Friday, July 27, 2012

We Remember

Shame on the International Olympic Committee for not honoring the 11 Israeli athletes--and the German policeman who lost his life trying to save them--with a moment of silence at tonight's opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games:
David Berger (weightlifter)

Anton Fliegerbauer (German police officer)

Ze'ev Friedman (weightlifter)

Yossef Gutfreund (wrestling referee)

Eliezer Halfin (wrestler)

Yossef Romano (weightlifter)

Amitzur Shapira (track coach)

Kehat Shorr (shooting coach)

Mark Slavin (wrestler)

Andre Spitzer (fencing coach)

Yakov Springer (weightlifting judge)

Moshe Weinberg (wrestling coach) 
May their memory be for a blessing.  Zichronam l'vracha.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Where's JanetheWriter?

I've got a new post up over at  Feel free to wander over and take a quick read.

And, if you're in the 18058 or anywhere else the URJ has a summer camp, count your blessings.  You're a lucky duck!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

You Would Have Loved Today

Dear The Mums,

My summer course starts on Monday and I’ve got a lot of reading to do before then, but there are a few things about today that I want to fill you in on while they’re still fresh in my mind.  For starters, it’s Bastille Day so in your honor (and as you always did) I bought two French crullers at Dunkin Donuts and took them to Amy’s house, where Daddy, Ian, Amy and I had lunch this afternoon.  I didn’t know that she’d made a peach cobbler (with fresh peaches from the Union Square green market) for dessert so we sent the crullers home with Daddy…along with the suggestion that he have them for a snack with coffee – one tonight and one tomorrow. 

The afternoon would have looked very familiar to you.  After lunch we spent time just hanging out—playing Bananagrams and Mastermind.  Ian’s a whiz at both games and hardly needs any help with Bananagrams at all.  One of his words was “helicopter,” which he came up with (and spelled correctly) all by himself.  And then this:  One of my words was “ova.”  When he asked, “What’s an ova?” Amy and I both responded that it’s an egg.  He then said matter-of-factly, “Oh, like ovary.”  I nearly fell over, but he and Amy told me that this year in school they’d had “the talk” and he knew all about “that stuff.”

But, I’ve already gotten ahead of myself.  Before I even got to Amy's, I went to minyan and Torah study, where this week’s parashah was Pinchas.  Although it’s not Lech L'cha, your favorite, I know you loved those feminist daughters of Zelophehad – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah.  It seems to me that you—who frequently was dissatisfied with the status quo—would think it especially fitting that the parashah in which these five sisters asked for and obtained a hereditary hold on their father’s land coincides with the commemoration of the uprising at the Bastille prison that marked the demise of France’s royal leadership and led to sovereignty for the people.  So many people fighting for's all good.

Anyway, I need to go do some of the reading for class on Monday night, but wanted you to know about the day…it’s one you would really have enjoyed and I’m sorry you weren’t here to share it with us.

Miss you...xoxo,
~ Boo!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Very Public Conversation

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been in pursuit of a master’s degree in public administration (MPA) one course at a time for nearly six years.  In less than a week, I’ll start a summer course -- the penultimate one of my studies and in the fall I’ll take the final course, in which I’ll research and write my thesis on public policy issues related to the use and possible misuse of genetic information.

I’ve actually been researching this topic for quite some time--or at least collecting articles to read, thanks to a Google alert I set up for “Myriad Genetics,” which is the company that holds the patents--and does all the genetic testing--on the two BRCA genes that scientists have discovered thus far: BRCA1 and BRCA2.  (As regular readers of this blog also know, I’m a carrier of a BRCA2 genetic mutation that significantly increases my lifetime risk of both breast and ovarian cancer, and in the last 18 months I’ve had all the prophylactic surgeries, including micro-surgical breast reconstruction using my own abdominal tissue.)

Several years ago, the ACLU and a long list of other plaintiffs sued Myriad Genetics claiming that, among other things, genetic material is a “product of nature” and therefore cannot be patented. Myriad’s refusal to license its patents not only stifles important scientific research on these genes, but also makes the cost of testing for BRCA mutations exceedingly expensive and, in some cases, cost prohibitive, particularly for individuals without health insurance and those whose insurance won’t cover the test. The case currently is making its way through the court system and very possibly will end up being decided by the Supreme Court.

Perhaps my best research to date, though, has come from my latest read: written by Rebecca Skloot. Painstakingly researched over the span of a decade, the book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor, uneducated African-American woman in Baltimore who, in 1951 at the age of 31 succumbed to an extremely virulent form of cervical cancer. Unbeknownst to Henrietta or her family (including her husband, five young children and a slew of extended relatives), a sample of her cancer cells was successfully grown in a laboratory by Johns Hopkins scientists, a feat that had never been accomplished before. Because of the “immortal” characteristic of HeLa (an abbreviation of Henrietta Lacks) cells, they grew unlike others and have been used in the decades since in an astonishingly wide array  of scientific and pharmaceutical experiments.  Some of this research has led to the development of vaccines and medications, as well as to an enhanced understanding of cancer and other diseases--all unbeknownst to the Lacks family.
Although Henrietta lived and died before we as a society ever grappled seriously with the exceedingly tough public policy questions surrounding informed consent, genetic information disclosure or the resulting use and possible misuse of the data, these topics most certainly deserve our attention in today's world. Indeed, as Skloot writes in the book’s afterword, “Ellen Wright Clayton, a physician and lawyer who is director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University, says there needs to be a ‘very public conversation’ about all of this.”

This fall I look forward to researching and writing extensively about these issues and, if I’m lucky, to promoting and participating in the very public conversation they deserve.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sparks from Heaven

Dear The Mums,

Thanks to you, I knew a lot about Dan Freelander long before I ever met him.  Not only did I know him as the rabbi who checked in with you regularly during those longs months in 1985 when Grandpa was sick, but also as someone with a sweet voice, deeply caring ways and knowledge about the location of every diner in New Jersey.

It seems that your connections to him have continued l’dor v’dor since I landed in the office just across the hall from his nearly 10 years ago, and last night I felt them especially strongly at Tanglewood.  A bunch of us were there—as Danny and Elyse’s guests—for dinner and a James Taylor concert to help celebrate Danny’s 60th birthday.  Despite the heat and humidity (you would have been melting), the evening was spectacular:  terrific food, wonderful company, touching tributes, and a fantastic concert of JT favorites…one after another after another.  

Because it was the Fourth of July, the second act opened with the Star Spangled Banner.  Even though you always said that America the Beautiful should be the national anthem, it was pretty amazing to sing along with JT about the rockets’ red glare.  After the concert, we were treated to the bombs bursting in air thanks to a brilliant fireworks display that lit up the sky over the Berkshires.  Remembering how much you loved fireworks, I watched them, remembering you. As each burst of sparks from heaven fizzled to the ground, it dawned on me that maybe you were sending them down to us.  If so, thanks for a great show. And thanks, too, for your friendship with Danny.  I know it was one you treasured…and so do I.

~ Boo!