Jewish Genetic Diseases–An Equal Opportunity Issue

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The Forward has released its annual guide to genetics, which features numerous articles about testing for and combating Jewish genetic diseases.

Traditionally Jewish genetic diseases are associated with Ashkenazic Jews, or at least that’s what much of the public thinks.

So I was pleasantly surprised when the first article I read began like this:

Randall Belinfante was a bit baffled.

When he and his wife went to take blood tests in preparation for starting a family in 2003, he discovered that the screening included a panel of tests for Ashkenazic Jewish genetic disorders. But Belinfante is Sephardic.Sephardic Jewish Genetic Diseases exist too

“We told them at the time that we were not Ashkenazi, but
they told us they don’t do testing for Sephardic diseases, just for Ashkenazi ones,” recalled Belinfante, who traces his ancestry to the Iberian Peninsula via the Balkans, Holland and England. “So they went ahead and did the Ashkenazi tests anyway.”

With a note of bemusement, Belinfante, who is the librarian and archivist at the New York-based American Sephardi Federation, added, “Surprisingly enough, they found we did not have any of the Ashkenazi Jewish diseases.”

There are other articles that address non-Ashkenazic genetic issues such as the first testing program in America for Persian Jews.
We here at MyJewishLearning will be the first to admit that we don’t cover Sephardic and non-Ashkenazic communities nearly enough. The truth is that we don’t know a lot about these issues and have found it difficult to find writers that are experts in this field.

But we know our weakness and are constantly working to make our site more inclusive –and we commend our fellow writers and editors who are also helping to paint a more accurate picture of the greater Jewish community

Posted on August 20, 2009

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