When Sue Gorlin was a child and away at camp during the summer of 1960, her mother received some awful news: She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and doctors gave her six months to live.
But she underwent surgery and, defying the odds, made a full recovery.
Not long afterward, Sue’s aunt was diagnosed with the same illness, and in this case the outcome was bad: She died within two years.
Still a teenager, Sue didn’t quite understand what was going on because she was kept largely in the dark.
“Back then, it was called ‘the big C.’ Nobody talked about it,” Sue recalled in an interview. “My mother and her sister both had ovarian cancer, but they were never going to tell me. That’s how secretive it was.”
Only by chance in the mid-1990s did Sue learn the truth, when a cousin revealed the story and urged her to get tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations. Those mutations render carriers far more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer than otherwise, and approximately one of every 40 Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent is a carrier — compared to about 1 in 400 women in the general U.S. population.
Sue, who at the time was living in Silver Spring, Maryland, got tested and learned she was not a carrier of a BRCA mutation. But she nonetheless decided to get an annual pelvic sonogram and ultrasound just to be on the safe side.
That decision would end up saving her life. About 10 years later a sonogram revealed a malignant growth on one of her ovaries that had not yet spread. She had surgery to remove it, then underwent five months of chemotherapy.
Today Sue, now 79, lives in Israel with her husband, Jacques. Their Gorlin Family Foundation is a major benefactor of Sharsheret, the American Jewish nonprofit that offers education, counseling and support to women facing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
October has been recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month since 1985, and several weeks ago President Biden proclaimed September as National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
This October, Sharsheret is holding five webinars focused on the cancers, from “Facing Scanxiety” (Oct. 16) to “Artificial Intelligence and Breast Cancer: What Does the Future Hold?” (Oct 30), and coordinating hundreds of in-person events at schools, Jewish community centers, and synagogues across the country.
Marking breast cancer and ovarian cancer with two specially designated months is a lifesaving reminder: It gives people an opportunity to learn about their risk for cancer and about how to find the resources they need to protect their health,” said Sharsheret CEO Elana Silber. “During these two months, people are paying attention and understanding the urgent concerns in our community. As a result, we are seeing more investment in critical support programs and medical research.”
Because they are in a heightened risk category, Jews have extra reasons to undergo genetic testing and research their family history.
“If it hadn’t been for Sue knowing her family history, who knows if she’d be around today?” said Sue’s husband, Jacques. “When she discovered her ovarian cancer in 2009, there were no clinical trials, and we didn’t know about the services of Sharsheret.”
Knowledge of her family history also made all the difference for Sue’s daughter, Michal Gorlin Becker.
“Because of my family history, I was considered high-risk and already had genetic counseling years before,” said Michal, 49, a mother of four living in Jerusalem. “I knew that my mother had ovarian cancer, and that my great-aunt had died of it. So in 2016 I had my ovaries taken out.”
She continued to monitor her health. In April 2020, after Michal’s doctor at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center had her do a biopsy, she received some bad news: She had breast cancer. The news arrived on the morning of her 46th birthday, just as she was preparing for her daughter’s bat mitzvah.
“I was expecting it, but not necessarily on that day,” Michal said.
Fortunately, her cancer was at an early stage and had not yet metastasized. Michal started chemotherapy the day after the bat mitzvah. She did eight rounds of chemo every two weeks; the course of treatment took four months.
“I was very lucky in that the type of cancer I had — HER-negative — wasn’t biological, and it wasn’t related to any hormones, so I didn’t have to continue with pills,” Michal said. “I had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. It was major surgery, but I’ve done the best I can to prevent any sort of recurrence.”
Michal attributes her success fighting the cancer in part to her physical fitness at the time of her diagnosis. She had run back-to-back marathons in January and February 2020 and felt she was in the best shape of her life.
“I was strong and positive,” Michal said. “This is why I was able to get through it.”
Still a runner, Michal ran the TCS New York City Marathon last year with Team Sharsheret.
Her mother, Sue, eventually retested herself after technological advancements made BRCA testing more discerning. Updated versions cover genetic deletions as well as mutations, and Sue discovered she had a deletion that had not been picked up in earlier tests. Now Sue sees her oncologist once a year but has MRIs and mammograms every six months, as well as the CA125 blood test recommended for ovarian cancer survivors.
It’s important to keep in mind that breast and ovarian cancers are not limited to those with genetic mutations and often have other causes, said Sharsheret’s genetics program manager, Peggy Cottrell.
“When we see multiple cases of ovarian cancer in the same family, the likelihood of it being an inherited cancer is higher,” Cottrell said. “If someone tests negatively for hereditary cancer but has a very strong personal and family history of cancer, an updated test or even a research study may be helpful. Speaking with a genetic counselor can help clarify the best course of action.”
Chicago attorney Daniel Gorlin, 44, who is the youngest of Jacques and Sue Gorlin’s four children, credits his mother’s survival and his sister’s health in part to education about the importance of knowing one’s family history of illness — a message Sharsheret emphasizes in its educational outreach.
“This knowledge is what saved their lives,” said Daniel, who is a member of Sharsheret’s Illinois Community Advisory Committee.
Daniel has gotten himself tested for the BRCA genetic mutation. (Men are also susceptible to breast cancer, and carriers of the mutation are at higher risk of not only male breast cancer but also melanoma, prostate and pancreatic cancer.)
“It’s a different day and age now. People are far more interested in their genetics than before,” Daniel said. “This is a moment in time when it’s too dangerous for these topics to be taboo.”
The key, Sharsheret leaders say, is to take action. Sharsheret offers free and confidential conversations with mental health professionals and genetic counselors as well as connections to peer supporters. They can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 866 474-2774 or online at Sharsheret.org.
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Three-quarters of American Jews fear Israel-Hamas war is making their communities less safe, poll finds
(JTA) — Large majorities of American Jews are worried for their safety amid Israel’s war with Hamas and believe antisemitism is on the rise, according to a new poll.
Two-thirds of American Jews also support the Biden administration’s policy on Israel and the vast majority support military aid for Israel. Most Americans overall also support military aid for Israel, the poll found.
According to the poll, which was commissioned by the Jewish Federations of North America and published Thursday, 75% of American Jews are either very or somewhat concerned that the war will cause issues in terms of security and safety in their communities. Nearly three in 10 said they knew of “physical acts of violence or acts of hate” against Jews in their communities, and
And 72% of Jews said antisemitism in their local communities has increased over the past few weeks. Zero percent believe it has decreased. Most Jews also believe antisemitism will continue to increase.
The poll, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group, is the first measure of the sentiments of American Jews since Hamas invaded Israel on Oct. 7, sparking a war in Gaza in which Israel has vowed to defeat the terror group. In the weeks since the war began, law enforcement agencies and Jewish security groups have documented a spike in antisemitic acts. Earlier this week, a Jewish man near Los Angeles died following a confrontation with a pro-Palestinian protester.
Asked to describe how they feel or the climate in their local community since the war started, 32% of Jews responded “tense,” 21% said “uncomfortable” and 20% said “scary.” Sixteen percent of Jews said it felt “normal.”
A broad spectrum of Jewish groups have come out in support of Israel, pressed the Biden administration to support its military campaign and staged rallies on behalf of Israel and the hostages held by Hamas. Jewish groups are planning a large rally in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to drive home those messages and speak out against antisemitism.
At the same time, a small number of Jewish groups have delivered statements and staged a series of large rallies and actions calling for a ceasefire and placing blame for the conflict on Israel, which they have accused of “genocide.”
The poll did not ask about the particulars of Israeli policy or the war. The words “Gaza,” “hostages” and “ceasefire” do not appear in its questions. But Eric Fingerhut, the CEO of the Jewish Federations, said the poll results show that those demonstrations do not represent most Jews or Americans.
“We know that large majorities of Americans support Israel in its fight against terror, and it’s important not to let a vocal minority warp that view,” he said in a statement.
The poll was taken form Oct. 29 to Nov. 1 and reached respondents via text message. It included 3,777 American adults, including 2,199 Jews. The margin of error was approximately 1.5% for the overall sample and 2% for the Jewish respondents.
The survey found that 85% of Jews and 53% of Americans overall have been following news about the war closely. An additional 15% of Jews are following the war news somewhat closely.
Among Jews, 46% strongly approve of Joe Biden’s handling of U.S. policy toward Israel and an additional 22% somewhat approve. Twelve percent somewhat disapprove and 14% strongly disapprove. The survey did not segment out why people disapproved of Biden’s policy. Americans overall are split: 44% strongly or somewhat approve of Biden’s Israel policy, and 46% disapprove.
Regarding U.S. military aid to Israel, 73% of jews said it’s very important and 14% said it is somewhat important, versus 13% who said it’s not too, or not at all, important. Among U.S. adults overall, 60% say it is important and 40% say it is not.
The survey also found that both Jews and Americans overall feel there is significant prejudice in the United States against Jews, Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians. Two-thirds of Jews said there is “a lot” of discrimination against Jews, and an additional 26% said there is some, for a total of 92%. Likewise, 78% of Americans overall said Jews face a lot or some discrimination.
In addition, approximately 75% of Jews said Arabs as well as Muslims face discrimination in America, and 66% of Jews said Palestinians face discrimination. Majorities of Americans overall also said those groups face discrimination.
Jewish respondents have felt less secure over the past month, with 42% saying they have worried for their personal safety very much or all the time during that period, and an additional 30% saying they are somewhat worried. And 74% of Jews said there is a lot of antisemitism in the United States today; 86% say there’s more antisemitism than there was five years ago.
Jews who wear Jewish symbols were twice as likely to say they worried for their personal safety “all the time.”
Brawls erupt outside LA Museum of Tolerance screening of Hamas atrocities footage
(JTA) – Fistfights broke out Wednesday night between outside a Holocaust museum in Los Angeles that was screening footage of Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis after pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated against what they said was a “Gal Gadot military propaganda video.”
Several people were reportedly pepper-sprayed and detained by police following the Museum of Tolerance screening of “Bearing Witness,” a 45-minute compilation of footage largely from cameras carried by Hamas terrorists when they attacked Israeli civilians on Oct. 7. About 1,400 Israelis died in the attack and about 250 were taken hostage in Gaza, which Israel has invaded with a stated goal of demolishing Hamas.
An LAPD helicopter reportedly circulated overhead and ordered protesters to disperse. In footage of the confrontations circulating online, pro-Israel protesters sexually harassed a Jewish woman who demonstrated with pro-Palestinian protesters and accused her of being “Arab.”
The clash came days after a Jewish man in Los Angeles died after an altercation with a pro-Palestinian protester at a rally, the first known incident of a death in the United States related to protests around Israel. Police said they had identified a suspect but had not yet made any arrests in that case.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass denounced the violence. “We cannot allow current worldwide tension to devolve into this unacceptable violence in our city,” she tweeted late Thursday. “This is a time of immense pain and distress for thousands of Angelenos. We must stand together.”
The film being shown, whose title is frequently used in Holocaust discourse, was first compiled by the Israel Defense Forces and screened for foreign journalists covering the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and siege of Gaza. The IDF said it undertook the step to prove that the Hamas atrocities had actually happened amid a rising tide of denial.
Critics of Israel’s war in Gaza say the film is being used to justify ongoing bombings there that some of them say is causing a “genocide” there. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says more than 10,000 people have been killed; it does not differentiate between civilians and Hamas fighters. Israeli officials have said the number killed could be around 20,000 but said the vast majority were terrorists.
The film has since made its way to the United States with the backing of some Jewish and Israeli entertainment industry leaders, including Gadot, whose reported involvement in Wednesday’s screening had been seized on by pro-Palestinian protesters online.
Dubbing the screening a “Gal Gadot military propaganda video” and a “Zionist trap,” some left-wing social media users encouraged non-Jewish protesters to stay away from the protest to avoid being labeled as antisemitic. A screening in New York earlier in the week passed without incident.
Gadot was not present at the Museum of Tolerance screening for around 200 industry professionals, though her husband, Israeli film producer Jaron Varsano, was. The screening was invitation-only, with industry reports deeming it the town’s hottest ticket, and its location was obscured from public view out of security concerns.
“You have a film that is being shown at a time when people are calling for a ceasefire,” one protester told the Los Angeles Times. “The screening is only for a few privileged people and it doesn’t lead to conversation.”
According to the Hollywood Reporter, several other notable Jewish and Israeli industry executives were present at the screening, including “Golda” director Guy Nattiv (who also helped organize it); “Pulp Fiction” producer Lawrence Bender; and Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz, who shepherded this year’s smash-hit “Barbie” movie.
Melissa Zukerman, a Hollywood publicist, identified herself as the main organizer at the screening and thanked a former IDF spokesperson for helping it come together. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, also spoke, as did Rabbi Marvin Hier, longtime head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which oversees the museum.
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‘Beauty Queen of Jerusalem’ star Swell Ariel Or: ‘My soul is sad’
(JTA) — In the month since Hamas’ attacks on Israel, Swell Ariel Or, star of the Israeli hit series “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem,” has been promoting her new film. But she admits she’s not OK right now.
The title of her film is “Kissufim,” named after a real kibbutz near the Gaza Strip. In real life, eight people were murdered at Kibbutz Kissufim on Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists stormed into southern Israel.
Or, 24, had moved to the United States just two weeks before Oct. 7. “Beauty Queen” — which debuted in 2021 in Israel before heading to Netflix in 2022 — was her first true TV role.
Now the rising star is dealing with the traumatic aftermath of the attacks from afar, away from friends and family. She was previously a witness of a 2016 shooting on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv and has since been living through post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks.
“I don’t even want to think about the people who survived right now that got the most terrible news about their loved ones who are going to deal with the trauma of this and the echo of this for a long time,” she said.
“Kissufim” tells the story of a group of Israeli soldiers volunteering on the kibbutz in the 1970s.
(The film also stars Israeli actor Erez Oved, who in June, was the subject of a scandal for pretending to be an out gay haredi Orthodox man.)
Or spoke to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about her state of mind and how she’s raising money for Israeli reservists.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
JTA: How are you doing?
Swell Ariel Or: That’s become the most complicated question to answer. Physically, I’m okay. Which is a good thing. My soul is sad, like, sadness that I wasn’t aware exists in this world. And at the same, full of fire to fight. What happened on Oct. 7, it’s my nightmares. And literally my nightmares for years, this is how it looks like. And I just couldn’t believe it’s real.
What’s it been like going through this experience abroad, away from Israel?
In Israel, you’re in a cocoon of support. And I never felt how the world sees this kind of thing, or sees us. But that was just the beginning, because I realized I’m more valuable here. I have a voice and I have to use it in the international arena of explaining to people what we’re dealing with. It opened the Pandora’s box of me understanding how the world sees us. Because, for me, Israeli people are the most honest people in the world. Sometimes too honest for a room. There are people here who are denying Oct. 7. They say it never happened. Or if it did happen, then we deserve it because of 75 years of occupation.
I think it’s really important to focus on the fact that our war right now is not against the Palestinians. It’s against Hamas, a terrorist organization. People don’t understand it in their brains, and it’s crazy to me.
How have you been staying involved while in the United States?
A lot of my friends just got out of the army in the last few years. And due to COVID, they couldn’t travel. It’s a very Israeli cultural thing to do your big trip after the army. So I talked to them, and I realized that they had to pay for their flight back. Neither the government, nor the consul, took care of it, especially in the first few days of the war. And most of them didn’t want to wait for the government or the consul to have a solution. They just booked the flights as fast as they could.
Some of them were in small villages in India or Argentina, so far away from home, it took them two to three days to come back to Israel. And it was very expensive. And I realized it’s something that fell between the cracks, and so I found my piece of the puzzle to help people that really need it right now. So with my good friend, Leslie Schapira, we opened the Israel Reservists Fund. And our goal is to reimburse them for the tickets they already paid for. We have soldiers from all over the world, and the need is very high for it. And it’s tough, but our philosophy is to do whatever we can to bring their morale up because they left the safety of abroad and came back and dropped everything to protect us. And if we can take care of one little thing for them, we will do it.
Your new film, “Kissufim,” which recently premiered at the Orlando Film Festival, takes place near the Gaza Strip. What has it been like promoting the film right now?
The film is the story about the relationship between the kibbutzim near the Gaza Strip and the Gaza people in the 70s after the Yom Kippur War. And sadly, it’s never been more relevant than now, because it’s a mirror to what’s happening exactly right now: it’s people who want peace and freedom, and it’s been taken away from them by terrorists. And the film is very accessible, like films and cinema can do, very magically. I don’t know how films do it, but it’s like a superpower.
We came to the premiere with hostages shirts on us. And we had police with us too, to make sure that we were safe. And honestly, we were really scared, but a tiny drop of hope: we won the best foreign film.
It was really touching to see that, especially now, there is room for hearing and seeing through the very important platform of films and art and storytelling, what’s going on right now in Israel.
How are your friends and family in Israel doing?
A lot of my friends are in the army right now, so every notification of another soldier died, I’m getting a heart attack until I read. And not that it makes it any easier to read the name of someone that you don’t personally know — it breaks your heart exactly at the same level. And my family is in Tel Aviv and they’re physically fine. But, you know, it’s been a month of terrible news and rockets and terror and antisemitism, and I don’t think that any of us are okay.
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