A very informative commentary from Wendy Goldberg:
Ashkenazi Jews are a population with a large number of genetic mutations which have concentrated over centuries of inbreeding. There is genetic testing available based on family history of breast and other cancers to identify the markers BRCA 1 and 2, as well as to test survivors of cancer to determine if someone carries the genes that increase the risk of repeat diagnoses in various organs.
Pancreatic cancer is also associated with many genetic mutations.
Cancer is not the only genetic disease which is more common in Jews than the general population. Some of the genes can cause more than one disease. The GBA1 variation that causes Gaucher’s disease when both genes are affected can also cause Parkinson’s disease when only one gene is affected. The penetrance is only 5% for Parkinson’s disease. Of note, frequent vigorous exercise has been shown to reduce the risk for Parkinson’s.
Cancer is a complex disease. Germline mutations are different than somatic mutations (which occur in cells of the body due to environmental insult but are not heritable). Many cancers have multiple somatic mutations. The germline mutations may interfere with the body’s ability to detect and/or remove cancers caused by somatic mutations.
The ambitious goal of articulating a broad, coherent and compelling vision for Orthodox Rabbis is fraught with difficult questions such as: How do we maintain a balance between the values of centralized authority and personal autonomy in halachik decision making, particularly for status issues that relate to the global Jewish community such as conversion policies and standards? How do we provide and promote a ‘big tent’ philosophy welcoming Rabbis who share different approaches and philosophies while at the same time maintain boundaries of acceptable halachik and hashkafic (ideological) ideas and behavior? How should the agenda of the Jewish community be set and how should we leverage our limited resources? How can we collaborate and create synergy with leadership of the greater Jewish community without compromising or diluting authentic and authoritative Torah positions and messages?
As we dialogued and debated questions like these and others, I couldn’t help but think about an important statistic that weighs heavily on me. In a world of billions of people, there are only 15 million Jews. Of them, only a small fraction are Orthodox and within Orthodoxy, only a small fraction define themselves as Modern Orthodox. Those who combine an unconditional and unwavering commitment to halacha and the supremacy of Torah and at the same time value general knowledge and culture, participation in the greater Jewish community and society at large, and lastly see religious significance in the modern State of Israel, are few in number and arguably inconsequential in the greater Jewish scene.
To me, the primary objective of the RCA and others must be to influence our own constituents to live inspired Jewish lives informed by Torah values and rich with Jewish meaning and purpose. Only then can we begin to have an impact on the greater scene and bring Torah’s vision for an ethical and uplifting society to the masses.
If this goal seems unachievable and out of reach, I encourage you to look no further than this week’s parsha and our great patriarch Avraham Avinu and his partner Sarah. They lived in a world saturated with paganism, corruption and selfishness and yet had the courage to articulate and spread the revolutionary message of ethical monotheism. They lived in a world with no mass media, email, social networking, youtube videos, microphones, billboards or newspapers and yet, look at the result of their efforts. Billions of people across the globe believe in one God and the Jewish values of justice, charity and ethical living. Avraham and Sarah likely never dreamt they would earn international fame and acclaim for their efforts. They simply believed they had a magnificent treasure and wanted to share it with others one at a time.
Let’s be like Avraham and Sarah and change the world one person at a time beginning with inspiring ourselves, our family members and those around us. Don’t forget to sign up for S.O.S. II taking place in just a couple of weeks and inspire yourself to inspire others.
After months of planning and design, this week we finally unveiled the new BRS website – www.brsonline.org We are very proud of its great features including a FAQ section for people who live here, those looking to move and those visiting. We have videos, podcasts, a blog, photo galleries, and much more. We have also included a member login where you can see your statements, pay your invoices, make donations and look someone up on the membership directory. We look forward to hearing your feedback and your help in spreading the word about this great new tool to reach people and spread the BRS mission. Look soon for the BRS app for apple and android. A tremendous thank you is due to Kerry Purcell in our office who put in countless hours, great creativity and hard work to make this new website a reality.
As we put the finishing touches on the new website this week, we kept reminding one another that it represents the face of the Shul to someone looking into who we are. You only get one opportunity to make a first impression and it is critically important to make a positive one if you want to get a relationship started on the right foot.
What is true for a website and a Shul, is true for how we present ourselves to others as well. Our faces are the homepage of who we are and how we are perceived. No matter what is happening in our hearts or our minds, we leave a strong impression on others based on the disposition carried in our faces. Do we project sadness, despair, worry, uncertainty and doubt? Or are we happy, positive, optimistic and joyful.
Rabbi Yisroel Salanter once said that our faces have the status of reshus ha’rabim, they are public domain and we therefore need to be sensitive to the public when we decide what mood we are going to project. The gemara (Kesubos 111b) says that it is better to smile at someone warmly than to provide him with food and drink. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe writes that just as plants require sunshine to live, converting the rays of the sun into nutrients, people too convert smiles into energy and strength, and without it they wilt and perish. Smiling is a uniquely human expression. When is the last time you saw a dog or cat smile?
Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician at Harvard Medical School, authored a study that concludes that happiness is contagious. The same way when one person yawns, it affects others, when one person smiles or is happy it leads to others happiness and smiling as well.
This poem says it best:
It cost nothing, but creates much.
It enriches those who receive, without impoverishing those who give.
It happens in a flash and the memory of it lasts forever.
None are so rich they can get along without it and none so poor but are richer for its benefits.
It creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in a business, and is the countersign of friends.
It is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and nature’s best antidote for trouble.
Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is no earthly good to anybody till it is given away!
If someone is too tired to give you a smile, leave one of yours.
For, nobody needs a smile so much as those who have none to give.
And yet, this is exactly what we do on Simchas Torah in Shuls around the world. We collect all the Torahs from around the shul, sing and dance in a spirited fashion and kiss each Torah as it passes us by. What explains our seemingly bizarre behavior, especially in contrast with the attitude and approach every other legal system and religion brings to their law books?
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains so beautifully:
“A Torah scroll is the nearest thing Judaism has to a holy object. Still written today as it was thousands of years ago — on parchment, using a quill, by a master-scribe — it is our most cherished possession. We stand in its presence as if it were a king. We dance with it as if it were a bride. We kiss it as if it were a friend. If, God forbid, one is damaged beyond repair, we mourn it as if it were a member of the family.
The Koran calls Jews a “people of the book,” but this is an understatement. We are a people only because of the book. It is our constitution as a holy nation under the sovereignty of God. It is God’s love letter to the children of Israel. We study it incessantly. We read it in the synagogue each week, completing it in a year. During the long centuries of Jewish exile, it was our ancestors’ memory of the past and hope for the future. It was, said the German poet Heinrich Heine, the “portable homeland” of the Jew. Some Christians have found it hard to understand the Jewish love of law. To them it sometimes seems like an obsession with detail, the “letter” rather than the “spirit.”
To us, though, it represents the idea that there is no facet of life that cannot be sanctified and turned into the service of God: eating, drinking, relationships, the workplace, the economy and our welfare system. God belongs to society as well as to the inwardness of the soul. Which is why we need law as well as love.”
We live in a world of great darkness in which people are desperately searching for meaning, purpose, happiness, joy, direction, fulfillment, family values, and more. While so much of the world struggles, we are amazingly blessed, fortunate and privileged to be charged by the ideals, values and laws of the Torah that truly provides a prescription for a meaningful life. It is not ours alone and we have no monopoly on its message. Etz chaim hi, lamachazikim bah, it is a tree of life for all those who hold on to it.
As we close in on seven long and intensive weeks that began with the first of Elul and ends with Simchas Torah, many of us feel burnt out, tired, and sick of cooking, eating, long davening and yes, even preparing and listening to sermons and classes. It is no coincidence that exactly when we begin to feel Jewish holidays and observant life are burdensome and difficult that we observe Simchas Torah and remember how fortunate and blessed we are to have Torah and the true simcha it brings.
As we head into the final stretch of this marathon season, I wish you a Chag sameach and a year filled with the simchas Torah, the joy of Torah and simchas ha’chayim, the joy of life.