yaniv, Larger Than Life-L.A. Family co-founder and board member. “This does good beyond just helping the child. It helps the connection between two very disconnected communities in Israel.”

The event recognized the longtime financial backing of Encino philanthropist Margo Barber, who was presented the organization’s Woman of Valor award. The gala also raised more than $1 million in support of Larger Than Life-L.A. Family programs and its parent organization, the Israeli-based charity Larger Than Life.

Larger Than Life — Gdolim Mehachayim in Hebrew — was founded in 2000 by parents of cancer-stricken children. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for Israeli children living with cancer, irrespective of their religion, race or ethnicity. 

Meanwhile, the wide-ranging work of the Los Angeles chapter, an independent nonprofit established in 2003, includes improving the atmosphere of cancer wards and providing medical procedures and medications to patients with inadequate health insurance. Children with cancer enjoy a two-week tour of theme parks, famous sites and other attractions in the Los Angeles area as part of its flagship program, West Coast Dream Trip, Yaniv said.

All this and more was celebrated at the gala, which featured live performances and appearances by Israeli vocalist Dana International, who was the evening’s headliner; Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel; and Larger Than Life-L.A. chairman Shay Diamant and president Rakefet Aharon


L.A. World Airports Police Chief Patrick Gannon, left, and San Bernardino Police Chief Robert Handy, right, with an Israeli army commander in the northern region near Lebanon. Photo courtesy of the ADL

A delegation of West Coast law enforcement officials, including two from the Los Angeles area, participated in the Anti-Defamation Leagues (ADL) counterterrorism training program in Israel last month. It featured “high-level briefings on the operational response to terrorism, border and airport security, maintaining safety and access to holy sites, the role of advanced technology in policing, and use of media during a crisis,” according to an ADL statement.

During the Oct. 6-13 trip, Los Angeles World Airports Police Chief Patrick Gannon and San Bernardino Police Chief Robert Handy met with security experts, intelligence analysts and commanders in the Israel National Police and Israel Defense Forces. This was the fifth year of the annual program. 

Gannon and Handy were among a group of 15 law enforcement officials that also included Long Beach Police Department Deputy Chief David Hendricks and Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean

Joanna Mendelson, a Los Angeles-based ADL investigative researcher and director for special projects, accompanied the delegation. One of the mission highlights, Mendelson said, was a daytrip to the northern border with Lebanon, where they met with Israel Defense Forces soldiers who monitor Hezbollah’s activity. The trip also included visits to sites of archaeological and religious importance.

The ADL aims to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry. As part of that mission, the organization conducts law enforcement outreach and trainings related to “extremism and terrorism,” its Web site states.


Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Joyce Black, philanthropist, 75


Philanthropist and community activist Joyce Black, wife of real estate magnate Stanley Black for 57 years, died on Oct. 4 after a prolonged battle with cancer. She was 75.

Stanley Black recalled Joyce as a witty, humorous person, always ready with a quip, as well as a quick decision maker.

“I met Joyce on the Santa Monica beach when she was only 17,” Stanley Black told the Journal.

After a three-year courtship, the couple had planned a dinner date to discuss wedding plans, but there was a glitch.

“I was in a parking lot when someone sideswiped my car, hitting my arm, and I had to go to emergency,” Stanley Black reminisced. He called Joyce to tell her that the dinner date was off, but she would have none of it.

“She told me, ‘We’re driving to Las Vegas and getting married,’ ” Stanley Black said. “So we did, but we first called our respective mothers, who were pretty aggravated.”

Both their son Jack Black and grandson Zach Zalben described the family matriarch as “a very caring person,” with Zalben adding, “and a lot of fun.” At that point in the phone conversation, Stanley Black chimed in, “She always told it the way it was; she always told the truth.”

Joyce Black was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of Jacob and Frieda Gottlieb, and received her education at Beverly Vista Elementary School, John Burroughs Junior High School, Fairfax High School and UCLA.

Together with her husband, Joyce Black was involved in numerous charities and civic organizations, including City of Hope, Vista Del Mar, Israel Bonds, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Los Angeles Jewish Home, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Beverly Hills Hadassah, LA ORT and Beit T’Shuvah.

Her personal favorite was the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, an involvement her husband traced back to her own childhood battle with mastoiditis, a severe ear infection that almost left her permanently deaf. 

Shortly before her death, the Blacks made a $15 million donation to the Children’s Hospital for research and clinical care programs. Joyce Black also served as a member of the Beverly Hills Police Commission and on the board of the Los Angeles Opera.

Together with her husband, she was a longtime member of Temple Beth Am, and later of the Temple of the Arts, whose spiritual leader, Rabbi David Baron, will officiate at the funeral services.

Joyce Black is survived by her husband Stanley; daughters Jill Black Zalben and Janis Black Warner; son Jack Black; and grandchildren Brittany Black, Jason Goldman, Jenny Goldman, Joey Goldman, Jake Warner, Torie Zalben and Zach Zalben.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to any of the following charities: Vista Del Mar, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, LA ORT, Beit T’Shuvah, City of Hope and the L.A. Jewish Home.

Funeral services for Joyce Black will be held Tuesday, Oct. 8, 3 p.m. at Hillside Memorial Park.

Green gold: Israel sets a new standard for legal medical marijuana research, production and sales


Just over six years ago, in the lush Upper Galilee of northern Israel, the nation’s first large-scale harvest of legal medical marijuana was flowering on the roof deck of Tzahi Cohen’s parents’ house, perched on a cliff overlooking the bright-green farming village of Birya. Until then, fewer than 100 Israeli patients suffering from a short list of ailments had been allowed to grow the plants for themselves, but this marked the first harvest by a licensed grower.

The Cohen home soon became a temple in the area for believers in the healing powers of cannabis — a legendary family operation that, in this early golden era, served as a grow house, a pharmacy and a treatment center all in one. In “Prescribed Grass,” the 2009 documentary that would open the eyes of Israeli politicians to the vast potential of medical cannabis, a group of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veterans, suffering from army wounds such as phantom pains and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are shown sitting around a table at the Cohens’ house. There, they help trim the harvest, smoke their medicine from a small glass bong and sing the miracles of cannabis.

Those were the farm’s whimsical beginnings. Today, up a country road from the Cohens’ house, at a guarded location hidden by trees but open to steady sunshine, sits the family’s now-massive operation. It’s an almost three-acre setup of greenhouses, high-tech “Twister” trimming machines and huts with labels such as “Flowering House” and “Mother House.”

The Cohens have named their farm Tikun Olam, the Hebrew phrase for “healing the world” — and they believe their marijuana-growing and -processing facilities to be among the most advanced on Earth.

“It was amazing, the professional quality of the guys up there,” said an Israeli psychiatrist who visited the farm and recommends the Tikun Olam product to his patients, but who wished to remain anonymous, as he was instructed by the Ministry of Health not to give press statements. “All the measurements and everything were so precise.”

Despite its impressive new digs, Tikun Olam’s industrial garden retains an air of spirituality. Farmhands play traditional Jewish music to the plants and believe that kabbalah legend Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, buried on a nearby hill, watches over the farm and protects it from harm. A creaky little synagogue on site is hot-boxed with the fragrance of marijuana. “People from the neighborhood come to pray here,” said Ma’ayan Weisberg, spokeswoman for Tikun Olam, on a recent tour of the property.

Israeli lawmakers continue to classify marijuana as a dangerous and illegal drug. The national police force has waged a decades-long drug war against marijuana and hashish smuggled in from Lebanon and Egypt. But beginning in 1995 — when an Israeli government committee recommended that medical cannabis be legally distributed to the sick — a determined set of activists, scientists and politicians have nurtured a small, secure medical-cannabis program that might be just rigid enough to survive where other international efforts have unraveled.

Last November, Tikun Olam hosted a mob of international reporters from BBC, CNN, Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times and more at its homey plantation near Safed. Leading the pack was Yuli Edelstein, the Israeli government’s then-Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs. He proudly announced that Tikun Olam had bred a special strain of cannabis that contained super-high levels of cannabidiol, or CBD — a non-psychoactive yet medically diverse component of the plant — but was almost entirely lacking in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the ingredient that makes users feel stoned. This new strain could offer patients relief from various physical ailments, including chronic pain and seizures, without cannabis’ infamous psychedelic high.

Tikun Olam also informed the media that the farm had grown a strain — named Eran Almog, after a patient — that contained 28 to 29 percent THC, which it claimed was the highest THC level ever recorded. (THC is known to prevent nausea in cancer patients and build appetites in people with AIDS, among other applications.)

“The new thing here is that what has always been thought of as just a drug, a negative thing, has become — through the good work of the growers here — a medicine which, in fact, is not a narcotic,” Edelstein told the reporters.

But after dozens of headlines equating “Israel” with “cannabis” hit global news outlets, the Ministry of Health, which runs Israel’s medical pot program, got cold feet and imposed a no-press policy on the farm, Weisberg said.

In tense committee meetings on how to handle the country’s expanding medical cannabis program, Israeli politicians and top brass at the Ministry of Public Security have expressed fears that Israel will earn a reputation as the Amsterdam of medical marijuana.

That fate may already be sealed. CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta called Israel “the medical marijuana research capital” in his game-changing summer documentary “Weed,” and dedicated more than five minutes of the film to Israel’s remarkable advances in cannabis research and regulation.

Gupta was amazed to see how seamlessly Israel had integrated cannabis into its health-care system. He visited the Sheba Medical Center, where he was shocked to watch a cancer patient inhale cannabis from a vaporizer installed in his hospital room. He also spoke with Moshe Rute, an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor whose nursing home provides him cannabis from Tikun Olam to ease his post-stroke symptoms, as well as his childhood memories. “The marijuana … took him out of the darkness,” CNN’s Gupta narrated as the old man lit up.

Although Tikun Olam is the most widely publicized brand available through Israel’s now world-famous cannabis program — the company calls itself “the flag bearer for the medical use of cannabis in Israel” on its Web site — seven more farms have grown simultaneously in its shadow. They are working within an infrastructure created by the Israeli government, testing the levels of CBD and THC in their product at federal or university labs and distributing it out of a cramped little room behind the high-security gates of Abarbanel, the country’s central mental institution.

To get access, Israeli cannabis patients — of which there are currently almost 13,000 — currently must wrangle a hard-to-get cannabis license from the Ministry of Health, then receive training from experts familiar with the farms’ different strains. Individuals pay a fixed price of about $100 per month, regardless of the amount of cannabis prescribed. With the exception of Tikun Olam customers, who pick up their weed at a closely guarded storefront with prison-like window bars on Ibn Gabirol Street in northern Tel Aviv, the nation’s cannabis patients pick up their monthly rations at Abarbanel Mental Health Center.

This tight-knit system of production and distribution, carried out under the paranoid thumb of the federal government, has positioned Israel to create what could become the world’s first successful, government-run pharmaceutical system for medical cannabis.

“We think that medical cannabis should be distributed to the patients as any other medical drug — at pharmacies,” Ministry of Health spokeswoman Einav Shimron Grinboim wrote in an e-mail.

The ministry first announced that a new, cutting-edge distribution program would be unveiled in spring 2012, but — due partly to a turnover in the Israeli Knesset, and the challenges of setting up such an unprecedented structure — the ministry now predicts it will go into effect by the end of 2014.

The head of Israel’s newly created Medical Cannabis Unit, political unknown Yuval Landschaft, has a no-press policy of his own, and the Ministry of Health will not reveal the details of his new plan. But insiders told the Jewish Journal that Landschaft and a team of brand-new hires, whose sole duty is to oversee and redesign Israel’s medical cannabis program, are racing to build a streamlined pharmaceutical system that could set a new global standard in the field.

“Yuval’s dream is that everything be sent to a central warehouse, where it’ll be packaged for distribution,” said Mimi Peleg, director of patient training at Abarbanel’s cannabis center.

Under the plan, government-affiliated pharmaceutical supplier Sarel Ltd. would be in charge of testing each batch of cannabis to verify its quality and consistency, and would then stock pharmacies across Israel with measured doses of marijuana — as it does with any other medication.

Similar programs have previously been tested in both Canada and Holland. However, Canadian officials recently announced that they will hand the industry back to private suppliers in 2014, eliminating the federal government’s previous role of approving and educating cannabis patients. And in Holland, the number of patients has dropped to less than 1,000, with critics alleging that the quality of legal coffee-shop weed consistently tops the medical stuff.

State and city programs across the United States have spiraled even further out of control: A patchwork of conflicting laws at the local and federal levels have prevented a cohesive program from taking shape in any of the 20 states (plus Washington, D.C.) where medical marijuana is legal.

If Israeli officials can overcome this cannabis curse — requiring them to fit a radically complex, villainized and under-studied plant into a rigid pharmaceutical system — the small Jewish nation could become the first to pull off a federal program that the medical community can get behind.

WEST COAST ROOTS 

Right around the time the Cohens founded Tikun Olam, former Los Angeles resident Yohai Golan fled the Wild West medical cannabis scene in California to start growing small and humble again at his mother’s house in Israel.

Golan and the Cohen family each received founding grants in 2008 — $15,000 and $50,000, respectively — from David Bronner of the Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps fortune, who told the Jewish Journal he was inspired to donate the money because “the government in Israel looked like they were going to set an example of a more reasonable approach.” Bronner also funded a visit to Israel from leading cannabis experts at the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Santa Cruz, who coached the growers through their startup phase.

Sitting at an outdoor cafe in Tel Aviv in early September, dressed in a stone-studded Peter Pan hat worthy of Burning Man, Golan told turbulent stories of growing medical cannabis in Venice Beach and San Francisco in the late 1990s and early 2000s, running with the crews of big celebrity pot advocates like Jane’s Addiction front-man Perry Farrell and actor Woody Harrelson. Although Golan claimed he was legally licensed to grow in California, he said his grow houses were subjected to constant raids by local police, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents and even motorcycle gangs.

“California is where it began, but it became a mess,” he said. So Golan returned home to Israel, where he poured everything he had learned growing marijuana in California into a farm he later named Better.

“My friend is the owner of Bodhi Seeds out of Santa Cruz, and he went and took master strains that I liked and cross-bred them especially for me to use in Israel,” Golan said. “He created a Purple Kush strain — a cross of Purple Kush, Bubba Kush and Sour Diesel — that was made especially for the desert.” It has since become Better’s most popular strain.

Unlike the Cohens, who chose their spot in the Upper Galilee for its pure mountain air and mystical history, Golan eventually decided to base his farm a few hours south, in the Valley of Elah. “We have no humidity and desert winds that drop into the mercaz,” he said. The Better farm now grows another buzzed-about strain called “cheesepie,” which contains 13 percent CBD and less than 1 percent THC, along with seven other standardized strains and many more in the development stage.

Various cannabis growers in Israel confirmed that a few months ago, they received a letter outlining some of Landschaft’s proposed changes — including grouping the strains into four medicinal categories based on their levels of CBD and THC.

Nativ Segev, CEO of Better, said that as long as strain experimentation isn’t limited, he believes the strongest cannabis growers will still be able to thrive within the ministry’s egalitarian vision. “The best thing to do is specialize in growing — to grow the best you can, and then sell it to the government,” he said. “If you grow good things, if you grow the best [strains], you will be OK.”

Other farms are hesitant to move toward a more socialist system, which would involve sharing their gardening secrets with the feds, said Dr. Yehuda Baruch, Abarbanel’s director and former head of the cannabis program (before a changing of the guards in January).

“I tell the growers, ‘This is not the THC Olympics,’ ” said Boaz Wachtel, one of Israel’s original cannabis advocates and founder of the country’s fringe Green Leaf Party. “They’re very competitive.”

Up to now, a healthy competition between farms, as in many Israeli industries, has livened up the market and encouraged top product quality. However, a more centrally regulated system under construction at Israel’s Medical Cannabis Unit would eliminate some farms’ current branding advantages, and would allow patients and doctors to choose from all the farms’ strains, instead of just one. (Currently, patients report that it’s almost impossible to switch from one farm to another.) “If every grower has a number of great strains to offer, it won’t be a problem,” Wachtel said.

“The most important thing is that we stabilize phenotypes so that we can depend on what we’re getting from one season to the next,” said Abarbanel’s Peleg, who does strain testing for three of the farms. “The way to get there is to start sharing genetics — to have this national grow where we have a nursery for everybody, and start making better and more healthy clones that we’re giving away to the growers.”

However, she added, “this sharing attitude is not popular here.”

Doctors and other cannabis experts who spoke to the Jewish Journal agreed that one of the keys to writing cannabis into modern medical history, and to completing the clinical trials needed to more fully legitimize its use, will be to create standard strains or oils that can be replicated and expected to have consistent results, patient-to-patient.

Peleg said she hopes ego wars among growers won’t block Israel’s road to a more compassionate system. “We have the opportunity to really do something better” than anywhere else in the world, she said. “And I hope we take advantage of it.”

MEDICINE OR SNAKE OIL?<

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In the United States, the exasperated Drug Policy Alliance, a leading organization in the fight to turn around backward cannabis policy, has long argued that American scientists and physicians interested in studying and prescribing cannabis are stuck in a sort of catch-22.

Amanda Reiman, policy manager for the alliance’s California branch, wrote in a March 2013 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times: “Marijuana’s Schedule I classification, which places it alongside heroin, defines it as being too dangerous for most research. Consequently, almost no research on marijuana’s medical benefits gets funded, so there’s practically no way to find the evidence that would result in marijuana’s reclassification.”

Due to this lack of hard evidence, doctors in Los Angeles — from the so-called Dr. Feelgoods along the Venice Beach Boardwalk to pricey boutique physicians in Beverly Hills — are not even technically allowed to prescribe cannabis. Instead, they issue patients a recommendation slip, no questions asked.

“A doctor can recommend cannabis, but they can’t tell [patients] where to get it, and they can’t have a conversation with them about using it,” Reiman said in an interview, adding that in Israel, on the other hand, “when your federal government participates in the program, doctors don’t have to worry that if someone finds out, they’re going to get a bad reputation.”

Peleg, who worked for many years in Santa Cruz for the respected dispensing collective Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana before moving to Israel, added that in California, “Doctors aren’t supposed to talk about strains and methodologies, and sellers aren’t supposed to talk about diseases and implementation.” This leaves patients in the dark about the nuances of the cannabis plant in relation to their symptoms, and they find the right strain and dosage through trial and error.

“It’s irresponsible for us to consider this a medicine and treat it like snake oil,” Peleg said. “Just because it works on everything doesn’t mean it’s snake oil. We need the studies for the right reasons — because people deserve to know what to expect. We need to know really basic questions, like do strains matter or not, or do cannabinoids matter? Let’s prove it.”

Although there is a world of research to conduct before the ingredients of marijuana are 100 percent understood within a medical framework, much of what doctors do know has come out of the Holy Land. “In many ways, Israel is providing the research we need to move forward,” Reiman said.

Researchers in the United States complain that due to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s stronghold on the scientific cannabis supply, it’s near impossible to conduct the studies and clinical trials that doctors need to more confidently prescribe marijuana to their patients.

Conversely, in Israel, a tiny country of 8 million with intimate connections but big dreams, a circle of talent in the field — including cannabis growers, scientists and physicians — are all within one phone call to a friend-of-a-friend.

Professor Raphael Mechoulam, known internationally as the grandfather of cannabis research for being the first to isolate THC in the 1960s, remains today a top professor and researcher at Hebrew University. In the middle of an interview with the Jewish Journal, the kindly and soft-spoken 82-year-old took a panicked phone call from a local physician who wanted to know whether his cancer patient could benefit from cannabis. “I get that several times a day,” he said.

“Until well-designed clinical trials have been done and have been published, physicians don’t know what to do,” he added.

Mechoulam famously got his hands on his first batch of Lebanese hashish in the early ’60s, through a friend who had connections at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police. “Later we found that both the head of the investigative branch of the police and I had broken quite a few laws,” Mechoulam wrote in the British Journal of Addiction. “The Ministry of Health was in charge of illicit drug licensing and not the police, and I had broken the severe drug laws. Luckily, being ‘reliable,’ I just had to apologize.” He would later go on to receive the Israel Prize in exact sciences, the nation’s highest honor, for his work with cannabis.

In the decades since Mechoulam’s groundbreaking discovery, he and dozens of other Israeli scientists, in collaboration with their peers around the world, have built a foundation of knowledge on which a sane medical cannabis program can be built — all with the crucial blessing of the federal government.

Professor Ruth Gallily at Hebrew University has proven herself the queen of CBD research, confirming it highly effective in treating many types of inflammation, including that which leads to severe spine and back pain and even some heart disease.

“I can really tell you that CBD is a fantastic anti-inflammatory,” she said. “I have seen the benefit of it to so many people.”

Dr. Ephraim Lansky, an Israeli physician who specializes in studying herbs, published a now-famous case study based on a cancer patient who came to him with a golf-ball-sized tumor in his head. Lansky treated the young man with about one gram of high-CBD cannabis per day, ingested orally.

Eight months later, according to Lansky, the tumor had shrunk by 75 percent, and his patient’s seizures had faded completely.

“Cannabis is just another herb, and it belongs within the wider context of herbal medicine,” Lansky told the Jewish Journal. “Of all the other herbs I use, it’s the most useful. I’d even have to put it ahead of garlic.” He hopes to spend the next few years publishing case studies on his cannabis patients, which could become the building blocks for full-scale clinical trials.

Mechoulam is likewise interested in the greater context of cannabis as a sort of cure-all: He continues to explore and lecture about his discoveries within the human body’s own natural endocannabinoid system, a network of receptors that line up with the dozens of active ingredients in marijuana. The system could hold the secret to why marijuana is able to ease such a wide variety of symptoms and illnesses.

Their work is not going unnoticed.

Dr. Alan Shackelford, a Colorado physician who treated an epileptic 5-year-old with high-CBD cannabis as the crux of Gupta’s CNN documentary, has announced that he is immigrating to Israel to take advantage of the more expansive research opportunities.

“We have an obligation as a medical community to study cannabis so that we can understand how it works, and more effectively decide what cannabinoids are most effective for what, and at what dose,” Shackelford told the Jewish Journal in a phone interview. He added he is “humbled by the opportunity to take what I know and expand on it in collaboration with these committed people in Israel who have done so much more.”

Shackelford hopes to study cannabis’ effectiveness in treating seizure disorders, among other conditions. “Israel’s the perfect place to do it, because of the openness to inquiry, and because of the relative lack of pejorative government opinion — because federal legislation is not restrictive,” he said.

Shackelford is also determined to help set up a system in Israel wherein physicians are involved in learning about the particulars of cannabis as a medicine.

The real remaining obstacle to putting scientific theories about cannabis into medical practice, and setting up a sound pharmaceutical system, is a lack of funding for clinical trials on humans, said Shackelford — a problem echoed by many other experts in the field. Researchers must first test various combinations of THC and CBD (and other cannabinoids) on patients, under strict controls, before the medication can be properly prescribed.

“Clinical research is not an easy thing to do,” Mechoulam said. “And because cannabis came from the wrong direction, from the direction of an illicit drug, it’s difficult to get it into the clinical trials.”

The Israeli government has approved some of the only clinical trials involving cannabis in the world, including an exciting look at the response of PTSD patients to cannabis high in THC. However, these trials have only just touched the tip of the iceberg. And while some pharmaceutical companies have taken cautious interest in refabricating the elements of marijuana and running their own trials, they still seem generally unsure of how to brand and patent such a complex product of Mother Nature.

Thanks to this absence of conclusive research, it’s not easy for patients to snag a coveted pot license from the Ministry of Health.

Although the number of license holders in Israel has been growing in recent months — according to the ministry, the total now sits at about 12,700, up from about 11,000 at the start of the year — estimates by pro-cannabis politicians and even the Ministry of Health itself put the number of potential cannabis patients still left out in the cold at between 40,000 and 100,000.

Doctors in California can recommend medical marijuana for any condition as they see fit, while Israel’s Ministry of Health instructs doctors only to prescribe marijuana as a last resort and keeps a strict list of medical conditions that qualify for treatment, such as Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer. Some patients wait months, even years, before they see their requests approved.

Israeli activists have not stood idly by: An angry mob staged a hunger strike outside Health Minister Yael German’s house in May, responding to a further tightening of the list. (German has since expanded the list to include Parkinson’s disease and Tourette syndrome.)

An Israeli psychiatrist who wished to remain anonymous said he has seen a mere four or five new cannabis licenses issued to his PTSD patients in the past few years, out of hundreds who have applied. This, despite the fact that he has seen “spectacular results in patients with post-trauma.”

A recent pilot for a clinical trial out of Abarbanel showed similarly promising results. However, “In order to convince the specialists to agree that cannabis is good for post-trauma, you need to [isolate] certain cognitive functions that you can test very precisely,” the psychiatrist said. Rick Doblin, founder and director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in California, also attested that the study was “very haphazard and irregular, with no information on things like how much marijuana they used — but still it showed that it seemed to be helpful for quite a few people.”

Tragically, as researchers fumble in uncharted territory, many of the unusually high number of Israelis with PTSD are unable to find relief in the top-of-the-line bud their country has to offer.

THE HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS 

“We have to consider, what are we doing when we don’t give people this medication? That’s the real question,” Dr. Itai Gur-Arie, then-chairman of the Israel Pain Association, said in the documentary “Prescribed Grass.” “It’s not that the patients won’t get any medication at all. They’ll get other medication — opiates. In other words, we won’t give them marijuana, we’ll give them heroin.”

Wachtel, one of Israel’s first cannabis advocates, had to rush out of an interview to consult a family whose teenage daughter, stuck at home for the last nine months with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, couldn’t get cannabis through her doctor — “so the family decided to go to the black market, to see if it helps,” Wachtel said.

On the positive side, patients in Israel lucky enough to meet the government’s cannabis criteria — and, in many cases, persistent enough in pressuring their doctors — are overwhelmingly impressed with the results.

A 32-year-old cannabis patient in the western Galilee who wished to remain anonymous said he experienced violent spasms in his legs after being paralyzed in a swimming-pool accident a couple of years back. After trying marijuana on his own, he found that it instantly relieved the spasms.

So the quadriplegic told his doctor he needed cannabis for back pain, because pain is one of the approved conditions on the Ministry of Health’s list — and was prescribed 20 grams a month, the ministry’s conservative starting dose. Although the patient said he believes he needs a few more grams per month, he has been highly impressed with the strains he receives through IMC Agriculture, another licensed grower in Israel. (He said he chose IMC over Tikun Olam because the latter “became too commercial.”)

“When I go to swim, if I’m not using the cannabis, my body starts having spastic seizures — my body becomes completely stiff,” the patient said. But with a few puffs of cannabis beforehand, his paralyzed limbs are able to relax in the water.

With the help of cannabis, the 32-year-old has eliminated all but one of seven pharmaceuticals from his daily regimen.

Paulette Azar, 55, a recovering breast-cancer survivor who lives on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights, said she fights for about three months each year to renew her annual cannabis license to treat her lingering cancer pain and PTSD symptoms.

“It was very painful, the cancer — very painful,” she remembered, clutching her forearms tightly. “The doctors tried to give me other medications, but I didn’t let them. I had to be rude with them. I shouted, so I got [the cannabis]. And since then, I have no more pain when I smoke it, and I am very happy. I put music in my house, and I can live my normal life.”

Since the humble beginnings of the Ministry of Health’s cannabis program, the standard dose has plummeted from 200 grams to 20 grams per month. “At the beginning of the month, there are so many people who need their medicine, so we have to wait in line for, like, two hours,” Azar said.

Still, Azar said she is shocked and grateful that such a security-obsessed government allows her up to 70 grams of Tikun Olam product monthly.

Another Tikun Olam patient, Mor Hagdi of the Ramat Gan suburbs, was diagnosed with leukemia when he was just 22. He said he tried cannabis as a last resort, when his cocktail of pain pills wasn’t able to ease his suffering and was turning him into a zombie. “The pain is chemo pain,” he said. “I swear to God, I wouldn’t want even my enemy to get this pain. Now when I am talking about this, I cannot sit, I must walk — it’s something I wouldn’t wish on anybody in the world. But when I smoke the cannabis, I just feel the pain going down. It’s relaxing — and now there is no more pain.” The marijuana has also helped stoke his dwindling appetite.

Three years ago, Zach Klein, the filmmaker behind “Prescribed Grass,” initiated a very do-it-yourself clinical trial at the Hadarim nursing home just south of Tel Aviv — the same one where CNN’s Gupta watched a Holocaust survivor smoke away his dark past.

“One of the families [of a patient] saw the documentary and asked the head nurse for medical cannabis,” Klein remembered. “She said, ‘No, that’s ridiculous.’ But they insisted. So she called me and told me, ‘You made this movie, so now come here and help me out.’ ”

Klein, who worked as head of research and development for Tikun Olam at the time, came to the home and tried blowing cannabis in the face of a 75-year-old woman with dementia.

“I saw an immediate change,” he said. “She stopped shouting; she created eye contact with me. The nurse almost collapsed, because for months, this was the tiger in the place. And after a few minutes, we actually had some kind of communication — I was calling her name, and she was responding. After a few minutes, she was even laughing.”
One of the most outspoken medical pot advocates in the Israeli Knesset has also been the most unlikely: Knesset member Moshe Feiglin, the same religious conservative who ignited the Israeli right this year when he posted to Facebook that he didn’t see anything wrong with shaking women’s hands. Feiglin is furious that it has taken Israel so long to build a system wherein marijuana is prescribed to everyone who needs it.

“Israel has reached a very, very high level of research and development of new kinds of cannabis,” Feiglin said in a phone interview. “It can help the whole world, and it can help the Israeli economy tremendously. I find it hard to believe that people are trying to restrict it. You cannot stop something that is so clear — so good for the patients and so good for the economy.”

Currently, only Holland allows its medical cannabis farms there to export marijuana to other countries, and the quality of Dutch medical strains is hugely lacking, according to Israeli activist and expert Wachtel. Israeli cannabis farms are anxious to share their strains with the world. At least two farms have been preparing for the coming revolution: Tikun Olam and Better have grown a loyal following around the world via social media, racking up about 1,300 and 24,000 followers on Instagram, respectively. Better’s fans drool over close-ups of the harvest, leaving comments such as “Dank!” “Gorgeous!” “Teach me your ways” and “You’re an inspiration to growers everywhere.”

Beverly Hills PR maven Cheryl Shuman, who calls herself “the Martha Stewart of marijuana,” made a highly publicized trip to Tikun Olam territory in early September, bringing back with her high praise for the Holy Land.

“What I’ve seen in Israel is the first time a business model is working on all cylinders — with the government, growers, counselors and patients all engaged on such a high level,” Shuman told the Jerusalem Post Magazine for a cover story on her visit. “This is the perfect role model to take to other countries. … That’s why I’m here. I’ve got tons of money behind me, and investors who believe in what I’m doing. They’re counting on me to bring them the right people to take this industry to the next level, and I’ve found them in Israel.”

Tikun Olam spokeswoman Weisberg said the farm is more than willing to meet that tall order. “This is a product that we can send to the whole world,” she said.

One of Colorado’s most active medical pot advocates, Bill Althouse, said he has communicated with growers in Israel about the possibility of sharing cannabis strains by shipping their genetic material internationally. Yet, the Ministry of Public Security, which runs Israel’s police department, has been a roadblock to the farms’ expansion, arguing in government meetings that medical cannabis is “leaking” into the hands of non-patients. Police keep a close eye on the farms — mandating video security systems worthy of Israel’s nuclear research center in Dimona — and poke around every once in a while to make their presence known.

Tikun Olam has received numerous warnings to stop selling “special” baked goods such as chocolate praline and tahini cookies containing cannabis butter, on the basis that their effectiveness has not been properly researched. Police sent an undercover agent to Tikun Olam’s cramped storefront in northern Tel Aviv three years ago to prove that the supplier was over-selling to patients.

“I don’t think they themselves know why they’re here,” said Weisberg on our tour of the Tikun Olam farm, ducking into the portable office building when she realized cops had arrived to survey the premises.

But despite ongoing complaints from growers and patients that Israel’s medical cannabis program is too tightly regulated, many experts see the strict and tedious beginnings of the Israeli program as essential to its eventual success.

“The con in Israel is there are a large number of patients who can’t get recommendations because they don’t meet this limited list of conditions that have been chosen to start the process,” said MAPS’ Doblin. “But the advantage is that Israel is building public support in a pretty steady way, with no backlash. When you have these broader, anything-goes [policies], there often is the potential and actuality of a backlash.”

Peleg, who is working as MAPS’ liaison in Israel, agreed that the Israeli government’s heavy hand has been a blessing in disguise.

“In a democracy, you’ve got to take into consideration that it’s all about compromise. And in terms of slow and steady growth, we are having a responsible growth rate,” she said. “I was shocked when I recently did a tour of cannabis clubs in California and Colorado to learn that in those states, you don’t have to be taught how to use cannabis, ever. There’s a real disconnect going on there that I think we’ve got solved here.”

Lessening isolation in lives of young cancer patients


Daniel Bral does not remember the two weeks of his life after he was rushed to the hospital at age 11 with cancer in his throat blocking his windpipe. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer involving white blood cells, his treatment lasted until he was 14 and included two years of chemotherapy.

Bral recalls the isolation, while being treated into his teen years, of being put into rooms with children ages 3 and 5. 

“Currently, when a 16-year-old is put in [a] pediatric ward, they may never meet another person their age who went through that experience,” Bral said. This means teenage and young-adult patients are not able to form the bonds with their peers that Bral believes are so important to dealing with cancer and its aftereffects.

“It is hard to associate and talk to someone who is at a very different point in life,” Bral said. “Now we are realizing you can’t treat [a 13-year-old] like a little kid, or a 24-year-old with [older] adults.”

Teen Cancer America is hoping to change this experience for the 70,000 teens and young adults who are diagnosed with cancer every year in the United States. The program is based on Teenage Cancer Trust, a British organization that designs cancer wards for teens and young adults that allow them to receive specialized treatment among people their own age. The organization opened its first teen cancer unit in London in November 1990.

“These connections are very important because it becomes a support system,” said Bral, who regularly attends Ateret Israel in Los Angeles.

Rebecca Rothstein, a private wealth advisor for Merrill Lynch Private Banking and Investment Group in Beverly Hills, founded Teen Cancer America in 2011 with the support of Teenage Cancer Trust. A mother of four, she sits on the boards of numerous charitable organizations and believes that the emphasis Judaism places on caring for children and families has influenced her desire to help children struggling with cancer. 

“It makes a difference for them in the quality of their lives,” said Rothstein, who serves as chair of Teen Cancer America. 

She met Dr. David Feinberg, president of the UCLA Health System, through her work helping very young children with autism. Feinberg offered UCLA as the first hospital to team with Teen Cancer America, and Rothstein agreed immediately. 

The result is the UCLA Daltrey/Townshend Teen and Young Adult Cancer Program, named for Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who. The legendary English rockers have supported Teen Cancer Trust for years as patrons and held a 2011 benefit concert to help start Teen Cancer America, for which they are considered celebrity partners. 

The inpatient unit at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, is already in service, and a lounge is expected to open later this year. It will include couches, game systems, computers and a mini-kitchenette. 

Now 24 and studying to become a doctor, Bral is co-chairman of the advisory board for the UCLA teen and young adult cancer project. 

Inside the UCLA Daltrey/Townshend Teen and Young Adult Zone at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.

Originally, the teen and young adult zone was to be designed in bright colors, but the advisory board pointed out that chemotherapy drugs often come in bright orange and yellow, even the sight of which will make any person who has taken the drugs become nauseous. The ward was therefore designed in calming colors, such as blue. 

Because some teen cancer patients become handicapped or amputees, the advisory board encouraged the use of art depicting inclusive activities, like people sitting in groups talking. The people in the ward’s art are never alone, but are always in groups with friends so that the images do not trigger feelings of isolation. 

Advisory board member Emily Magilnick, 17, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, in December 2011. She realized she wanted to use her experience to help others when she was approached during treatment and asked if she wanted to help design logos for the program. 

Magilnick, a member of Temple Israel of Long Beach, also realized her passion for film and directing by helping to make a video featuring interviews with other patients who have pediatric sarcoma (cancers that arise in bone, muscle or connective tissue) for newly diagnosed patients, to show them what to expect and make them feel less alone. A year after the end of her treatment, she is starting her senior year at Long Beach Polytechnic High School and is considering studying film in the future. 

Teen Cancer America hopes to expand its services to fund research that will help doctors understand why teen cancers are so aggressive, and diagnose them sooner, according to Rothstein.

Teenage Cancer Trust CEO and President Simon Davies, who will be starting a new job with Teen Cancer America on Sept. 9, says all the participants in the original program have seen benefits in quality of life, although it is too soon to draw conclusions about the program’s impact on survival outcomes. He is hopeful that treatment will improve as teens are studied more as a distinct group. 

In the past, young teens were treated on pediatric drugs and older teens on adult drugs, many of which had been tested on adults ages 40-60. Young adults with one form of leukemia used to be put on the adult protocol when they were over 18 and on a children’s when they were younger. The latter group saw a survival rate increase of 30 percent when they were put on a drug protocol for younger teens, however, Davies said.

There are non-medical issues, too. Cancer treatment allows teens little time to process major transitions in their lives. All of the normal issues teens face during puberty about body image, relationships with peers and choosing the courses of their adult lives are complicated or neglected by cancer treatment.

“You walked into cancer treatment as a child and walked out as an adult,” Bral said. 

Teen Cancer America is expanding to other hospitals in the United States. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York has established a virtual unit that connects patients via mobile devices like iPads. Such units allow patients to recuperate at home, instead of in the hospital, where there are fewer social connections and more dangerous germs, Rothstein said.

She added that Teen Cancer America is also in discussions with medical centers at Yale University, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin. Many more institutions have shown casual interest. 

“It will be one of those things that, in two or three years, if you don’t have [Teen Cancer America] at your hospital, people will ask you why not.”

Fire at N.Y. camp for kids with cancer destroys bunkhouse


A fire at Camp Simcha, a camp  for children with cancer, destroyed one bunkhouse and damaged a newly built one.

The fire was discovered when a counselor at the camp in Glen Spey, N.Y., woke up early Saturday morning and smelled smoke. The counselors evacuated the 15 residents of the cabin, including one camper in a wheelchair, VIN News reported.

The entire camp then was evacuated to a helicopter landing field near the camp. Several people were treated for smoke inhalation.

Firefighters believe the cause of the fire is electrical, VIN reported.

Donors to Chai Lifeline, the organization that sponsors the camp, are sponsoring a visit to a local shopping mall to help the campers in the destroyed bunk replace their personal items, according to the report.

The camp season ends Tuesday.

Dustin Hoffman says he beat cancer


Dustin Hoffman has been “surgically cured” of cancer, a spokesman for the actor said.

“It was detected early and he has been surgically cured,” Hoffman’s publicist told People magazine, which was the first to report the story.

She added that the Academy Award winner is “feeling great” and is “in good health.”

Hoffman, 75, reportedly will have treatment to prevent a recurrence of the cancer, the type of which was not identified.

Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1979 for “Kramer vs. Kramer” and in 1988 for “Rain Man.” He directed the 2012 film “Quartet” and recently wrapped up production on the comedy “Chef,” which also stars Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr.

Bette Midler sings to dying fan over the phone (VIDEO)


Hope you have a tissue handy.

In this heartbreakingly sweet video, Bette Midler makes a special phone call to superfan Anna Greenberg, who is dying in the hospital with cancer. Midler thanks Greenberg for her support and praises her for her courage. “You're such an angel,” Midler tells Greenberg in the tearful exchange. “Such a wonderful soul.”

Read more on HuffingtonPost.com.

Greenberg passed away shortly after the video was filmed. She was 29.

NOTE: We're aware that the video in this post is upside down. That is the way the video was filmed, it is not an error.

Yoram Kaniuk, Israeli author and journalist, dies at 83


Yoram Kaniuk, an acclaimed author and journalist who had the designation Jewish removed from his Israeli identification card, has died.

Kaniuk died Saturday night after fighting cancer for many years. He was 83.

Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Kaniuk wrote 17 novels, including “Himmo, King of Jerusalem” (1965); “Adam Resurrected” (1968); “Rockinghorse” (1974); “The Last Jew” (1982); and his most recent, “1948,” for which he was awarded the Sapir Prize for Literature in 2011.

He also won the Brenner Prize for literature, the Bialik Prize and the President’s Prize, as well as being named an officer in France’s Order of Arts and Letters.

Kaniuk was wounded while fighting in Israel’s War of Independence.

[Related: Kaniuk’s writerly riffs probe Israeli psyche]

In 2011, Kaniuk successfully fought to have the designation Jewish removed from his Israeli identification card. He was permitted to identify himself as “without religion,” the same as his Christian-American wife and son.