Fellow Persians, I’m Talking to You!
by Shira Kohan
As a Persian Jew, we are known for many things: our delicious tahdig and kabob, our perfection of the art of taarof, and of course, our magical healing powers of chai ba’ nabat (tea and rock sugar). However, one thing Persian Jews are definitely not known for is our willingness to discuss our medical health history.
Whether you are shopping in your local market, or attending Shabbat services, you are more than likely to run into a friend or relative, and the first thing you ask, after the obligatory cheek kiss, is “How are you? How is your family?” The response is usually “Khodarah shokr” or “Thank G-d, everything is great”. We never really expect them to divulge their personal or family health history. Talking about health related problems is taboo. It is true, the Persian Jewish community is not the only one entrenched in this sense of secrecy, but it has become the sad reality that many individuals are deemed as “unmarriageable” due to a family history or personal history of “genetic” health complications. It is time for the Persian Jewish community to learn more about their genetic health history and dispel the many false ideas that shroud families for a lifetime.
There have been many stories of couples breaking up due to disapproval from family members. How many of those couples could have been spared heartbreak if there was proper genetic education in their community? There are many resources available to individuals who want to learn more about their family history and their risk of being a carrier for a genetic condition. And for couples who are at risk, there are many options available to help them have a healthy family. JScreen offers great tools and resources and the knowledge to help empower each and every one of us.
The Persian Jewish community is one that I am proud to be a part of. Our rich heritage and culture helps us live a life enriched with Torah values and a sense of perseverance. When it comes to taking charge of our genetic health information, we have a long way to go. It is up to the younger American-born generation to learn about genetics and feel empowered with that knowledge. Use your time around the dinner table to talk freely with your family about their medical history and take charge to help educate those around you. Only together, can we make a difference in our community.
Shira Kohan received her Master’s in Genetic Counseling through the University of California, Irvine where she focused her thesis work on the Persian Jewish community and their risk perception of genetic disorders and attitudes toward genetic testing and screening programs. She is a licensed and certified genetic counselor in the state of California. Her clinics currently focus on preconception, prenatal and cancer genetic counseling.