November 16, 2018

How a 23andMe Test Revealed BRCA1 Diagnosis

From Left: Levi, Teddy, Lawrence, Laura, Molly. Courtesy of Jordana Altman

Encino resident Laura Osman was always curious about her ancestry. She knew that she was Jewish, but she wondered where her blond hair came from. So, she ordered a 23andMe test in early 2018. When it arrived, she spit into the tube, and checked the optional box to have genetic testing done, and put it in the mail. 

Weeks later, Osman, 37, was checking her email, when a message from 23andMe popped up. It said she was 99.9 percent Ashkenazi Jewish, which didn’t come as a surprise. But as she scrolled down, she saw some startling additional news: “BRCA1 Positive. Consult With Doctor.” 

Immediately, Osman made an appointment with her OB/GYN and got tested that afternoon. Seven days later, the doctor confirmed that she was, in fact, BRCA1 positive. 

“It was just shocking, because the way I found out was by clicking on an email,” Osman said in a phone interview. “It caught me completely off guard. I’d considered myself low risk for breast cancer and hadn’t even thought about ovarian cancer.”

The mother of three small children, Osman had never had an ovarian cancer screening or even a mammogram. According to Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, an individual can get tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations at 18, but there isn’t much that doctors can do even if someone tests positive. The cancer risks usually manifest when people are in their late 20s and early 30s. 

According to the Abramson Cancer Center, if women test positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations at age 25, they can start doing breast exams, and having mammograms and breast MRIs. If Osman had discovered the genetic mutation at an earlier age, she might have been able to take the same steps. 

Because this was no longer an option, Osman knew she had to make some serious decisions to ensure she was going to be healthy. After all, according to, 72 percent of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation will get breast cancer by the time they turn 80. Additionally, about 44 percent of women who have the BRCA1 mutation will get ovarian cancer by 80. 

After discovering this information, Osman had a breast and ovarian cancer screening, which came back clear. Then, five weeks later, she underwent surgery to remove her fallopian tubes and one ovary. When she turns 40, she said she will need to remove the other ovary. She also had a double mastectomy this past July, as a final precaution. 

“It was a difficult time, [going through the double mastectomy],” she said. “I tried not to feel sorry for myself because I was happy I didn’t have cancer. That was my immediate concern, because I hadn’t gotten early screenings but I was really scared and nervous to do the surgery.”

While preparing for her mastectomy, Osman discovered Sharsheret, a Jewish breast cancer organization that provides support to women and men. It offers one-on-one peer support and access to genetic counselors and mental health professionals for people dealing with breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2 diagnoses. 

Sharsheret introduced Osman to a woman who had undergone the same surgery. She gave Osman recovery tips, including what kind of pain to expect and what type of button-down shirt to wear after the procedure. 

“The recovery from a mastectomy is complicated, because you can’t drive, and you don’t know how you’re going to feel,” Osman said. “I couldn’t do simple things like open my fridge for several weeks. You have to really plan ahead and know how the recovery is going to go. When you plan for it, it’s manageable.”

Today, Osman said she is feeling great, even though the first six weeks were difficult. She’s able to run again, which she loves, as well as lift her daughter. She is still involved with Sharsheret as a peer supporter to others. “When you do the surgery, it’s super important to connect with women who have gone through it,” she said. “They can talk you through it and tell you what emotions are tied to it.”

Osman also discovered that the BRCA1 mutation came through her father’s side. He had prostate cancer, but the mutation went undetected in him. “Jewish women need to take their own initiative with talking to their doctors about genetic counseling and getting tested,” she said.

“It was just a random check on that box that saved my life. It’s incredible.” 

— Laura Osman

This is especially important in the Jewish community because, according to Sharsheret, 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jewish men and women carry a BRCA gene mutation. That’s more than 10 times the rate of the general population. Also, Sephardic Jews may be genetically predisposed to hereditary ovarian and breast cancer. 

If men and women throughout the United States are interested in genetic counseling, Sharsheret can set them up with a consultation, according to Jenna Fields, Sharsheret’s California regional director. “Generally speaking, the medical profession recommends pre-counseling for genetic testing,” she said. 

Additionally, there are Jewish genetic testing organizations, such as JScreen and Dor Yeshorim, where people can get tested. Men and women may want to consider other resources that are available during October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as well as year round. The National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. provides free diagnostic breast care services and mammograms to women in need, and Komen Affiliates offers breast health information throughout the country. 

Looking forward, Osman said she will continue volunteering with Sharsheret and, when her daughter turns 20, she’s going to get her tested. “I’m really happy I went through the surgery, even though I was scared,” she said. “I feel great and I look great. It’s amazing finding the right team of surgeons that believed in me. It can be a really positive experience when done correctly with support.”

She continued, “I’m just so grateful that I caught it when I did, and it was out of luck really. It was just a random check on that box that saved my life. It’s incredible.”  

Moving & Shaking: Sharsheret California, Supporting Jewish Women Facing Cancer, Celebrates First Anniversary

Sharsheret California Community Advisory Committee members (front row, from left) Linda Powell Davis, Sari Abrams, Annie Spar and Courtney Mizel and (back row, from left) Dikla Benzeevi, Lisa Hofheimer, Abbi Hertz and Noam Drazin celebrate Sharsheret’s first anniversary. Photo courtesy of Sharsheret

Sharsheret California, a national nonprofit organization supporting Jewish women and families facing breast and ovarian cancer, held its first anniversary celebration at Robertson Art Space on Nov. 5.

In its first year Sharsheret hosted 62 outreach and education events from San Francisco to San Diego. The group has also held 13 cultural competency training sessions for health-care, mental-health and Jewish-communal professionals.

Nearly 150 guests attended the event, which included a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception and a performance by Israeli singer and songwriter Eleanor Tallie. Abbi Hertz, Lisa Hofheimer and Courtney Mizel — members of the Sharsheret California Community Advisory Committee — co-chaired the event.

“When we opened the California office last year, we knew we were addressing a critical need in the Jewish community here to educate women and men about their increased risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer,” Sharsheret California Regional Director Jenna Fields said. “We had laid the groundwork over the years to build our presence. But when we officially launched last year, we took a leap of faith, and our Sharsheret leadership took a leap of faith, with the hope that the dream of a few would grow to the vision of many, and it did.”

Attendees included Donna Schlessel; Shuli Bendheim Steinlauf and her husband, Avi Steinlauf; Sari Abrams and her husband, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Congregation B’nai David-Judea; Annie Spar and her husband, Elon Spar; Sharsheret Executive Director Elana Silber; and Sinai Temple Rabbi Nicole Guzik.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

From left: Talent agent Adam Berkowitz, actors Lior Ashkenazi and Ania Bukestein, Israel Film Festival founder Meir Fenigstein and Mark Ivanir attend the festival’s opening night. Photo by Robert Todd Williamson

The 31st annual Israel Film Festival (IFF) began Nov. 5 with a gala at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills that honored actor Jeffrey Tambor and Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi.

Tambor was presented with the 2017 IFF Achievement in Television Award by Israeli actress Ayelet Zorer, who had a role in the Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-nominated Amazon Studios series “Transparent,” in which Tambor plays a transgender woman. (Tambor subsequently announced he may be leaving the show after sexual harassment allegations were made against him.)

Ashkenazi, who received the IFF Cinematic Achievement Award, is starring in “Foxtrot,” which won the Ophir Award — the Israeli Oscar — and will be submitted by Israel for the Academy Awards’ best foreign language film category. Actor Mark Ivanir (“Homeland”) presented Ashkenazi with his award.

In his speech, Ashkenazi addressed the controversy surrounding “Foxtrot,” which was heavily criticized by Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev, who claimed the film supported the agenda of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

“There are those who try to mess with our art and work,” Ashkenazi said. “We as artists spark debate and make us all more tolerant, and we are going to continue creating and speaking our minds despite those who want to silence us.”

Yariv Mozer’s documentary, “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue,” winner of this year’s Ophir Award for best documentary, was the festival’s opening night film.

Adam Berkowitz, co-head of the television department at Creative Artists Agency, chaired the festival. Also in attendance was the festival’s founder and executive director, Meir Fenigstein.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

From left: Hailey, Todd, Dana, Ron, Sarah, Randall and Kathy Katz come together at the Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden dedication ceremony. Photo courtesy of Stephen Wise Temple

Stephen Wise Temple in Bel Air dedicated its new Katz Family Pavilion and Shalom Garden on Nov. 5.

About 700 people turned out to celebrate the completion of the 18-month, $9.2 million building project, including lead donor Ron Katz and his family — sons Randall and Todd, daughters-in-law Kathy and Dana, and granddaughters Hailey and Sarah — for whom the facility is named. Also in attendance were Stephen Wise Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, Rabbi Emeritus Eli Herscher and Cantor Nathan Lam; its building committee chair Leandro Tyberg; and Ed and Deena Nahmias, benefactors of the pavilion’s Nahmias Family Plaza.

The 9,500-square-foot pavilion will be used for sports, cultural and lifecycle events. Working with Lehrer Architects, the temple replaced its historic Hershenson Hall at the center of its campus with the new pavilion. The project also transformed a parking area into a 7,000-square-foot park dedicated in honor of Herscher and his four decades of service to the Stephen Wise Temple community. He retired in 2015.

After the event in an interview with the Journal, Zweiback expressed gratitude to the Katz family. “The way you say thank you,” he said, “is you live the values that inspire this place and then you build for the future.”

From left: Netiya Executive Director Devorah Brous, L.A. City Councilman David Ryu and L.A. Food Policy Council Executive Director Clare Fox.

Devorah Brous, executive director of Netiya, was honored as a Los Angeles Good Food Champion by the City Council on Oct. 24 as part of Food Day in Los Angeles.

Brous, whose organization is working to transform unused land at religious congregations into urban gardens, was one of 15 people honored from each city council district. She was chosen for the honor by District 4 Councilman David Ryu. Food Day was an effort organized by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council.

“They are all food champions,” Brous said of her fellow honorees. “One is
opening a restaurant. One has started a community garden in East L.A. That’s what makes the award cool. It’s really diverse, with people from every racial and ethnic background. It’s really interesting and exciting to see the council members are getting behind some of the initiatives we’ve been launching.”

Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, who bet on the Dodgers in the World Series, appears in a YouTube video about the bet. Photo from YouTube

Earlier this month, Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback lost a friendly bet to Rabbi Oren Hayon of Congregation Emanu El in Houston over the 2017 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros.

At stake were food and tzedakah. Zweiback and the Stephen Wise congregation promised to buy the Houston congregation a Factor’s Famous Deli platter and to make a donation to a cause of Emanu El’s choice if the Astros won. Emanuel El promised pecan pies and a donation to Union of Reform Judaism’s Camp Newman, which was devastated during the recent Northern California fires, if the Dodgers won.

The synagogues’ two rabbis exchanged humorous videos on YouTube over the course of the seven-game series. In one video, after the Astros beat the Dodgers, 7-6, in 11 innings, Hayon created a video of him eating pecan pie. Zweiback made a video in which he pretended to be on the phone with the Dodgers’ Jewish outfielder, Joc Pederson — who Zweiback referred to as “Yaakov.”

After the Astros beat the Dodgers in seven games, Stephen Wise sent the Houston congregation the Factor’s platter and made a donation to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. More than 150 families in the extended Emanu El family were affected by the storm. Despite winning the wager, Emanu El graciously made a donation to Camp Newman.

From left: Ben Savage, Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) honorees Dr. David Snyder and actress Bonnie Hunt, Avram Hershko, Candice Rosen and David Goodman attend the ICRF 2017 “Unlocking Cures” gala. Photo by Lindsey Boise

The Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) held its “Unlocking Cures” gala on Nov. 11 at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, honoring actress, producer, writer and director Bonnie Hunt and City of Hope Dr. David Snyder.

Hunt’s credits include the movies “Jumanji” and “Jerry Maguire.” Before getting into show business full time, she was an oncology nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where she worked closely with Dr. Steven Rosen, now CEO of City of Hope, a cancer treatment and research center in Duarte, Calif. She continues to support patient advocacy, medical research and many medical-related causes.

Snyder is an expert in stem cell transplantation for the treatment of leukemia and other blood disorders. He has been at City of Hope for more than 30 years.

The program for the event said Hunt and Snyder “exemplify the mission of the ICRF to improve the lives of those around the world by supporting world-class medical research in Israel.”

City of Hope and ICRF announced a collaboration in 2016 with the establishment of the Jacki and Bruce Barron Cancer Research Scholars Program to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information between cancer researchers in the United States and Israel.

The event, which opened with a cocktail reception and a silent auction, was attended by 250 people and raised more than $330,000. Actor Ben Savage was the emcee for the dinner and awards presentation, and Nobel laureate Avram Hershko, an Israeli biochemist, delivered the keynote speech.

Among those in attendance were ICRF Los Angeles board president and Jewish Journal advertising director Marty Finkelstein and ICRF board members David Cohan and Candice Rosen, who co-chaired the event.

“ICRF is that wonderful organization that merges the needs of cancer researchers with the ingenuity and resources of Israel,” Cohan said. “This gala is our opportunity to do our part to support them both. We must do our part!”

Moving and shaking

Top row, from left: Meryl Kern, Lindsey Montoya, Russell Kern, Helene Eisenberg, Deborah Fried, Jen Morgen and Rabbi Mark Borovitz. Bottom row, from left: Warren Breslow, Harriet Rossetto, Annette Shapiro and David Ruderman.

The phrase “30 Years of Saving Souls” stretched across a screen onstage Jan. 22 during the Beit T’Shuvah gala at the Beverly Hilton. It was appropriate as the evening celebrated the Jewish rehab facility’s 30th anniversary and honored founder Harriet Rossetto and the organization’s founding board members Warren Breslow, David Ruderman and Annette Shapiro.

Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Ed Feinstein — whose son was treated at the organization — emceed.

Beit T’Shuvah, located near Culver City, treats residential patients and outpatients who suffer from substance abuse and other addictions. Its program draws on Jewish spirituality and traditional treatment methods.

During the event, Beit T’Shuvah Senior Rabbi Mark Borovitz presented his wife, Rossetto, with the award. The event raised approximately $1.9 million, according to Borovitz.

The nearly 1,000 attendees included Open Temple Rabbi Lori Shapiro, who is Annette Shapiro’s daughter-in-law; Andrew Cushnir, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ executive vice president and chief development officer; Federation chairman Les Bider and his wife, Lynn; Jewish Journal President David Suissa; real estate developer and philanthropist Stanley Black; Beit T’Shuvah chairperson emeritus Nancy Mishkin; husband-and-wife philanthropists Dina and Fred Leeds; and Beit T’Shuvah Chairman Russell Kern.

The event benefited the Harriet Rossetto Scholarship Fund, which enables the organization to provide free treatment to patients. Rossetto founded the organization after responding to an ad in the Los Angeles Times that was seeking a social worker to work with incarcerated Jewish individuals. A halfway house eventually became the organization that today is Beit T’Shuvah. Not only does it treat substance abusers through music and wellness programs and a supportive community dedicated to Jewish worship, but it also employs them during their rehabilitation.

From left, Sharsheret Regional Director Jenna Fields and Sharsheret L.A. advisory committee members Lisa Hofheimer and Courtney Mizel attend the launch party of the organization’s new Los Angeles office.

From left, Sharsheret Regional Director Jenna Fields and Sharsheret L.A. advisory committee members Lisa Hofheimer and Courtney Mizel attend the launch party of the organization’s new Los Angeles office.

The national nonprofit Sharsheret, which is dedicated to addressing the needs of Jewish women and families facing breast and ovarian cancer, celebrated the opening of its Los Angeles regional office on Jan. 10 with a drinks-and-dessert reception.

The event — held at the West Los Angeles home of Courtney Mizel, a longtime Sharsheret supporter and a seven-year breast cancer survivor — drew 80 people.

Lisa Hofheimer, co-chair with Mizel of the organization’s L.A. advisory committee, connected with Sharsheret when she was diagnosed 15 years ago. She watched as the organization, which has its headquarters in New Jersey, “developed into an organization with unbelievable outreach.” Sharsheret’s L.A. presence will provide a “community of support to wrap around” cancer patients and their families, she said.

During her remarks, Mizel said Sharsheret is “an amazing resource,” specifically mentioning its Busy Box Program that provides games for children to play while their mothers are at doctor appointments or resting after cancer treatments.

Two other cancer survivors, Annie Spar and Molly Sigel, also shared stories.

Spar, who also is on the group’s advisory committee, praised Sharsheret for advising her husband on how to best support her during treatment and helping her talk to her children about her illness, which she called “the single hardest thing” she had to do.

Sigel said she had a “one in a million” type of ovarian tumor, but Sharsheret was able to match her with a young woman with a similar rare diagnosis for conversation and encouragement.

“Her story was the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sigel, who has been in remission since September 2015 and is studying for her master’s degree in social work at UCLA.

“What keeps me doing the work I do is the 65,000 women and families we’ve touched,” said Sharsheret Executive Director Elana Silber, who came to Los Angeles for the launch. “We want to anchor ourselves in this community, so everyone knows about us when they need us.”

Additional members of the advisory committee in attendance were Sari Abrams, Sarina Basch, Dikla Benzeevi, Sarah Blitzstein, Linda Blumenfeld, Dr. Amy Kusske and Abbi Hertz.

Sharsheret Regional Director Jenna Fields has already begun working with local health centers, synagogues and other Jewish organizations since the office opened five months ago. Sharsheret L.A. is the organization’s second regional office; the first opened in Florida in June 2013.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

David Siegel, recently hired CEO of ELNET-Israel, is the former consul general of Israel in Los Angeles.

David Siegel, recently hired CEO of ELNET-Israel, is the former consul general of Israel in Los Angeles.

The European Leadership Network (ELNET), a pro-Israel organization, has hired David Siegel, the former consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, as the CEO of its Israel office, ELNET-Israel.

Siegel’s hiring was announced during the “Turning the Tide for Israel in the EU and Against BDS” gala on Dec. 14, which was organized by Friends of ELNET and held at the Skirball Cultural Center. The event, attended by about 135 people, raised approximately $700,000 for ELNET.

Siegel, who served as consul general of Israel in Los Angeles from 2011 to 2016 and displayed commitment to fostering ties between local Jews and Latinos and leveraging relationships with Hollywood celebrities in bolstering Israel’s image, will be tasked with enhancing “ELNET programming in Israel and build[ing] local networks of leaders committed to the Europe-Israel relationship,” according to an ELNET press release that described Siegel as a “veteran diplomat.”

In the release, Larry Hochberg, chairman and co-founder of Friends of ELNET and founder of the sporting goods chain Sportmart, welcomed Siegel to the organization. “David’s expertise in international policy issues, specifically with regard to Israel’s relationships with key global allies, takes the organization to the next level,” Hochberg said.

Siegel expressed enthusiasm about the opportunity, saying, “There are significant opportunities to strengthen the important relationships between Europe and Israel, and the work ELNET does is more critical today than ever.”

Ines von Behr, executive director of ELNET-EU in Brussels, spoke at the event, which honored Ken Ruby, vice chairman and treasurer of Friends of ELNET.

Founded in 2007, ELNET promotes positive relations between Israel and Europe, which has seen a rise in anti-Israel activity in recent years. The organization closely observed the Jan. 15 Middle East peace conference in Paris, which addressed the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the heels of a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem as a violation of international law.

In regard to the Paris conference, Jonathan Boyer, West Coast director of Friends of ELNET, said: “We were all very nervous and watching it closely.”

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Adat Shalom Jewish Education Center students and Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church youth came together at the 32nd annual Kingdom Day Parade. Adat Shalom Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz (second row, far right) and Ward AME Church Rev. John Edward Cager III (back row, far right) were among the attendees.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Adat Shalom Jewish Education Center students and Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church youth came together at the 32nd annual Kingdom Day Parade. Adat Shalom Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz (second row, far right) and Ward AME Church Rev. John Edward Cager III (back row, far right) were among the attendees.

Students of Adat Shalom Jewish Education Center, a religious school at a West Los Angeles Conservative synagogue, joined youth from Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church during the 32nd annual Kingdom Day Parade in South Los Angeles on Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“At Adat Shalom, we’ve established a new type of religious school that values real-world experience as part of helping to build strong Jewish identity,” Adat Shalom Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz said. “It was a powerful, inspiring experience for our religious school students and their families.”

Rev. John Edward Cager III, senior pastor at Ward AME Church, and Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, a city of Los Angeles appointee to the L.A. Metro board of directors, also were in attendance at the parade, which marked the late civil rights leader’s 88th birthday.

The theme of this year’s event was “Now More Than Ever, We All Must Work Together.”

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email 

Rochelle Shoretz, Sharsheret founder and cancer advocate, dies at 42

Rochelle Shoretz, whose own breast cancer diagnosis at age 28 led her to found the national cancer organization Sharsheret, has died.

Shoretz died Sunday afternoon at her home in Teaneck, New Jersey. She was 42. The cause of death was complications from breast cancer.  

Shoretz founded Sharsheret in 2001 while undergoing chemotherapy. The organization provides health information and support services for Jewish women living with breast cancer or ovarian cancer, or who are at increased risk for those diseases.

Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent are at heightened risk for certain genetic mutations that can lead to cancer.

“When I was diagnosed [in July 2001], there were a lot of offers to help with meals and transport my kids, but I really wanted to speak to another young mom who was going to have to explain to her kids that she was going to lose her hair to chemo,” Shoretz told JTA in 2003 of her decision to start Sharsheret.

The organization’s name is Hebrew for chain.

A graduate of Columbia Law School, Shoretz went on to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is thought to be the  first Orthodox Jewish woman to clerk for a Supreme Court justice.

Shoretz beat her initial bout with breast cancer. But in 2009 the cancer returned, and it had spread. No longer curable, it was treatable — and friends say her energy and resolve were boundless until the end.

Shoretz is survived by two teenage sons, Shlomo and Dovid Mirsky; her mother, Sherry Tenenbaum; her father, Morris Shoretz;  five sisters and two brothers. She was a stepdaughter of Jeffrey Tenenbaum and Carol Ann Finkelstein.

The funeral and interment will be held Monday in New Jersey.