Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Getting My Garnet Fix

For as long as I can remember, I've loved the connection between garnets and pomegranates.

I was reminded of this association this past Shabbat during a visit to the American Museum of Natural History. (The details of why I was there amidst the endless swarm of families and tourists on perhaps the busiest day of the year is a story for another time.) Nonetheless, I enjoyed the hour or so I spent in the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems oogling the colorful gemstones from bright pink rubies and green emeralds to citrine, quartz, sapphire, and my favorite, the deep red garnet.

Confirming what I knew to be true, the didactic text accompanying the displays indicated that the word "garnet" derives from the Latin word "granatus," which means seed like appearance or containing many seeds. Early biblical writings, the text continued, often associated garnets with faith, constancy, and truth.

Is it any wonder then, that Noah, according to tradition, used a garnet lamp to help steer the ark safely through the flood?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Rugalach from Nebraska

I love the way the Jewish world works.

Here's a case in point.

Last Thursday, I went with a friend to the Philadelphia suburbs for the funeral of another friend's father.

On the ride down, he said, "Don't let me forget to ask R. about a place near her for pastries." Another friend, this one from the midwest, wanted to send sweets for shiva.

On the ride back he said, "Sh*t, I forgot to ask R. about the pastry place."

I happen to have a cousin who lives in R.'s town, so I sent her this Facebook message: "Q: where near you can someone order pastries and sweets for a shiva--to be delivered? Thanks."

Within an hour, I'd heard back from her: "Edible Arrangements in Manalapan. Kosher deli?"

The conversation continued: "Kosher deli would be better."

She offered three possibilities: "Fred and Murray's. Or Jerry and Harvey's. Or Lox Stock and Deli in Miltown (my choice)."

When I got home, I emailed the information, including website links, to the midwesterner.

Her reply? "The guy on the phone was incredulous that he would get a call from a Jew in Nebraska!" 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Ten Random Thoughts on Black Friday

Ever wishful for time to think and read and write, I am grateful for today -- which afforded me the opportunity to do all three. Sitting in a coffee shop on Sixth Avenue and 12th Street, I had the time and inclination to record these random thoughts:
  1. Sometimes it's good to get out of your own neighborhood. My travels today took me to Stevdan Stationers, my intended destination, and then, quite by accident, to the coffee shop next door. It's orders of magnitude better than the ubiquitous Starbucks, and ignited a desire to seek out other non-Starbucks coffee places in the city.
  2. "Stuff" is the thing least likely to lead to happiness. In our culture, unfortunately, today is all about acquiring stuff, resulting in lots of people looking for happiness in all the wrong places.
  3. Although I did a bit of editing on several different blog post submissions this morning, I'm grateful to be able to put aside -- at least for a day or two longer -- the anxiety and stress that comes from having to find, or ask someone to write, a Ten Minutes of Torah essay for every single week-day from now until....forever.
  4. What was Old Navy thinking when their marketing people chose this as the store's holiday slogan: "Hi, holidays!"? Surely they weren't thinking about Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur, right?
  5. Perhaps it's the springtime weather, but Thanksgiving and the weekend don't have the same joyful feeling they did when I was younger. Is it because the holiday and the days that follow (and precede) it have been co-opted by retailers? Or, is it because I'm not the same person I was back then?
  6. I wonder what the world would look like if everyone unplugged from their electronics for the weekend -- or even for the entire period from now until and the end of the calendar year. Would we talk to each other on buses and subways? Would we read real, hard copy books? Would we have withdrawal from Facebook, Words With Friends, Tetris, and Candy Crush?
  7. Speaking of all things candy, I was distressed to see in a gift-giving guide in today's paper that Candy Land, a staple of my childhood, is considered "vintage," and a part of Hasbro's "Retro Series" of board games. Oy!
  8. I'm extremely grateful for many things -- at this season and always -- but I think I would be more appreciative of my job, and of having a job at all, if my current one wasn't two jobs rolled into one. This scenario -- and my inability to right what is, to me, a problem -- makes me angry, negative, and frustrated -- when I'm in the office and when I'm not.
  9. I'm trying to learn to leave the office at the office (even if that happens regularly at 7 or 8 or 9 o'clock) and to swap frustration for fun, anger for joy, and negativity for gratitude for the goodness around me. It's a hard lesson, and in this matter, I'm not a particularly quick study.
  10. And yet, despite the frustration, the anger, and the negativity that I seem to have allowed to seep into every corner of my life, as I watch the passing scene on Sixth Avenue, I'm perfectly content to be living life with the cards I've been dealt. When all is said and done, I suppose there's no more satisfying Thanksgiving realization than that!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I Didn't Forget About Lech L'cha

Dear The Mums,

I hope you didn't think that I forgot about Lech L'cha last week. Of course not! I've been so busy going forth into new things, that I've barely had time to  think, let alone write.

Here are seven places to which I've gone forth in recent weeks and months:
  1. Last week, I went forth to Congregation B'nai Yisrael for the installation of this rabbi.

  2. Earlier that same day day, I went forth into TV land, to tape this show, which aired last Sunday. 

  3. This past Friday, I went forth to my own congregation for the installation of this rabbi.

  4. Back in July, I went forth into a new position -- as the editor of the URJ's Ten Minutes of Torah -- although I still have almost all of the responsibilities from my previous position, so I've been Lech L'cha-ing (read pedaling) as fast as I can, but it generally takes 10-12 hours a day just to stay afloat -- and forget about taking any time off.

  5. Also in July, right after I took over the Ten Minutes of Torah role, I went forth to Gambier, OH, home of Kenyon College for Beyond Walls: Spiritual Writing as Kenyon, a six-day writing seminar for clergy, seminarians, and others who write in religious organizations. Part of the Kenyon Institute, the seminar proved to be an incredible week of friendship, fellowship, thinking, and writing, and last night I submitted my application to return in 2016.

  6. On Tuesday, I'm going forth to Orlando for the URJ Biennial. A whole new team (and an outside company, too) is putting the convention together, and although I can't remember the details, I don't even think the Shabbat dinner options include chicken, fish, and veggie anymore. Whatever...  I'll be focusing on the social media and messaging aspects of the convention -- a whole new realm of work for me.

  7. In preparation for the trip, I'm currently going forth and back to the laundry room, watering the plants, stopping the paper, and preparing to pack for a spot that's going to 90 degrees when I arrive...and 72 and florescent in the place where I'll be spending the majority of my time. I know I'll see friends and colleagues of yours from the URJ board, which will, no doubt, bring to mind a bittersweet mix of memories from past Biennials...Minneapolis, Houston, San Diego, Toronto... and since you've been gone... Washington, DC, San Diego, and now Orlando. Even though you're always with me, I miss you more at these gatherings than at other times -- perhaps because I know how you loved them, or perhaps because "When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them." Actually, I think it's both...
In any case, the timer just went off, reminding me to go forth, yet again, to the basement to put my clothes in the dryer.

~ Boo!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Four Key Reasons the American Cancer Society's New Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines Aren't Up to Snuff

Earlier this week, the American Cancer Society changed its guidelines about breast cancer screening for women. The ACS now recommends starting annual mammography at 45 instead of 40, and decreasing the screening to once every two years for women over 55. The organization also would have physicians forego clinical breast exams.

These recommendations are problematic for four key reasons:

  1. Among women who are at average risk of breast cancer, the biggest risk factor is age. Why, then, would you increase the age at which you begin screening for the disease? Indeed, the incidence of breast cancer increases among women in their 40s, accounting for one in six cases of the disease among women in this demographic.  Additionally, mammograms can be a tool for early detection, which studies have shown results in less invasive therapies, increased quality of life, increased years of life, better prognoses, and overall better outcomes.
  2. Although the ACS screening guidelines for women at high risk for cancer have not changed, the reality is that the vast majority of these women have no family history of breast cancer and as a result they are totally unaware that they are at increased risk. For this population especially, -- even if they don't know who they are -- annual screening beginning at age 40 is critically important
  3. Having so many different sets of screening guidelines from various cancer and medical organizations -- especially because they're not consistent with one another -- is confusing for both patients and their doctors. What's more, although none of the guidelines is binding, they can be used by insurance companies to restrict accessibility and coverage for mammography, erecting barriers where fewer existed before
  4. Clinical breast exams are quick, easy, and non-invasive, and there's no reason not to do them. In fact, for younger women and those in remote and rural parts of the country, they may be the only screening option readily available.
For these reasons and so many others it's important that women be strong advocates for their own health and avail themselves of resources and guidance to help them develop an individual breast cancer screening plan that works best for them.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

So Much Anger...

Last Sunday, incredulous about something I'd seen, I put this post up on Facebook:
Ironic sight of the day: two medical professionals smoking across the street from NYU Langone Medical Center. Printed on the back of their sweatshirts? Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery. 
A friend suggested I re-post it on the hospital's website or Facebook page. It seemed like a good idea so I added a brief introduction and posted this:
This post is from my own FB timeline, but a friend suggested that I also post it here, so I have. It's not a reflection on the medical center, but rather an observation about two of its employees. Nothing more:
Ironic sight of the day: two medical professionals smoking across the street from NYU Langone Medical Center. Printed on the back of their sweatshirts? Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery.
The next day I received an email from Facebook that someone named Edward Leung had commented on the post. I don't know Edward Leung, but what a bitter, angry person he must be to have felt the need to write this:
Reflection of the employees? Just because a person smokes a cigarette, doesn't mean they're bad people. There's a lot more bad people who DON'T smoke. So... Why don't you take your idiotic sight of the day and blow a f***ing grip, b**ch.
Thankfully by the time I opened the email and clicked on the post, the hospital's social media staff had removed it, leaving only this other, now-meaningless post from Mr. Leung:
The ret**rd is strong with this one.
Thanks, Mr. Leung, for the poignant reminder of how unbecoming anger -- most especially unwarranted anger -- can be.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Why I Keep Telling My BRCA Story

Recently, I was invited to write about my BRCA journey for Invitae, a genetic information company, as part of a campaign to inform and inspire people to understand the impact of hereditary breast cancer. The hope is that these stories will jump-start a Facebook conversation about hereditary cancer.

In recognition of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) Week, which bridges ovarian cancer awareness month in September with breast cancer awareness month in October, I am pleased to share the piece I wrote for Invitae.

Although I tell my BRCA story again and again, it never seems to get old. There are always new people to hear it, and its potential to change the trajectory of just one person’s life makes the telling and the retelling – and all the sharing – worth it.