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Genetic Awareness

By Rabbi Elan Segelman, PUAH Rabbinic Advisor

Did you know that everyone carries at least one or two mutations that could cause severe genetic disorders? But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that we are unhealthy, it simply means we should be more aware of our genetic history. As humans, we receive genes from our parents which determine future characteristics such as appearance and behavior. Gene inheritance is also responsible for a variety of diseases to be passed down to the next generation. Genetic screening can reveal essential information regarding our own health and genetic conditions, as well as the potential to pass on defective genes to our children.  

Genetic screening may be recommended throughout the various stages of a person’s life. The conversation may begin before the dating process. For others, screening takes place before deciding to get engaged. Married couples can undergo genetic testing before becoming pregnant and sometimes even during pregnancy. Many couples choose to test even if they have healthy children but may be concerned about cancer or other illnesses.
There is a common misconception that genetic awareness is only relevant for families with known genetic illnesses. There is another misconception that genetic testing is only for the Ashkenazic community and is irrelevant for the Sephardic community. Those, however, are misconceptions for a reason! While it is true that individuals or families with genetic disorders must seek genetic counseling, nevertheless, every person can be prone to a genetic abnormality. Even the Sephardic community has its own host of prevalent genetic diseases, such as metachromatic leukodystrophy and progressive cerebellar-cerebral atrophy. There are also diseases such as cystic fibrosis which affects both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic community alike. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that genetic screening is recognized by the entire community as a critical endeavor to safeguard our health and the health of our future generations.
I recently met with a couple to discuss their infertility challenge. I asked them if there were any genetic diseases in the family and they quickly assured me that there were none. After speaking with them for a while and hearing all about their families, they said there were certain family members with learning and behavioral issues. I encouraged them to undergo a thorough genetic screening process. Sure enough, the results showed that there was, in fact, a severe genetic disease in the family. They simply never thought to attribute a family member’s behavioral issues to a specific genetic disorder. The entire community is invited to participate in PUAH’s annual symposium which will take place on Sunday, March 31st, hosted by Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, NJ, from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm. The topics addressed at this year’s symposium will focus on genetic health and awareness. Everyone is strongly encouraged to attend; the more genetic awareness we raise, the healthier our future can be.Visit for free registration. Breakfast will be served

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