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November 28, 2013—When Chanukah, Thanksgiving, and Family Health History Day join forces!

Knowledge is power. 

genetic turkey image

In August 2000, my eldest brother left for college. Since then, there has not been a time where all three Cohen children simultaneously lived in Miami. For years my family pretended that Chanukah and Thanksgiving overlapped just so we could celebrate together for one short weekend while we were all home. Thirteen years later it looks like the Jewish calendar has finally caught up with us. This year, Jewish families across the country will be lighting the menorah and eating their latkes side by side with their turkey. But what few people know is Nov. 28 is even more jam-packed than we realize. Yes, it's Thanksgiving. Yes, it's the second night of Chanukah. But here's the lesser known fact-it is also National Family Health History Day. (Put that one in your trivia night
back pocket!)  

As is Chanukah tradition, many gather with their families to light the menorah. As is Thanksgiving tradition, families gather around the dinner table to give thanks and share a feast. This year, take advantage of having the entire family together and start a new tradition: celebrating National Family Health History Day. Have a conversation about your family's health history (and discuss what you learn with your physician). Simple topics, such as finding out what traits run in your family, are a great way to break the ice and get people talking. 

Jews have a significantly heightened risk of carrying, or being affected by several different genetic conditions. It is important to note that individuals can be carriers of these conditions without any family history of disease, which is why carrier screening is important for everyone. Individuals of Jewish descent are also at a higher risk of being affected by hereditary cancer syndromes, which makes this conversation even more critical for the community.

You cannot change your genes, but finding a pattern or red flag in your family history can lead to behavioral changes that could have positive effects on your health. So this year, while you are sitting around the table playing dreidel or gathered on the couch watching football, take a few minutes to talk with your loved ones. Knowledge is power. A brief, open, and honest conversation about family health history can uncover information that will help raise the likelihood of a healthy future for you and your family. 

Not sure how to navigate this conversation? Here is a basic family history quiz to get your discussion going! Looking for more information on family health history? Visit the surgeon general's family health history portal at or contact the Center at 

Making your pedigree-Questions to ask your family  

1. What traits run in our family?  Good ice breaker to get your family talking!

2. Classify your ethnicity on each side of the family.

3. Identify family members with health problems.

4. Find out approximate age of onset of disease.

5. If a family member has passed away, learn why they died and approximate age at death.

6. Have there been any pregnancy losses or babies born with mental retardation or birth defects?

7. Do any family members smoke?  If yes, include how much and for how long.

8. Describe other lifestyle habits of family members.

9. List allergies that family members have. 

 The Center for Jewish Genetics is a cooperative effort of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. The Center is a support foundation of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and is funded in part by the Michael Reese Health Trust. 

Alyssa Cohen is the strategic communications coordinator for the Center for Jewish Genetics.

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