No Family Is Untouched

Last week we reflected on the Holocaust and observed Yom HaShoah. This week highlights the sorrows and highs in Israel. Tuesday night began the commemoration of Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day for fallen soldiers in Israel. Our community held a memorial service at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center to honor those lost. Each year in Israel to mark Yom HaZikaron a nationwide siren is sounded at 11:00 a.m. where everything and everyone literally stops. To date, 22,993 IDF soldiers have died serving their country – and in reality, no family in Israel has been untouched.

And then, on Wednesday night we shifted from mourning to celebration with Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. Our community had its own celebration with over 650 people at the MJCC enjoying Israeli foods, children’s activities and a performance by an IDF Band. It was a fun-filled evening, full of ruach (spirit) and pride as the State of Israel begins her 65 th year.


When I lived in Philadelphia, a very generous Jewish philanthropic family, Leonard and Madlyn Abramson, made a $100 million contribution to the University of Pennsylvania Medical School to enhance its cancer center. This was a transformational gift to Penn Medicine, and the largest single commitment made by this family. Despite the generosity and the opportunities to enhance cancer care, research and education, letters were written to the Jewish press asking why this family did not give similarly to advance causes in the Jewish community.

When approached, Leonard Abramson responded, “Jews don’t get cancer?” In reality, no family has been untouched.

We have our own world-class success story right here in Portland at the Oregon Health & Science University. Last year, Dick Rubinstein, a local community leader and OHSU Board member invited several Federation colleagues to meet with Dr. Brandon Hayes-Lattin, Director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology program at OHSU, to discuss the risks of cancer for younger adults, particularly young women, and ways Federation could help promote education and awareness. It was a very positive conversation that eventually led to efforts to secure national grant funding for a pilot program. Unfortunately, the funding did not become available.

Following that meeting, I was invited to a small luncheon with Dr. Brian Druker, Director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. It just so happened I sat next to him at the lunch and was mesmerized by his presentation. His work, and that of his colleagues, is truly changing the fight against cancer. Following lunch, I quietly asked Dr. Druker if he would be willing to speak at a Federation event for the community to raise even greater awareness about cancer – the risks and potential cures. He quickly replied in the affirmative.

I am delighted that Dr. Druker will be speaking to the Jewish (and general) community on Tuesday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center (please click here to RSVP or call 503-892-7413 – there is a special dinner preceding the public lecture for members of Federation’s Maimonides Society and their spouses). Dr. Druker is dedicated to making Oregon’s cancer death rate the lowest in the nation. Starting in the lab, he led the development and clinical trials of the drug Gleevac – the first of its kind, as a highly successful daily oral medication that targets damaged cells while leaving healthy cells alone with minimal side effects. The Jewish Federation is proud to partner with Dr. Druker for this event as we endeavor to improve the well-being and strength of our community. Please share this with your friends and join us for what will be an important and informative evening.

Beyond the program with Dr. Druker, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, was recently approached by Bridget Roemmich, Genetics Program Coordinator for the Oregon Health Authority, in order to facilitate community-wide education related to the Jewish genetic disposition to certain cancers resulting from mutation of the BRCA genes. Ms. Roemmich, working with leading geneticists from OHSU, is interested in working with community volunteers who will be trained to serve as “community ambassadors.” The first cohort met last week and felt that the education and sharing of stories was invaluable. If you are interested in becoming a “community ambassador” please call Priscilla Kostiner at 503-892-3015 or click here to send her an email. 

Whether one has mourned the loss of an IDF soldier or someone who passed away from cancer, we search for words to empathize for bereaved families. No words can heal the pain of losing a loved one. Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel, told the audience at Israel’s national ceremony for Yom HaZikaron, “We can collect words morning to night. Search the entire lexicon. Consult experts. Try every expression. Every sentence. Every single word. And I know it has not yet been found and will not be found -- a word capable of healing sorrow. The sentence that has the power to console. There is no such sentence. There never was. And there never will be.”

Let’s continue to seek solutions for peace and cures for diseases so we never have to search for those words again.

Shabbat shalom.



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