Home July 2014 Jewish Genetics

Jewish Genetics

In a religion with “Jewish Bowel Syndrome” and more tummy-aches than guilt-driven grandmothers, the common Jew may often ponder why JBS isn’t a diagnosable disorder. Maybe it’s not in physicians’ manuals, but it’s totally in the Torah somewhere.
However common our intestinal issues, they usually aren’t the cause of avoiding dating Jews. More frequently, we find the uninformed uttering, “I’m Jewish, but I won’t date another Jew because they carry genetic disorders, and I don’t want my children to have a genetic disorder.”
This type of benighted statement is what keeps genetic counseling intern Dena Goldberg invested in her UCI Master’s program. “My main goal is to educate others,” Goldberg noted, as ignorance drives her to take the extra step and reach out to others.
Goldberg’s “I’m here for others” mentality has provided Irvine’s highly selective genetic counseling program a well-rounded candidate. Although in her first year of the program, she’s no stranger to sharing the sciences with the larger community. Having dabbled with spreading awareness of Jewish genetics through presentations at Jewish organizations, Goldberg is piercing the minds of many unenlightened individuals with her vision and creativity, impacting her whole community.
Regarding genetics, a full understanding of the subject is certainly no cakewalk. Even for a trained geneticist, new discoveries made daily through extensive research make it necessary to constantly read new fieldwork and educate oneself in an ever-evolving field.
“Many physicians are not educated in genetics,” said Goldberg. “If a physician or patient believes [what a patient has] is genetic, they should be referred to genetics, instead of having a physician order an unnecessary test they can’t interpret, as many physicians order the wrong test, read it wrong, and cost patients a lot of money and time.” As such, it makes sense that anybody not fully immersed in the realms of the deep-dark biological sciences (genetics) is unable to fully grasp the developing field.
Even today’s brightest, most educated minds bear broad misconceptions and utter ignorance of genetics. Fortunately, with the help of Goldberg and others in her field, genetics is elucidating more viable options for those in the midst of family planning.
The good news: Genetic disorders are relatively rare. According to Goldberg, “First, you have to be a carrier for something. Then, your partner has to be a carrier for the same exact thing. “Then,” if (and only if) both partners carry the “same” mutation (very rare), there is only a 25 percent chance for each child to be affected.” If families have concerns, genetic services are available, but you should always consult a genetic counselor before having genetic tests.
Fully understanding the need to explain genetics in a relatable manner to the public, Goldberg makes it her goal to present genetics in an entertaining way.
As a classically trained vocalist and avid participant in performing arts, Dena is more diverse than just a soon-to-be-licensed genetic counselor. Through her online blog, DenaDNA.com, she connects her artistic background with her other passion, genetics. Her comic series discusses what genetic counselors do and debunks common misconceptions of genetics, serving as an advocate for her colleagues and those with genetic disorders, while spreading awareness of the availability of genetic services.
In the future, Dena would like to turn to film and television to reach a larger audience. Although she works with patients of all ages and backgrounds, her target media audience is young professionals who may have a family soon.
We (Jews) have been murdered, gassed, tortured, enslaved, burnt, hung, and all other variants that can be thought up to harm another. But, if history tells us anything, it’s that Jews are survivors. Not wanting to marry another Jew is counterintuitive to the success story of our ancestors.
In fact, there are many other genetic disorders that can come from having a partner of any race, ethnicity or religion. Therefore, if concern for genetic disorders is caused from dating a Jewish person, then the same concerns should be addressed about dating anybody at all!

Adam Chester is a contributing writer to JLife magazine and the NextGen Outreach & Engagement Coordinator at Jewish Federation and Family Services.

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