Monday, October 28, 2013

Ten Things Y'all Can Learn During a Visit to Jackson, Mississippi

Number 10:  It isn't food unless it's fried.

Number 9:  A sentence is not complete unless there's at least one "y'all" in it.

Number 8:  Southern hospitality is alive and well.

Number 7:  Few things are as important as college football.

Number 6:  The Mississippi Craftsman Center displays work of artisans who create gorgeous quilts, pottery, jewelry, sculpture, paintings, wood carvings, and other hand crafted items.

Number 5:  Jackson is home to Tougaloo College, an historically black college founded in 1869 to educate freed slaves and their children.  According to the National Science Foundation, it has graduated more students who have completed PhD degrees through the UNCF-Mellon Doctoral Fellowship Program than any other institution in the nation.

Number 4:  Historic Canton, Mississippi, a few miles up the road from Jackson, is home to the beautiful Greek Revival Courthouse featured in A Time to Kill, which was filmed entirely in Canton.

Number 3:  Eudora Welty, a native Jacksonian, lived and wrote in the same house for nearly 80 years.

Number 2:  Jewish geography works especially well in the south.

Number 1:  Nothing beats celebrating the marriage of two terrific friends -- destined to find each other in Utica, Mississippi -- in the place where they met...and gaining a few new "cousins" along the way!

Mazel tov, Anna and Nadav!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Vote for a Winner: The Art of Perception

As you know from yesterday's post, there are many things I just don't "get."

At the same time, there's lots I do understand, including the value of my sister's business, The Art of Perception, which uses the paintings and photographs in museums and galleries as data to train medical, law enforcement, security, military, and education professionals, as well as a host of others, including college dorm resident advisors, social workers, and prosecutors, to cite just a few examples.With enhanced observation, perception, and communication skills, these hardworking and dedicated professionals are better able to make diagnoses, solve crimes, and promote justice, as well as protect our borders, our children and our lives.

This one-woman, exceedingly creative enterprise currently is in the running for a $250,000 grant from Chase through the bank's Mission Main Street Grant Program.  Twelve small businesses will receive grants through this initiative, but to remain in the running for the grant, The Art of Perception must receive 250 votes before November 15th.

Therefore, I would be grateful if you could visit this page to cast your vote for The Art of Perception.  (You will have to log into your Facebook account on that page, but Chase will not store or share your information.)

On behalf of Amy and The Art of Perception, thanks so much for your support.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Hmmm...I Just Don't Get It

Although I've been on this earth for its last 50 trips around the sun, it seems that almost daily, there are more and more things I don't quite understand.  In no particular order, they include: 
  1. Buzzfeed
  2. Four-inch heels
  3. The joy of shopping
  4. Why iced coffee costs more than hot coffee
  5. Tattoos
  6. Skinny jeans
  7. Why you'd talk to someone on a cell phone instead of the someone sitting across the table from you
  8. Rude people
  9. Mean people
  10. Candy crush
 What things most often leave you scratching your head?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ashkenazi Hair

Before a communications team meeting yesterday, a copy of Margalit Fox's newest book was making its way around the table in anticipation of her visit today as our "Lunch and Learn" speaker.

After thumbing through the book, I flipped to her bio on the inside back cover of the dust jacket.  Seeing the picture that accompanies the bio, I quipped to a colleague, "Gee, I wonder where she gets her hair cut."

Imagine my delight, then, when, in her opening sentence this afternoon, Ms. Fox noted how nice it was to be at the URJ, together with so many others with "Ashkenazi hair."

From that moment on, she held me--and plenty of others--spellbound as she eloquently and engagingly discussed the business of obituary writing, criteria for inclusion of an individual in the Times' obituary pages, and a few of the unsung heroes whose obituaries she and her colleagues have been privileged to write:  Ruth M. Siems, Ruth Benerito and Edward Lowe.

Sticking with the theme of unsung heroes and heroines, Ms. Fox introduced us to Alice Kober, the unsung heroine in her latest book, The Riddle of the Labyrinth:  The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code.  Along the way, we learned, too, about the archeologist Arthur Evans and the architect Michael Ventris, the two men whose lives, together with that of Ms. Kober, give the book its triptych structure.

All too soon, the lunch hour was over and people reluctantly returned to their desks.  I hung back, waiting in line to have my new book inscribed. As I stood facing the author, I told her of the previous day's quip to my colleague. While she inscribed my book, Ms. Fox and I spoke briefly about our Ashkenazi hair, agreeing, as so many other "curly girls" have noted, "It's all about the product."

Only when I returned to my desk did I read her truly personal and treasured inscription:
To Jane,
With all best tonsorial wishes.
Margalit Fox

Friday, October 4, 2013

Where in the World is JanetheWriter?

This week, I did a bit of "blog-trotting."

On Tuesday, I was over at "Focus on Cancer," the blog of the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine as part of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) Week.

Today, my Ten Minutes of Torah essay about Torah study was on the blog at, the URJ's site that's all about Jewish Life in Your Life.

Stay never know where I might turn up next!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Guess What? We're One of Those Families

Dear The Mums,

I can't believe that I haven't written to you since June, when Ian graduated from P.S. 41.  He's already been at Lab Middle School for nearly a month and even though it's going to be close to 80 degrees tomorrow in New York City, today is October 1.  Breast cancer awareness month is upon us, the world suddenly is awash in pink, and with the color adorning everything from yogurt lids to coffee cups, tee-shirts, and football helmets comes an emotional roller coaster of memory, and yes, many "what ifs," a few of which nagged at me last night.

Barbara Walters moderated a BRCA awareness symposium at Central Synagogue that was geared specifically for the Jewish community, where the incidence of BRCA gene mutations is 10 times greater than in the general population.  (Too much in-breeding in the shtetl, I always say.)  The event was the outgrowth of a High Holiday awareness campaign during which posters with BRCA information were sent to every Reform and Conservative congregation in the country in the hopes that they'd be displayed in lobbies and restrooms where they could be seen and read by worshipers throughout the High Holiday season.

Last night's panel featured four physician-researchers from top-notch institutions, each of whom has devoted his or her studies and clinical practice to breast and/or ovarian cancer and thus is an expert in the ins and outs of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, which often results because of a BRCA mutation within a family:
  • Carmel Cohen, M.D., Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine
  • Susan Domchek, M.D., Basser Professor in Oncology, Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania and Executive Director, Basser Research Center
  • Noah Kauff, M.D., Director, Ovarian Cancer Screening and Prevention, Gynecology Service, Department of Surgery, Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Julia Smith, M.D., Ph.D., Director, NYU Cancer Institute's Breast Cancer Screening and Prevention Program and and Director of the Lynne Cohen breast cancer preventive care program at NYU Langone Medical Center
Guess what, The Mums?  We're one of those families.  But, because Aunt Claire was diagnosed with breast cancer at about the same time that Mary-Claire King was discovering the BRCA1 gene and the havoc it can wreak in families where a mutation in the gene is passed from one generation to the next, it was too soon for her to be tested.  By the time a mammogram uncovered your triple negative breast cancer in 2008, you certainly should have been tested for the BRCA2 mutation we now know you carried.  Why your oncologist didn't suggest it, we'll never know...

In any event, there was a terrific turnout, and it looked as though most of the sanctuary was filled.  A classical rendition of Hinei Ma Tov opened the program, sung by a woman with a lovely voice, accompanied by violin and piano.  Peter Rubinstein, who's going to retire at the end of this year, I think, followed with a few remarks.  Two congregants from Central, Mindy Gray, who with her husband provided funding to establish the Basser Center in memory of her sister, Faith Basser, who died of ovarian cancer at 44, and Stacey Sager, a WABC-NY reporter who had both breast and ovarian cancer and isn't yet 50, also spoke briefly after which the panel discussion began.  Barbara Walters was a wonderful moderator, and there was even time at the end for two or three questions from the audience -- which we submitted on index cards.

From my perspective, the evening's most important take-aways were these:
  • If you're Jewish and have relatives with breast and/or ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about genetic counseling and testing.
  • Don't be afraid to pursue genetic counseling and testing.  In most cases, insurance will cover the cost for individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.  Knowledge is power and this power, as I know from my own experience with HBOC syndrome, saves lives.
  • If you experience any of these symptoms for a period of a week or more, go see your doctor and ask him or her to prove that you don't have ovarian cancer: bloating, abdominal pain, a full feeling after eating, or urinary symptoms that include increased urgency or frequency.
  • If you find yourself in need of medical professionals who are experts in the world of hereditary cancer syndrome, they're most often located at large medical facilities in urban settings. Go after them.
I do have one criticism of the event and it is this:  Although we heard from two women whose lives have been touched (albeit in different ways) by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, this was an awareness event and there was no previvor voice among the speakers.  Such a voice, I believe, would have illustrated the perspective of someone who was able to use the knowledge gained through genetic counseling and testing to change intentionally the course of her own life or those of others in her family.  Just think about the possibilities had you or Amy or I attended an event like this six or eight or 10 years ago.  Who knows how having knowledge about BRCA mutations back then might have changed our family's experience...

So that's the latest from here, The Mums. It's late and I'm tired so I'm going to close for now, but I won't wait so long to write again.

Miss you...xoxo,
~ Boo!

P.S.  As a volunteer outreach coordinator for FORCE, which was one of  several participating organizations last night, I did a good bit of work to publicize the symposium, mostly on social media.  In doing so, I had a lot of email correspondence with Becca Mueller, a genetic counselor from the Basser Center, and it was great to meet her in person last night.  What's more, she put me in touch with the blogger for the Abramson Cancer Center blog, and I was able to write this post for them, which went live today.