0815parkinsonsIn a cozy booth at Mimi’s Café is where I first had the pleasure of meeting Anita Austin. Not only is she charming and lovely—she is also the incredibly brave and creative visionary behind Orange County’s first Parkinson’s peer-to-peer support group with a Jewish perspective. JFFS and Congregation B’nai Israel have partnered with Anita in this venture—the group will provide a place for people living with this disease to “kvech and kvell” with one another, share triumphs and losses, build a community and a common bond.

The first thing she asks me when I sit down is, “Do you know what Shpilkes means? It’s Yiddish for “I gotta get outta here—I’m nervous—I have ants in my pants.” Instead of saying Parkinson’s in a hushed tone—Shpilkes is a clever way to keep things light with a little Jewish sense of humor.  She talks to me about her inspiration, Michael J. Fox, and all the incredible work he is doing with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and she thought it was about time for her to start something of her own. In the beginning stages during the formation of the group, Anita was asked if she was prepared to be the face of Parkinson’s in the Jewish community? Her response? “Yah! Bring it on!”

Anita has had Parkinson’s (ahem “Shpilkes”) for nine years. Early on in her diagnosis she describes the experience as a complete shock and this can’t be happening to her—at one point she was in line at the grocery store and was “frozen”—one of the most difficult symptoms of the disease, unable to move. She also began to notice most of her friends at her doctor’s support group would get solace from their Christian organizations and she wanted a place to go where she could wrestle with the really big, unanswerable questions that anyone diagnosed with such a disease would ask… Why did this happen to me?

At the time there was nothing specific to the Jewish community where Anita could go and be surrounded by likeminded individuals with her faith and “Shpilkes.” The group that she formed is held at Congregation B’nai Israel—Rabbi Elie Spitz even gave a short sermon to the group at their first meeting. It is important to Anita that the group still has their sense of humor—you can laugh through the pain.

Come to kibitz and build relationships with others in the community who are living, loving and most importantly, still laughing with Parkinson’s. The group meets on the 2nd Monday of each month from 10:30a.m.-12p.m. at Congregation B’nai Israel—Bet Midrash room, 211 Bryan Avenue Tustin, CA. Wheelchair accessible. RSVP to Allison Johnson, LMFT at JFFS Tel: (949) 435-3484 ext. 365 or

Tanya Schwied graduated from New York University, studied abroad in Israel, and currently works for the CEO and President of Jewish Federation & Family Services. 

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