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Komen Race for the Cure to be run in Israel

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From left, Hadassah President Nancy Falchuk, Susan G. Komen lay leader Hadassah Lieberman, and Komen CEO Nancy Brinker speak with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Birkat at a press conference in Washington on April 28. Courtesy of Susan G. Komen for the Cure

The world’s largest breast cancer organization, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is partnering with Jerusalem, Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, health advocates, and scientists for a week of breast cancer-related events.

The Komen organization is launching the Israel Breast Cancer Collaborative, a partnership with nongovernmental organizations in Israel, to enhance advocacy, awareness, screening, and treatment of breast cancer in Israel during the week of Oct. 25 to 29.

A series of events will include a think tank on breast cancer, a mission to Israel, and Komen’s famed Race for the Cure, which will be held just outside Jerusalem’s Old City.

While not an overtly Jewish charity, Komen has deep Jewish roots. Nancy Brinker started the organization in 1982 after her sister, Susan Komen, died of breast cancer. Brinker is Jewish, as was Komen.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure has invested more than $27 million in funding for international breast cancer research and more than $17 million in international community education and outreach programs. Komen has partnered or funded programs in more than 50 countries.

While most of the money raised by Komen goes to general breast cancer causes, the organization has given $2 million for research in Israel through the Weizmann Institute of Science, Hebrew University-Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, Beit Natan, and Life’s Door. In the United States it has ties to Hadassah, Sharsheret, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

This will be the first time, however, that Komen has held the 5K Race for the Cure in Israel.

“This is exciting. For me it is very exciting,” said Hadassah Lieberman, who joined Komen as its global ambassador several years ago when the organization ran its first international race in Sao Paolo, Brazil. The race has since been held in countries such as Germany, Italy, and Egypt.

“We have been thinking about Jerusalem for a while,” said Lieberman, the wife of Connecticut U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman. “It has been one of the places where these things take a while to coordinate.”

According to Komen officials, breast cancer is the most common form of women’s cancer in Israel, accounting for nearly 30 percent of new cancer cases in the country. About 4,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in Israel each year.

In bringing the race to Israel, Susan G. Komen for the Cure hopes to spark new collaborations with organizations such as the Israel Cancer Association and to raise awareness of breast cancer in Israel.

“Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s very first international research grant went to Israel 16 years ago, and we have enjoyed longstanding friendships and productive collaborations in Israel ever since,” Brinker said in a statement announcing the Israel project. “The new Israel Breast Cancer Collaborative takes our relationships to the next level — in partnership with the city of Jerusalem, Hadassah, government leaders, advocates, and our global partners — as we work to address the critical issues in breast cancer for the women of Israel and the world.”

This might seem a precarious time for an international fund-raising organization to broaden its ties with Israel, with the country feeling the fallout of the flotilla incident in terms of public opinion, but Lieberman says she does not believe it will be an issue for Komen’s fund-raising.

“Everyone, whether it is Jewish organizations or Christian populations, is really excited about this race because we never have had a chance to do it in Jerusalem,” she said. “It’s very been exciting and positive, particularly at times like this, when you have to understand that this illness has no border and boundary and you understand the cure has no border and boundary.”

Lieberman added, “It is very special to be able to go to the Kotel to put a note in the [Western Wall], and for some of these women to go there and have a prayer for themselves or for their sisters’ or aunts’ health, and spread awareness around Israel.”

JTA

 
 

Tenafly youth in Weizmann Institute program

Before beginning his freshman year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tenafly resident Mark Velednitsky is manipulating fruit fly genes in a laboratory at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science.

Mark is one of 19 American students chosen to attend the 42nd annual Dr. Bessie Lawrence International Summer Science Institute (ISSI) science program at Weizmann, one of the world’s foremost centers of scientific research and graduate study. The other 60 students in the program — not all Jewish — hail from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, Spain, South Korea, Switzerland, and Turkey.

“For the large majority, it’s their first exposure to Israel, and they bring diverse perspectives,” said Mark, a 17-year-old 2010 graduate of the Bergen Academies in Hackensack. “We had a cultural-presentation night where everyone talked about their country, and some sang [traditional] songs. We have plenty of opportunities to learn about other people, but at the end of the day we’re all here to learn science.”

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Mark Velednitsky works on a project in his lab at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

ISSI combines four weeks of intensive exploration in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, or computer sciences with trips and lectures on Israeli history and current events. The ISSI program’s first trip was a guided tour of Jerusalem. The students are also going north to the Galilee, south to Eilat, and east to Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea.

The goal of Mark’s research is to better understand neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. The hypothesis is that in affected brains, the natural “pruning” mechanism used by neurons (nerve cells) somehow goes haywire, killing off healthy neurons.

“In the lab, we manipulate genes in Drosophila flies and then look at their brains to see what affect those genes had on certain neurons,” Mark said. “This can help us to figure out the mechanism behind changes in the development and decay of neurons. Hopefully, many years down the road, this research will have applications for understanding human neurodegeneration.”

Mark’s first love is mathematics. He was captain of the math team at the Academies in his senior year, and each year took part in seven two-day math competitions at top-tier universities such as Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, and Duke. A psychology research course in his sophomore year sparked his interest in brain and cognitive science, which he approached from a computational perspective to understand how complex thoughts arise from the interaction of simple nerve cells.

With the help of the course’s instructor, the following year he and a friend did a research project on the importance of order in educational design. “That is a fancy way to say that we assessed how the way in which material is presented to students will affect how they ultimately understand it,” Mark explained. “I used students in my school as subjects.”

That project took first place in the behavioral sciences category of the North Jersey Regional Science Fair and earned a semifinalist slot in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search competition.

Mark lives with his mother, Robin Privman, and is a member of Temple Emeth in Teaneck. His father, Boris Velednitsky, lives in Bridgewater. Last year, Privman took her son on his first trip to Israel.

“Weizmann and ISSI interested me because my mother lived in Israel for a few years and has distant relatives here,” he said. “I came across it when I was browsing a Website of summer program ideas. The sophistication of the work they gave people really impressed me and I thought, ‘This is right up my alley.’ I wanted to have a cultural and travel experience on top of a great research experience going into college.”

Under the supervision of a graduate student, he and his American lab partner have learned to dissect the tiny flies with forceps under a microscope. “It took about three days to get it right,” he said. They manipulate the genes of the flies using various solutions and instruments. “There are a lot of techniques we use that I’d never heard of, so I’m grateful I got put on this project to learn them.”

Living on Weizmann’s lush Rehovot campus with access to swimming and sports facilities, ISSI participants are also learning about the Israeli way of life. Mark said the work culture in Israel seems different from that in the United States.

“The lab is more relaxed, informal and social,” he observed. “For instance, the lab director invited everyone out for hummus last Tuesday. But there aren’t so many other differences. There is a lot of commonality among people passionate about science.”

 
 
 
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