CJG Blog

Center for Jewish Genetics blog

Why I’m Thankful for Three Thanksgivings

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By Sarah Goldberg

Growing up with divorced parents, the Thanksgiving holiday was always a little complicated. When you’re Jewish, almost every holiday you celebrate has two (or more) nights – one for each parent. But Thanksgiving is just a single day and night. One particularly memorable year in college, my sister and I celebrated three Thanksgivings: holiday lunch with mom’s side, turkey dinner with dad’s family, and then pumpkin pie with a cousin who was hosting her in-laws.

As hectic as it was, three Thanksgiving celebrations meant more chances to reflect on what I felt thankful for, and more of what I consider the best meal of the year (I can’t get enough sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top). More importantly, I spent the holiday enjoying time with pretty much my entire family – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides. It was a perfect day to piece together my family health history.

Like many Jewish families, when my relatives and I get together, we share stories and eat traditional meals cooked from recipes that have been passed down for generations. But we don’t talk nearly enough about another piece of our family history: health conditions that may be inherited, too. I might know that my uncle has one health affliction and my grandma passed away from another, but different family members have other knowledge and together we hold more pieces to the puzzle. Putting it all together can help us protect our health and the health of our loved ones.

The Thanksgiving holiday brings families together – whether you have three celebrations, like me, or it’s a simpler affair – to pause and reflect. This year, take the time to reflect on your family health history as well. Discuss your own information, ask questions of other family members, compare notes, and, ultimately, share this knowledge with your healthcare provider and encourage your relatives to do the same. Hopefully, these conversations will help to keep us thankful for our health for years to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Not sure how to get started? Learn more about family health history and find tools and worksheets to help you collect key information on our family health history page.


Moving Forward: Using Our Community Needs Assessment to Inform Our Work

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By Becca Bakal, MPH

Welcome to the final installment of our blog post series about the Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics Community Needs Assessment! In the past, we’ve shared:

On the agenda this time: how we’ll move forward with what we learned from the Community Needs Assessment. We’re refining how we raise awareness about Jewish genetic health topics in both Jewish and secular settings. Our vision is to empower the Jewish community, starting in Chicagoland and moving outward, to take ownership over their health. We hope to:

  • Equip folks with greater knowledge of their genetic health risks
  • Provide resources and support to help people start conversations about family health history
  • Ultimately lower barriers to seeking genetic counseling and medical screenings if warranted

As we look forward, the community needs assessment will serve as a guide for the development of educational resources and supports. The Sarnoff Center has already been an educational resource for Jewish communities for almost 20 years, and we’re expanding our educational offerings and tools.  Based on our findings, we developed best practice recommendations that cover four dimensions: Messaging, outreach, programming, and assessment. 


  • Emphasize empowerment and that people can act to prevent Jewish genetic disorders and hereditary cancers
  • Focus on family health history (FHH): How to take an FHH, the benefits of learning about FHH
  • Make Jewish genetic health personal: Share how it is relevant to my life
  • Address and dispel misconceptions about Jewish genetic health


  • Reach people where they are: Go to Jewish events, emphasize peer education and education through family members
  • Provide resources and support to rabbis, healthcare providers and therapists around Jewish genetic health
  • Strengthen partnerships with Jewish institutions and health institutions to get Jewish genetics on the agenda


  • Develop small-scale educational programs tailored to various audiences
  • Design activity-based education in a variety of media, to be delivered both in-person and virtually


  • Assess educational needs of rabbis and healthcare providers, including therapists
  • Assess the feasibility of developing a peer education program
  • Integrate assessment of pilot educational programs into ongoing program evaluation

As we develop educational supports, we’ll use these recommendations as guideposts.

Thanks again to all who participated in the community needs assessment and for those of you following along. We look forward to your continued partnership as we pilot and refine new educational tools.

Interested in learning more? You can download the needs assessment here.


Affordable, Accessible Genetic Screening in Illinois

Our affordable, accessible carrier screening program uses advanced technology to provide comprehensive screening for Jewish and interfaith couples. Visit our Get Screened page to learn more and register.


Do You Know What's In Your Genes?

What is the most valuable gift you can give to your family? The gift of good health! There are many health conditions that run in families. Knowing your family health history can alert you to the potential risk for a variety of genetic disorders . Talk to your relatives for warning signs and assess your risk for hereditary cancers.

Did you know: Ashkenazi Jews are 10 TIMES more likely to have BRCA mutations, which significantly increases lifetime risks for hereditary cancers, so what does this heightened risk mean for you? Click here to learn more .