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Center for Jewish Genetics blog

Genetic Shabbat: Share Your Family Health History

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Sample Bulletin Article for Genetic Shabbat

Every family has its stories, and Jewish families tend to be very good at sharing them. How we got from there to here. How branches of the family came together – or were torn apart. How we learned from those who came before us. 

Each week on Shabbat, rabbis have the opportunity to tell stories about our collective history and share lessons for the future as we relate the Torah portion to modern life. Some weeks, of course, are a little more difficult than others. Parshiyot Tazria and Metzorah, for instance, are about leprosy and disease. Not the most comfortable topics to discuss. 

Yet it is the sometimes-uncomfortable stories of illness and disease that can provide some of the most valuable information for our own health and the health of families. Diseases may run in families for different reasons, yet often arise due to our shared genetic heritage not just as family members, but as persons from a particular ethnicity or whose ancestors came from specific parts of the world. 

Family health history has particular importance for persons of Jewish descent. Several recessive genetic disorders – including Tay-Sachs disease, Gaucher disease, and Cystic Fibrosis – are much more common among Jews. But because these diseases only occur when two carriers have a child together, they rarely turn up in family health history. 

In contrast, other diseases with a genetic component often show up in family health history. Of particular concern to Jewish families are cancers related to mutations in the BRCA genes, which can greatly increase the risk for several cancers in both women and men. Sharing family health history can help current generations identify shared risks and help individual family members get the education and preventative care they need. 

As families gather on Shabbat and other occasions, they have an opportunity to share and ask questions of one another to piece together health history. Make this Shabbat a Genetic Shabbat. Discuss your health information and ask questions of other family members. Share this information with each other and, ultimately, with your healthcare provider, who can help you interpret it and provide guidance to protect your family.

For family health history tools and to learn more about Jewish genetic health, visit JewishGenetics.org or contact the Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics at (312) 357-4718 or jewishgeneticsctr@juf.org

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