September 25, 2018

Conservative Pundit Charles Krauthammer, 68, Dies

Screenshot from Twitter.

Charles Krauthammer, a longtime conservative pundit and staunch Israel supporter, passed away on June 21 at the age of 68.

Krauthammer announced on June 8 that he only had “weeks” to live after a recurrence of cancer occurred. He had a malignant tumor removed from his abdomen in August, which resulted in a series of health complications that kept him hospitalized.

Krauthammer had been optimistic that he would be able to be back on the political scene soon, but tests revealed his cancer had returned and was “aggressive,” prompting Krauthammer to write, “My fight is over.”

He concluded his announcement by stating that he had “no regrets.”

“It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living,” Krauthammer wrote. “I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”

Not only has Krauthammer been an intellectual giant amongst conservatives, he also been a fierce supporter of Israel; he was opposed to the 1993 Oslo Accords as well as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

For more on Krauthammer, check out the video below:

Happy Shabbat Birthday to Me

I am turning 52 this weekend. While not one to make a big deal about my birthday, this one feels important. It has been an interesting few years. By interesting, of course I mean difficult and enlightening. I dealt with cancer, neck surgery, my son moving out, changing jobs after a decade, and a very close friend of mine passing away after a valiant fight. It was all rather exhausting and to add insult to injury, as each challenge was tackled and overcome, another challenge was placed in front of me. I am a tough girl, but even I was brought to my knees on more than one occasion.

April 7th, 2018 will mark a new beginning, and it has been a long time coming. As I begin my 52nd year, there is nothing looming over me. I am completely healthy for the first time in three years. I am embracing my empty nest in ways I never thought I would. I have learned the important lesson of never coloring my own hair or cutting my own bangs, instead leaving it to the professionals. I have mastered the art of making the perfect Cosmopolitan. I am aware of my own worth. Most importantly, I know I am a wonderful human being,  terrific mother, and getting better with age.

My life is blessed and I have nothing to complain about. How awesome is that? I am going to go to services tonight and pray with my rabbi because she brings me real joy. Tomorrow I will celebrate my birthday in San Francisco with my son. We will explore a city that matters to us, have an amazing dinner, do some birthday shopping, and have dim sum lunch in Chinatown. A 24-hour getaway with my favorite human. I will walk in the rain, and pause long enough to count my blessings between the martinis I’ll be enjoying. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Birthday to all who celebrate this weekend. Be safe and have fun. I will enjoy the weekend while keeping the faith.

Carrie Beth Lutin-Scott, 60

Screenshot from Facebook.

Carrie Beth Lutin-Scott died early on March 14 as the sun was rising over the canyon outside her Pacific Palisades home, where she was surrounded by her family, after a battle with cancer. She was 60.

She is survived by her husband of almost 32 years, Michael B. Scott, and children Rachel, Zachary and Shoshanna, as well as parents Evy and Martin Lutin, and her sister Robin Lutin.

Carrie was born Jan. 15, 1958, and raised in Encino. She often related the stories of how pop singing legend Michael Jackson and his family lived around the corner, and how she met Ringo Starr at a neighborhood party. Lutin-Scott attended Birmingham High School, graduating a semester early in 1976 and matriculating to UC Santa Barbara.

Lutin-Scott transferred to the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she graduated in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in communications.

Although she loved her college experience, during her junior year, she decided to travel the world on a program called Semester at Sea.

Lutin-Scott told friends and family that when she approached her father to tell him that she wanted to travel the world, he replied, “How much would that cost?” She said, “Oh, I think around $9,000.” Her father paused and told her, “Well, Carrie, if you really want to go, you will have to pay for it yourself.”

So Lutin-Scott went on the game show “The Hollywood Squares” and won not only $15,000 but also a car and trailer. She again approached her father and said, “Dad, as you know, I now have enough money for Semester at Sea. Since you are saving money by not paying for my college tuition this semester, what do you think about giving me some extra money for the trips I want to take along the way?” Her father agreed with the idea and gave her the money.

Lutin-Scott’s negotiating skills served her well during 20 years of selling advertising space in the automotive industry, where after her first year she was the top salesperson on a nationwide sales team of 120.

Lutin-Scott’s husband, Michael, describes their relationship as a “great love affair.” While both were in their late 20s and living in Southern California, fate placed them on the same bus in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1985. Lutin-Scott and her mother were in the city to lobby for a Jewish mission, and Michael had traveled there to attend a wedding.

During the bus ride, Lutin-Scott turned around in her seat and spotted an attractive young man seated in the back. She got up and walked down the aisle. Michael later described how he looked up from his newspaper to see this woman in a bright blue dress heading his way and thought, “Oh, boy, here comes trouble!” They became engaged three months later and married on June 21, 1986.

They honeymooned in Papua New Guinea and, in 1991, moved to a house in Pacific Palisades, which was soon filled with three children. The couple hosted pool parties, cookouts, birthday parties, prom parties, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts fundraisers, Friday night Shabbat and Sunday night neighborhood dinners.

Lutin-Scott was involved in Kehillat Israel’s early childhood development program, served on the Southern California board of Birthright Israel Foundation, the board of the University of Colorado Parent Fund and chaired the United Jewish Fund Automotive Division.

She volunteered at her children’s schools and drove students on field trips in her GMC Denali, the “big blue bus.” As their children progressed through school, Lutin-Scott supported their sports teams, musical productions and arts programs.

As their children became young adults, she and Michael moved a few blocks away into a home they had built. In the past few years, she played paddle tennis and mahjong. Lutin-Scott was an avid skier, scuba diver, tennis and paddle tennis player, hiker, photographer and traveler.

Donations can be made in Lutin-Scott’s memory to the Team Carrie — Carrie Strong Foundation by visiting givebox.com/1154.

For further information, email Michael B. Scott at mscott@narvidscott.com. 

Motherhood, Surgery, Reflection & Faith

I’m having surgery on my neck tomorrow, and look forward to finally feeling better. It has been a long road to get here and even with all the challenges and difficulties I have faced, this is the first time I feel scared and nervous. I kicked cancer’s ass, but screws in my spine is daunting and has thrown me into a place of deep reflection, mostly about my job as a mother.

Motherhood is a remarkable thing. I remember the moment I was told I was pregnant. I made all these promises to myself about the kind of mother I wanted to be. I had so many plans and dreams for my son before he was even born. I wanted to be a mom from the time I was a little girl and always thought I would have a lot of kids. Life can change dreams.

I have one remarkable son who is a truly wonderful human being. Both because of me, and in spite of me. I am proud of him and it has been my greatest honor to watch him grow up and become a good man. He is 22 years old and has a very bright future. He is a smart kid, but I worry he’ll never fully understand how much I love him. Perhaps he won’t get it until he is a dad.

The anticipation of my surgery has me thinking, and no good can come of that. I remember every time I was unkind or impatient. Every mean thing I ever said about his dad. The times he took care of me because I was sick. The times he watched me cry because my heart was broken. The times I couldn’t afford to get him what he wanted. All of it is vivid and feels heavy.

He will drive me to the hospital and be there when I get out of surgery, which makes me feel both grateful and sad. It is my job to take care of him, but over the past few years he has been taking care of me, and that is hard for a parent to come to terms with. I don’t ever want to be a burden on my child. I want him to be free to live his life and follow his dreams.

I want to hold him tight and tell him a million things, but that seems somewhat morbid. I’m not dying, I’m just having surgery. It is a procedure my surgeon has done hundreds of times with great success. There is nothing to worry about, and tomorrow when my neck is repaired and I feel amazing, I will have forgotten about how scared I was and focus on my blessings.

I will check in with you over the weekend when I am home, and appreciate your prayers and good wishes. I asked the hospital if I could have a rabbi come say a prayer with me before the procedure and they were surprised. Apparently they are not allowed to offer a clergy visit because it is an invasion of privacy, which is a shame. I pray and welcome the visit for a prayer.

The hospital said they would make the request. I let them know if a rabbi wasn’t available any member of the clergy, regardless of their religion would do. I just want a person of faith to pray with me. We all pray to the same God and I asked for an act of faith not religion. How different would our world be if people were able to have faith without religious judgement?

If I can get through the day without crying it will be a miracle. I feel emotional and happy, yet at the same time feel sick to my stomach and am unhappy. To be expected, but not at all a comfortable feeling.  I am going to count my blessings, believe everything will be fine, trust my brilliant son knows how much I love him, and hope he knows he is the reason I am keeping the faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nancy Mishkin: A Cancer Survivor Leads the Way

Nancy Mishkin

In 2004, Nancy Mishkin, a professional sculptor and a philanthropist, was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I was scared to death. I was certain I was going to die,” she said.

Then she saw a physician at the Tower Hematology Oncology Medical Group in Beverly Hills “who hugged me and said, ‘You’re going to live,’ ” she recalled. “That’s what I needed to hear.”

A friend asked Mishkin to join the board of a separate nonprofit entity, Tower Cancer Research Foundation. Now she’s chairwoman of its board. Over the years, she and her husband, Jack, a successful carpet manufacturer, helped the organization raise more than $30 million for research and patient-support programs. She also founded the Magnolia Council, a women’s support group that raises more than $300,000 annually for the foundation.

She encountered cancer again in 2012, when doctors diagnosed Jack with mesothelioma, giving him just four months to live.

“People don’t realize what addiction does to families.”

“He came home on a Monday and that afternoon, I knew he was dying,” she said. Taking part in clinical trials, he survived 14 months, dying at 66. “He wanted so badly to live, and we tried everything we could,” she said.

After his death, Mishkin worked with the foundation’s president, Dr. Solomon Hamburg, to establish a $1 million, three-year mesothelioma study at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. An annual golf tournament in Jack’s name has raised more than $1 million for mesothelioma research and other cutting-edge cancer studies.

Mishkin is the daughter of Polish-born concentration camp survivors who met and married after World War II in Germany, where Nancy was born. After the family moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, around 1950, her father — who had lost all of his relatives in the Holocaust — invited strangers to their Shabbat dinner every week, even though the family was struggling financially.

Mishkin’s own philanthropic efforts began in earnest in the late 1970s, when she began raising funds for asthma research. In the 1980s, she created a bronze sculpture for the Children’s Burn Foundation, which pays for the multiple surgeries required by child burn victims. She became a member of the organization’s council and, among other efforts, helped arrange for a camp experience for the children.

“They could all see that they were burned,” she said. “But by the end of the day, they had their arms around each other and were swimming together.”

Later, Mishkin created and donated a sculpture of a boy holding a shell to his ear for Sonance, a support group for the House Ear Institute. She also helped raise money for the organization to provide cochlear implants for hearing-impaired children.

In the early 2000s, Mishkin began her four-year term as chairwoman of Beit T’Shuva, which provides recovery programs for Jewish and other addicts and their relatives. “People don’t realize what addiction does to families,” she said.

As board chairwoman of the Tower Cancer Research Foundation, Mishkin helps raise funds for studies that evaluate the disease on a molecular level. The foundation helps support research on how cancer alters DNA, how to tailor treatment for individual patients, and using viruses to target cancer cells.

On another front, Mishkin serves as president of the Diadames, which raises scholarship funds for highly gifted children to attend private school.

“I can’t imagine living without giving back,” she said.

Motherhood 101 – Growing Up

I survived week one in my empty nest. It was really hard, but I did it. The simple truth is I really miss my son. We talk several times a day, and I saw him during the week, but I miss having him at home. Not only do I miss him, but so does Fiddles the cat. When he came over today she about lost her mind. She followed him around like a dog and could not get close enough to him. When he left we both cried. Literally. We sat together on the couch and cried like a couple of babies.

When he said he was coming over I started to cook. I cooked as if I was having a dozen people over for dinner, even though it was just us. He walked in with a load of dirty laundry and I was so happy I thought I would burst. I did his laundry, fed him, watched Fiddles snuggle up, and stared at my grown up baby. He is a wonderful human being and I am proud of him. There is a piece of my heart that will always wish he was still with me, but a larger piece that is happy he has gone out on his own.

We are both out on our own for the first time and it has been bonding. We are going through the same changes and emotions. If you want to gage who is handling this time in our lives better, and make that decision based on the number of tears shed, I lose. He is thrilled about being on his own and I don’t think he has cried. I on the other hand still cry a lot, but for different reasons. I cried in the beginning because I was sad, and now I cry because I am so proud and excited for him.

I also cry because I am proud of myself. I have raised a good man. He is very much like my beloved father, and has all the good parts of his own dad, but at the end of the day this kid is just like his mom. I don’t have to worry about him because like me, he will always land on his feet. Maybe that is why I love Fiddles so much, we share that skill. My son is going to be fine and I am quickly realizing that so will I. My life is blessed and this time is important for a variety of reasons.

Life changes when you are not cleaning up after someone. I don’t have to pick up clothes off the floor, because I never throw my clothes on the floor. I never find dishes in my sink, because I put them straight into the dishwasher. I don’t have meat in my fridge, which as a vegetarian matters. Important to note I cooked a vegetarian feast for my boy on Sunday and he loved it. This are all really good things. Plus, there is the joy of walking around naked, simply because I can.

I am ready to shake things up. It is time to live my life out loud in new and different ways. I am going to slow things down so I can properly enjoy everything that is happening. My Rabbi taught me to meditate and I am going to implement her teachings into my everyday life rather than just my religious life. It is time to not only take a deep breathe, but listen to the air going in and coming out. I want to live a purposeful life, all the way down to my breathing. Listening to not only people, but things, matters.

The truth is I am lucky my son stayed at home as long as he did. He was ready to move out a long time ago, and only stayed to take care of me when I got sick. He did more than was required or expected, and I will be forever grateful. His leaving means not only have I done my job, but I have kicked cancer’s ass. I look forward to seeing my boy embrace all life has to offer. We are both growing up. It is time to count our blessings and focus on keeping the faith.

 

 

 

 

 

Einstein and the Rabbi is a Must Read

I am a woman of faith and one of my favorite things about the religion I practice, is that my opinion is always okay. I am allowed to be Jewish at whatever level of observance I want. I do not feel judged by God or my faith, and can embrace Judaism in a way that makes me comfortable. I am Jewish, and that is enough. I don’t think about being more Jewish, or less Jewish, I am simply happy to be Jewish. It is good to be a Jew and I have found my true Jewish self, the part of me I love most, through the teachings of Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva Temple in Los Angeles.

When I went through a traumatic time a few years ago, I reached out to Rabbi Levy for help. I didn’t know her well, and had only been going to her temple for a short time, but I was seeking help and turned to her with a desperate need to manage fear so I could sleep. Rabbi Levy taught me how to breathe and I found my soul through her teachings. I pray with her, meditate with her, am quiet with her, am happy with her, am sad with her, and most importantly I am never frightened with her. She is my safe place, teacher, and hero.

Rabbi Levy’s latest book, Einstein and the Rabbi, is a must read for anyone who is searching. Regardless of what you are searching for, you will find a path of understanding through this book. It is about finding your soul, which I don’t think we are even aware we are out of touch with. You don’t need to be Jewish to understand or appreciate this book. What you need is to be is open and searching for clarity. Listen to your heart, trust your gut, be quiet, speak up, know everything is going to be okay, and see that life is grand.

I have purchased 6 copies and given it to friends and family. I will also give it out for Hanukkah because it is a profound gift to anyone who reads it. You will learn something through reading everything Rabbi Levy is bravely sharing. You will laugh, cry, think, and feel her words. Read this book. I have read it twice and am excited to share it with you. It is a book I will turn to for the rest of my life to lift me up and light my way. I learn something new each and every time I pick it up. I love this Rabbi and cannot wait to hear from you when you read it. Let me know what touched you.

We all have things going on in our lives, and everyone has their own relationships with faith and God, but I cannot imagine there is anyone, of any faith, that will not benefit from the wisdom and stories Rabbi Levy has shared in this book. Be kind to yourself and read this book. It will change your life. I am certain of it. Thank you to the inspiring and remarkable Rabbi Naomi Levy for teaching me to see my soul and giving me the strength and desire to always keep the faith.

Keeping the Faith

I am a regular temple goer throughout the year, but there is something about the high holidays that brings me peace I don’t know how to properly articulate. I love my faith and could listen to my Rabbi give a sermon all day, every day, but there is nothing better than Kol Nidre with Rabbi Naomi Levy.  It is a moving service and I feel like I am in the presence of God on this particular day. Perhaps it is because I am surrounded by such a large group and we are all in prayer together, or maybe it is just because my heart is completely open on this day. Open to joy and sorrow, happiness and heartache. It is a day that matters to me.

I am going into Kol Nidre this year with both relief and fear. Relief to unload the weight of so many things on my soul, and fear about what my life will look like without so many burdens pent up inside me. After a year with so many unanswered questions and trials and tribulations, I have no expectations, but real hope when I go to Kol Nidre services. I simply want to be free. Free of my demons, of which there are many, and free of the busyness in my mind that prevents me from sleeping. I want my choices to be unaffected by cancer, and I want my future to become clear. No guarantees, just clarity after foggy days.

I am not the type of person who looks for guarantees in life. Things happen, both good and bad, and I am a roll with the punches kind of girl. I will think about the last year, thank God for holding my hand through all of it, and pray for the strength to be always be brave, even when I don’t think I can. I shall search for forgiveness, knowing it will come. I shall search for clarity, knowing it will come. I shall ask for sleep, knowing it will find me. I shall envision all of our names being inscribed in the book of life, and I will focus on keeping the faith.

 

 

New Year, New Everything

As I start writing this I am on a plane, flying from London to Los Angeles. After a sunny morning on the drive to Heathrow from Beckham Palace in Chigwell, clouds have rolled in and it would appear I am taking the sun back to California with me. I land in LA at 4:00 pm, home by 5:30, out the door for Rosh Hashana services by 6:00. I’m already tired so I will be exhausted by the time I get to shul, but I am looking forward to beginning a new year.

It has been a busy time with a lot of things going on personally and professionally. I am being forced to reevaluate things, and while I certainly feel pressure about a lot of things, I have decided to embrace it all and rather than stress out, enjoy a mid-life crisis and go a little crazy. If I can’t throw caution to the wind at age 51 and roll with it, when can I? I am diving into the new year with an almost desperate desire to be brave and bold.

When my son was born I began to worry about dying. I was terrified something would happen to me, so I became painfully cautious. So much so that in retrospect I think I limited how I lived. Of course one could attribute it to simply being a Jewish mom who worries too much, but the bigger truth is once you become a mother you live your life for someone else, and that causes fear to creep in. You want to be there for your child, so you live in fear.

When I was told I had cancer my fear became consuming. I was so scared of what it could possibly mean to have cancer, I didn’t pay attention to what it was doing to me emotionally. I was unsure what I was supposed to do and was paralyzed with fear because my father died of cancer. I wrote my own story and focused on things that didn’t matter and weren’t even necessarily true.  I was lost and stayed that way for a long time. I have finally cleared the fog.

A few weeks ago a transformation began and I can say with real conviction that my mid-life crisis is proving to be a great thing. After being at my day job for over 9 years and countless trips back and forth to London, I up and quit. I bought a new car, colored my hair, ended a relationship with a man I was certain I would love one day, but also certain I would never respect. I pre-ordered Hilary Clinton’s book, and found myself a new job. It is time to start living again.

This new year matters to me. It will be the year I listen to my own advice. I always say we need to be brave, not only follow our hearts, but not settle for the things we get because we believe they are what we deserve. Instead I am going into the year knowing I deserve it all. I am going to kick ass at my new job, and find a man I want more than I need. A man who gets how fantastic I am and is strong enough to let me be me and be himself.

I am now safely at home, reunited with my remarkable son, and ready to live out loud in ways I never have before. The new year has begun and I am hopeful, certain things will be great. I am also wise enough to know there will be bumps in the road, but I am a great driver so it will all be fine. I have a date this weekend and start my new job next week. I also have what appears to be the beginnings of a cold and jet lag, but I welcome all of it.

I wish you all a happy and healthy new year. I hope your challenges are few, but when you hit a bump, and you will, know I am there cheering you on. Be brave. This is your life and only you can live it. Do what makes sense to you and what feels good to you. Have some fun. Have more sex. Have really good sex. Laugh out loud. Resist. Make a difference. Inspire change. Speak out. Go out. Everything is possible if you believe, so keep the faith.

 

 

My Mid-Life Crisis

New car gift. Clipping path included.

A few weeks ago I decided to buy a new car.  I have had my car for 10 years and even with 115000 miles logged in, she had plenty of life left in her. I am not really a car person, but it was time for me to do something special for myself, so I went with a new car. I found the perfect little car and ordered it exactly how I wanted. I hit a rough patch with the first car salesman I met, but I was set on getting a new car, so when the dealership called to right his wrong, I appreciated the effort and listened.

After going back and forth on the car, I eventually decided against it. I figured the glitches were a sign I wasn’t supposed to get it. I was going to set the car aside for a bit and revisit it another time. Then on Thursday I went to see my doctor, and two and a half years after my cancer diagnosis, there is a little situation that needs to come out. I cried for five minutes, then I sent an email to the owner of Keyes of Van Nuys, Mr. Howard Tenenbaum, who had reached out the week before.

I let Howard know what I needed to be able to pull the trigger on the car. I heard back from him the same day, letting me know he took care of everything. The Sales Manager, Lewis Cook, went above and beyond for me. He worked with my schedule and budget, making it a priority to show me the customer service Keyes strives to provide. I was treated with respect and kindness, and left the lot on Saturday with my new baby. She is beautiful and made me happy on a sad day, which is good because I ain’t got time to be sad.

Louis Venegas the Finance Manager walked me through the process quickly and with expertise. Lewis Cook kept an eye on my signing of the papers and ensured I got VIP treatment. Even Howard came in to thank me for my business. It was a great experience and I will now remember the day because of the car, not because of the medical update. The gentlemen of Keyes were wonderful, having no idea what I was going through, simply wanting my experience to be a good one. Bravo.

Tomorrow I will hit the ground running on my medical situation and get it sorted. There will be tests, and surgery, and God willing many more anniversaries to celebrate. I am fine and my life is blessed. If you pray, throw my name in if you wouldn’t mind. I will keep you posted on what is happening. I am looking forward to driving to my appointment tomorrow in my fantastic new car. It is important to look cute while you kick some ass, and I look super cute in my super cute new car.

Please note I reserve the right to continue my midlife crisis after I deal with the current pain in my ass. Surely a new car won’t be the only thing I do. Maybe I’ll jet off to Australia for dinner. Again. Maybe I will change my hair color. Again. Maybe I will adopt a dog! Maybe I will find the man of dreams. Maybe I know him already! At the end of the day I feel good and my life is blessed. I am thankful, grateful, hopeful, and keeping the faith.

 

Benjamin Heller: Cancer diagnosis throws outstanding student a curveball

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Heller

AGE: 17
HIGH SCHOOL: Beverly Hills High School
GOING TO: Stanford University

Benjamin Heller had surgery in March to remove a sarcoma growth on his lungs. He’d been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, during his sophomore year at Beverly Hills High School, and already had undergone a year of grueling chemotherapy, plus surgery to remove the tumor from his left femur and hip socket. Yet despite the reoccurrence of his cancer in March, and the subsequent surgery on a Monday, Heller vowed to participate in his high school’s robotics competition that weekend.

He stopped taking the powerful drug hydrocodone for his pain that Thursday so he could adequately drive the robot — which piloted a gear that had to be placed accurately onto a peg. The doctors had “literally told me, ‘Don’t drive when you take this medication,’ ” Heller, soft-spoken yet droll, said during a recent interview in the Beverly Hills apartment he shares with his single mother, Michelle Heller, a real estate agent.

“It was rough,” Heller said of completing the competition.

But it wasn’t the first time he had battled his disease to continue his school endeavors. He persevered throughout the surgery to remove his initial tumor, when half his femur was replaced with titanium in March 2015. While depending on crutches and learning to walk again during his sophomore year, he managed to complete advanced placement courses in subjects such as chemistry and European history, as well as five online advanced math classes offered by Stanford University. All the while, he continued serving as co-president and head of the programming section of his school’s robotics club.

He enjoyed his online Stanford courses in differential and integral multivariable calculus. “It seems appropriate that, as I was going through cancer treatment (which offers multiple, stark, different outcomes, and no guarantee of any), I engulfed myself in studies that offered answers of a definitive nature,” Heller wrote of math in his Stanford admissions essay.

Heller — who attended Hebrew school and became a bar mitzvah at Temple Isaiah — recalled how he first felt a dull pain in his left thigh during a Spanish class at the end of his freshman year. His doctor at the time initially dismissed his symptoms as a strained muscle, Heller said. He previously had participated in sports such as baseball and cross country. But after an X-ray five months later, the doctors pulled his mother aside. “When she came back, she looked distressed,” Heller recalled. “She was like, ‘It’s bad,’ but she didn’t want to tell me what it was. So I got nervous.”

When the doctor arrived, he confirmed Heller’s worst fears: He had cancer. “He was shaking and he had tears and he was scared,” his mother recalled.

After surgery to remove the malignant section of his femur, chemotherapy helped to reduce Heller’s pain. The treatment was three weeks on, then three weeks off, but the chemo sometimes was delayed because of problems with Heller’s immune system. An anti-nausea drug made “my eyes roll up and I couldn’t really control them,” he said.

These days, Heller undergoes cancer scans every three months; the last scan some weeks ago showed that no tumors were detectable in his body. “My current status is remission … but that does not constitute evidence that there isn’t other cancer,” he said.

That uncertainty, in part, led Heller to switch his academic focus from math to computer programming, which has less definitive outcomes than math. “Programming comes closer to how the real world works,” he wrote in his essay. “My future could hold anything. … Life itself is more uncertain than not, and at some point, we all have to venture into the unknown.”

Praying to God’s Smaller Face: Parashat Behar-Bechukotai

Parashat Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34)

In this week’s Torah portion, it is written: I broke the pegs of your yoke and led you upright. (Leviticus 26:13).

On this verse, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch (one of the early leaders of Chasidism) commented: “An animal walks with its face to the earth, for earthiness and materiality is all that it knows. Man walks upright, for man was born to gaze upon and aspire to the heavens.”

In the ancient threefold priestly blessing, there are two mentions of God’s face. When I think of the first mention, “May God’s Face shine upon you and be gracious to you,” I think of that face shining like a sun, radiant and coaxing you to grow, drying your tears and painting your world gold. It is incomprehensibly grand, and yet, even from that royal height, that face is looking at you! With favor!

In the second mention, “May God’s Face lift up to you, and grant you peace,” I imagine that face small, such that you have to look down, searching the earth, amid the tiny things, the building blocks of our biosphere, and from that place of the itty-bitty, that place of single-celled life and tiny blinks of hope, from there the face lifts up to you, because you are grand and a wonder to behold!

In most of our prayers and theology, we focus on the first face, the face of the heavens. When I wrote this prayer, “Prayer for a Cure for Cancer,” I wrote it to the smaller face.I wrote it facing the earth, addressing earthiness and physicality, calling upon the God of small things, for the same God who took us out of Egypt amid signs and wonders also mended our sandals all along that long journey.

 

Prayer for a Cure for Cancer

We are sometimes mistaken
when we fear that which is big.
Godzilla, King Kong
Asteroid, Armageddon
At least we can see it when it comes.
We are sometimes mistaken
when we fear that which is big.
Change, birth,
death, love.
At least we can throw our arms wide around it.

God of big things,
God of great deeds,
God of the drama of the Exodus,
the parting of the seas,
the fire on the mountain,
the creation out of nothing,
we are wonderstruck by You,
dazzled by big things.

But are You not also the God of the small,
God of the turning leaf,
God of the grain of sand,
God of the passing shadow,
God of the rotting fruit?

I address You now
as God of the small,
because sometimes we are mistaken
when we fear that which is big,
when that which is most frightening of all
is small,
the size of a melanomic cell,
the size of a metastatic pinpoint,
the size of a golf ball,
the size of a grapefruit
growing where there is no tree.

That immutable danger
that makes us victims of our own
soft tissue, lymphnodes, and blood,
that devastating fear
that stalks us out of passing shadows,
out of the mist of pesticide,
tar, benzene, p.c.b. toxicities,
out of the glow of gamma-rays, x-rays, ultraviolet rays, aluminum foil,
out of the silicone, the tobacco, the skin of an apple,
the high saturated fats, the low fiber,
the vegetable hair dyes,
out of nothing,
out of nothing.
You are good at that God,
Creation out of nothing.
I pray to You now, God of small things,
God of miracles-barely-perceived
by the naked, mortal eye,
I pray to You now, God of small things,
for a spontaneous global
remission.
For erasure of that word that lurks darkly
behind our words.
When Moses’ sister was struck
Moses spoke five small words to You.
El na rafa na la.
God please heal her please.
You answered, and You healed her.

Whether you are looking down or looking up, whether your world has narrowed with constraints of health and age, or your world has widened with possibility, may you feel the warmth of God’s smile upon you, and may the pegs of your yoke be broken that you may walk upright, with dignity, and gaze upon and aspire to the heavens.

Shabbat Shalom from Oz

I am writing today from Melbourne, Australia, where I have come on a little holiday. By little of course mean I am here for 48 hours. I left Los Angeles on Wednesday night and arrived Friday morning. It is now Saturday morning in Oz, and I leave tomorrow at 9:00 am. It is a bit insane to travel for two days to spend only two days, but I am so happy I did it. I love it here and love the people I am with.

I’m staying with my friend Gamble in a glorious part of the country. Yesterday we ran errands and got caught up. Had lunch with her family and sat by the ocean as I tried my first oyster while having the best Cosmo I’ve had in a long time. It was a perfect day. This group is like family and I feel blessed to spend time here, even if just for a couple of days. I love Australia and have a real connection to this place.

When I was recovering from cancer, Gamble swept in like an angel and saved me from myself. I was either going to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself, or was going to get up and live my life. Not just live it, but be brave. Her kindness and nudging forced me to not waste my time thinking about what had happened, but rather what was still possible. Gamble made me brave and gave me Australia.

She attached herself to my heart and I am thankful. I get a lot of perspective on my life through knowing Gamble. I am able to see myself differently through her eyes, and able to see George differently through mine. I am in a very happy and settled place in my life, and Gamble has helped with that. Not only Gamble, but also her sister Tempest, who I love very much. These two remarkable ladies  are family.

I am in Melbourne for two days and it is perfection. The weather is divine, there are a million birds singing in the garden, and while I am sad to be leaving so quickly, am happy that I came and know I will be back soon, for a proper vacation and enough time to see everything this amazing country has to offer.  Tonight we will mark a milestone birthday, have too many cocktails, and celebrate friendship.

If you have an opportunity to visit Australia, you must. If you can spend more than two days, you REALLY must! I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Shabbat. I hope you all have friends like I do, women who inspire you to not only be better, but be happy with exactly who you are. Have a wonderful weekend and be safe out there. Remember that life is always better when you are keeping the faith.

 

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

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

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.

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.