Monday, April 30, 2012

I am Forbidden: A Brief Book Review

Remember when I posted this photo on Facebook back in March?

The caption said:  Look at how the package I received in today's mail was addressed! Stay tuned for details about what was inside...

Here are the details:  The package contained a pre-publication copy of I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits, which will be published as the author's English language debut on May 8 by Hogarth Books, a division of the Crown Publishing Group.

That was the easy part.

The harder part is sorting out my thoughts and feelings about the book, which once I started, I couldn't put down.  Set in the Satmar Hasidic community, a place that seems narrower than the narrowest place in Mitzrayim, the story quickly swallowed me up.  Josef, Zalman, Hannah, Mila, Atara and Judith.  Transylvania, Paris, and New York.  World War II, 1968, 2005, today.  The characters, strictly confined by the 613 commandments, but always spinning, like Simchat Torah dancers, would, at first blush, appear to be spinning in place...year after year, baby after baby.  Some unexpected choices, however, take them to some unimagined places--within and beyond their community. 

Look for I am Forbidden in bookstores soon.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Chaim Glasberg, z'l

It is late, I am tired, and the six yellow yahrzeit candles lit this morning in the office have long since burned out.  Indeed, this year's Yom HaShoah commemorations are over.

And yet, for those of us who have taken on the responsibility as witnesses to history, the remembrances continue from one 27 Nisan to the next.  Although I never knew him, I spent much of today imagining and remembering Chaim Glasberg.  In my mind, today is his yahrzeit, and so, as I do each year on this day, I offer this traditional prayer in his memory:

O God full of compassion, Eternal Spirit of the universe, grant perfect rest under the wings of Your Presence to our loved one, Chaim Glasberg, who has entered eternity.  Adonai, let him find refuge forever in the shadow of Your wings, and let his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.  The Eternal God is his inheritance.  May he rest in peace, and let us say:  Amen.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Closing the Loop

You may recall that very shortly after my mother died (before we knew that I was BRCA positive), my father, my sister and I wrote a detailed letter to her oncologist.  Although we honestly didn’t think the medical treatment he provided to her was lacking, we certainly couldn’t say the same about the “family treatment” he provided to us.  In our grief, we felt compelled to tell him so.  Much to our surprise (and to his credit), he responded to our letter, which, we all agree, must have been difficult for him to do.

Recently, my sister discovered that he maintains a blog.  Social media junkie that I am, I took a spin around it and, when I found a post that referenced BRCA mutations in the context of the use of MRIs, I couldn’t help myself…I had to leave a comment: 
JanetheWriter:  With regard to BRCA mutations, what recommendations/suggestions do you offer to families of breast cancer patients about genetic counseling and testing for these mutations?  Thank you.
Dr. It’s-All-About-the-Tumors provided this detailed response:
As a general statement, if there is a question in a family of possible BRCA mutation, then it is an excellent idea to speak to an Oncologist or Genetic Counselor for guidance. A one hour visit can save lives. The general recommendations are: If there is a family history to suggest a risk for the BRCA mutation (pre-menopausal breast cancer, multiple breast cancers, any male breast cancer, ovarian and breast cancer at any age, Ashenazie (sic) Jewish descent) then the starting place is to test someone in the family who has (or had) one of these cancers. Only if that person is positive should other family members be tested. Then everyone who could have inherited the gene (siblings, children, even a young parent) should be tested for that gene. It is normal practice to test each person in series to follow the transmission of the gene through the family. That way if a Mother and Father do not have the gene, then their children do not need to be tested. In Jewish families some experts recommend testing for all 3 common mutations in all family members that could have inherited the gene, not just the detected mutation. Children do not need to be tested until they are 18 – 21. If the family member who had a cancer that might have been related to the BRCA mutation has died without being tested, then the decision is harder. It is reasonable to test children of that person and siblings. Do not forget that a person with the mutation has a 50% chance of giving it to each of to their children, so finding it or not in one person, does not predict their sibling.
Once again, I couldn’t help myself and continued the conversation with this:
Thank you for this information. In fact, I’m familiar with much of it because my mother — unbeknownst to any of us during her lifetime or illness — was (we surmise) BRCA+. Although her sister also had breast cancer, genetic counseling/testing, as far as we know, was not discussed with her.

Only after she died from TNBC [triple negative breast cancer] did my sister and I (of our own accord) pursue genetic counseling and testing. Indeed, although my sister is negative, I am positive for one of the founder mutations common among Ashkenazi Jews. Thank goodness we took the initiative…
He responded with this:
Thanks. While I am certain it was tough to learn that you carry a gene which puts you at risk, it is empowering to have that information to protect yourself. Let me know if there is more information which might be of assistance to you.
Seizing the opportunity to get something off my chest (no pun intended!) I wrote back to Dr. It’s-All-About-the-Tumors:
Thanks. In the last year I had all the prophylactic surgeries and am pleased with my decisions. My mother was a patient of yours, however, so please be reminded that BRCA mutations can be present even in families where BC onset is post-menopausal and neither BC nor OC is rampant — or even very present at all. A great resource that you may or may not be aware of is FORCE (, a national organization devoted to providing resources and support for BRCA positive individuals and families, as well as others at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Thank you again for engaging in this conversation.
And with this reply from him, our conversation came to a close:   
Thanks very much for the link and the reminder.
As I’ve said often on this journey, if I can use my experience to raise awareness—especially among those who should be most cognizant about BRCA mutations and their nuances—I will be satisfied that some good has come from my travels along this bumpy road.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Challah Conversation

Who would have guessed that one comment about challah on Facebook could spark so much conversation?  But that’s exactly what happened when I posted this status update yesterday:
Challah on my mind...can't wait for tomorrow night!
Not only did the comment get 13 “Likes,” but the following conversation ensued:
Scott:  Yet another reason that I'm happy to be a Reform Jew :)
JanetheWriter:  Indeed!
Larry:  In my home growing up, we couldn't have had challah at mot'z'ei Pesach, because it would have been treif, baked on yom tov!
Lori:  not Saturday night?
JanetheWriter:  Nope...Reform Jews and Israelis celebrate seven days of Pesach.
Simon:  ... or at least "some Reform Jews and most (?) Israelis..." (?) I believe that American (and other) "Orthodox" and "other halachically observant" Jews who are in Israel for the chag are "supposed" to adhere to the eight days of their home. I'm not certain about those who have made aliyah. And there are some Reform Jews here in the USA who still stick to the eight days as well. Whoever said that anything is simple? :o))
JanetheWriter:  Very true. Here is my clarification: I am among the Reform Jews in this country who celebrate seven days of Pesach.
Simon:  :o))
Jennifer:  Enjoy Jane!
Joanne:  I have to wait until Saturday night. Or, as a Reform Jew I don't, but I've always adhered to the eight-day holiday and I can't break it now. And Larry is right...everyone I know who observes Pesach kasher laws won't buy the challah until Sunday or Monday (and will check to make sure it wasn't baked on Friday--and certainly not Saturday).
Robin:  Wow....if only I knew! Enjoy some for me.
So whether you're already enjoying some post-Pesach challah or are holding out until tomorrow night, I wish you “b'tayavon!”

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

#BlogExodus: Today's Plagues and What We Can Do About Them

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima's #BlogExodus initiative, this is one in an occasional series of posts loosely tied to Passover.

Photo:  Wiki Commons
In no particular order…

  1. Poverty:   Learn what you can do about it
  1. Consumerism and greed:  Learn what you can do about it
  1. Homophobia:  Learn what you can do about it
  1. Lack of universal health care:  Learn what you can do about it 
  1. Hunger:  Learn what you can do about it
  1. Incivility:  Learn what you can do about it
  1. War:  Learn what you can do about it
  1. Global warming:  Learn what you can do about it
  1. Ageism:  Learn what you can do about it
  1. Cancer:  Learn what you can do about it
Pick a plague and do something about it.

You'll feel good...and your corner of the world will be a better place.

If we all do something about the plagues, who knows what a difference we can make...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

#BlogExodus: Time to Spring into Action on the Passover Cooking

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima's #BlogExodus initiative, this is one in an occasional series of posts loosely tied to Passover.

Growing up, Passover was always a big deal in our house…my mother’s favorite holiday.  Two years ago on 14 Nisan, with the table set and all the cooking done, she went into the hospital.  She entered hospice on 6 Sivan (Shavuot) and died on 17 Sivan.  Needless to say, Passover has never been the same.

This year, my sister and I (with help from our Aunt Claire, our mother’s older sister) are making a seder for the first time.  The division of labor looks something like this:

Amy:  Hosting the event, cooking chicken with plums, desserts

Aunt Claire:  Soup, matzah balls, gefilte fish, horseradish (and the shankbone and egg for the seder plate)
(I will #ShowUsYourMatzahBalls via Instagram directly from the seder!)

JanetheWriter:  Brisket, charoset, matzah farfel stuffing (and the seder plate itself—a wedding gift, that until now has remained unused in the box—as well as the orange that will sit atop it, squished between two of the other items)

Although I’m no Tina Wasserman, I hope that I watched my mother enough to do all the cooking “right.”

Here’s my plan:

Tuesday night:  Crock pot brisket, the recipe for which you can find in this post

Wednesday night:  Matzah farfel stuffing, which goes something like this:
Saute a lot of chopped onions (and chopped celery) on low flame until golden (I plan to use three large onions and a few stalks of celery)
Mix together with a one-pound box of matzah farfel stuffing and enough chicken broth to moisten
Add salt and pepper to taste
Spread in a baking dish and sprinkle generously with Hungarian paprika
Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes until heated through
Serve with gravy from brisket
Friday morning:  Charoset, which goes like this:
Finely chop 3 to 4 apples (I bought Galas)
Add chopped almonds and raisins (I bought the yellow ones)
Moisten with grape juice
Season to taste with cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg
Mix and refrigerate to allow the flavors to blend
If I’m going to do all the cooking I’ve just detailed, I’d better go do the reading for Thursday night’s class right now.

See you in the kitchen…