My time at the Human Genetic Center.

I found out a year ago that the variation of the BRCA gene, which gives women a hereditary risk for breast and ovarian cancer (on top of usual risks), was found in a tested family member. I decided after this past pregnancy to get tested. I like having information, and I don’t think I’m the type to obsess if it is positive for the gene. I really just need a kick in the ass to do the self exams.

Anyway… I went with Bebe this week to Hadassah Hospital’s genetics department to get a consult with a genetics adviser/researcher, along with the blood test.

The funny thing about going to a genetics clinic with your baby is… well, you’re a bit of a live case study. Anything’s open for inspection: “Oooh, your baby looks Asian! Must be something from your Sephardi side, yes?”

The other funny thing about this clinic in particular was, it being focused on women’s issues and being fully staffed by women, well, the baby was a big hit. Bebe was held, coo’d at, fussed over. I was offered to take care of anything I needed to and leave her there. I’m 99% sure the offer was real. I’m not one of those types of women, so it always comes as a shock to me when people want to hold other people’s babies. Like, really want.

The family history stuff is always interesting. We built a tree and took down what I knew, related solely to breast and ovarian cancer. Genetics is very cool to me. Being in Israel and learning genetics is even cooler because it can get so personal. For instance, there’s a possibility my family isn’t genetically Sephardi; the gene mutation is pretty much an Ashkenazi thing, though they’ve recently started finding it in Sephardim, which made my case interesting to the researcher who wants to meet up again when the results come in.

Lastly, I signed a waiver to donate my DNA to cancer research. I thought on it for a few seconds; the idea seemed troubling: A rogue scientist + my DNA = millions of little me clones running around, destroying the Earth. Then I stopped giving my DNA so much credit and signed the form.

 

Ma nishtana ha Pessach ha ze?

What makes this Passover different from all other Passovers? It’s the first one where I’m making my own seder while combining the traditions I grew up experiencing with someone else and his own traditions.

I feel like this is the type of thing we all think about and wonder as kids (ok maybe just those of us who grew up with the Orthodox upbringing): when we get married, what traditions will our husbands have? Will we stand united, stay separate but equal or be dissolved into one another?

My husband and I have a fun mix of Ashekenazi and Spehardi between us; it’s cause for all kinds of different foods and we like to be multicultural about it. Now that it’s Pessach, we’re learning new customs, foods and Ma Nishtana languages from each other.

For example, one of the staples of the seder is the haroset; the ugly but yummy dip we use to remember the bricks our forefathers built in Egypt. Ashkenazi haroset is usually constructed from apples, walnuts, sugar, honey, cinnamon, sweet red wine. Sephardi charoset is more focused on dates, raisins, apples, and some kind of nut. That is why we will have two different charosets at our seder table this year.

haroset

Can you guess which is which?

I have never been a fan of Ashkenazi charoset. It’s kind of awkward to me and looks like chopped liver, another Ashkenazi food I try to avoid. In my house growing up, we all fought over the amazing, sweet pasty charoset my Sephardi grandmother prepared for us. Every year the amount she made grew, and every year, it seemed more like there was not enough.

Well, I replicated it this year and I can proudly say that my Polish husband fell in love with it instantly… although, to be fair, he has decided to have his mum’s version at the seder because it wouldn’t be the same for him without it.

Pessach is definitely my favorite food holiday and it’s probably in the number one spot for all-time favorite holiday. I feel honored to be cooking the dishes my grandmother spent years serving us, carrying on traditions… and even picking up new ones.

Sephardi synanogues of Katamonim.

Something I’m going to miss about my little Jerusalem hometown of Katamonim are the amazing Sephardi beitay knesset that pepper the streets:

Sephardi synagogue

Most of the residents in this neighborhood are some strain of Mizrachi, mainly Kurdish, Bucharian, Moroccan or Yemenite. The synagogues carpeted and fluorescently lit, reflect that.

I feel 100% comfortable attending services at Beit Aharon, one of the ‘shuls’ up the block. We go occasionally, and the usual suspects recognize my husband (after all, he kind of stands out) and no one asks me any questions, even if I am usually the only woman upstairs. I also love knowing that when women do come, the priority is to be present and pray as opposed to look a certain way (namely, I can wear my loose pants!).

In addition, the service is just plain fun – but not in a ‘happy-clappy’ way which is more of a turn off to me than otherwise. The chazzan is always the same old man who actually sounds like he is conversing with God when he prays. The whole room is involved in one conversation, together. See the way the seats and tables are facing? This is a congregation. It’s also the way beitay knesset were historically arranged in the good ole days, before exile.

In Tsur Hadassah, I’m looking forward to my prayers being spoken from inside a small, rickety trailer, which is how I grew up praying. Back to basics. But the couple years I had the chance to pray in a place as grand as my Kurdish synagogue will always be appreciated.