As We Celebrate Tu B’Shevat, A Call for Rabbis and Educators to Stay Informed About Jewish Genetic Diseases

“Thus was he [the cedar tree] beautiful in his greatness, in the length of his branches; for his roots were upon abundant waters.”– Ezekiel 31:7

Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, is quickly approaching. Now is when the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel wake up from their winter slumber and begin a new cycle of bearing fruit. The roots are prepared to do their job, to anchor the tree in place and to extract nutrients from the soil so that the tree can be strong and healthy.

Estie Rose is a genetic counselor with YU’s Program for Jewish Genetic Health.

As a genetic counselor who advocates for pre-conception genetic testing, I take the roots-to-tree metaphor very seriously. I believe that in order to sustain a healthy community, the roots of the community have the responsibility of relaying just how important genetic testing is.

Carrier screening for autosomal recessive diseases that are common in the Ashkenazi Jewish population is widely available and has been recommended by professional organizations to be completed prior to conception or in early pregnancy. While the tests for these diseases are generally accessible, the uptake has been found to be disproportionately low in comparison to the number of Ashkenazi Jews who are of childbearing age.

One suggestion for increasing awareness of the availability and importance of pre-conception genetic screening has been to train rabbis. Read the rest of this entry…

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