Jews Nervous Over Arab Films; Bham Heads To AIPAC; Gene Screen Stats

JEWS NERVOUS OVER ARAB FILMS

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"Two film companies -- one Egyptian, the other Qatari -- are producing a pair of controversial productions that focus on Jewish communities that once lived in the Arab world," the Jerusalem Post reported this week.

The saga of Jews in Arab lands is a difficult one and one worth learning more about. This topic resonates with us at The Birmingham Jewish Federation, in particular because funds we raised decades ago helped these Jews build new lives in Israel.

This subject also is another reminder that in addition to the much-publicized plight of Arab refugees who fled after Israel's rebirth as a modern nation in 1948, an almost equal number of Jews fled the Arab states at approximately the same time. The reason that the Jewish emigration story is not as widely known is that the state of Israel, with help from The BJF and Jewish communities worldwide, absorbed these newcomers and created opportunities for them to succeed in their new homeland.

Here's an excerpt from the Jerusalem Post story:

Amir Ramses, an Egyptian filmmaker, has directed a documentary titled "Jews of Egypt," which is scheduled for release in cinemas in Cairo early next month. Meanwhile, a firm in Qatar will start filming a multimillion dollar TV series next month commemorating the slaughter of the Jews in Arabia in the 7th century.

The website of the Egyptian company states that the documentary will show how Jews in Egypt lived in the first half of the 20th century, and will examine how "the Jews of Egypt turn in the eyes of Egyptians from partners in the same country to enemies."

Photo is of Jewish girls in Alexandria, Egypt prior to 1967. (Nebi Daniel Association/Maurice Studio)

BIRMINGHAM HEADS TO AIPAC CONFERENCE

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By Daniel Odrezin, Asst. Executive Director

It's hard to believe it's already been a year. It doesn't seem that long ago that I joined thousands to hear both President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak at the 2012 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, DC.

Now, a year later, the start of the pro-Israel group's 2013 annual conference themed "Shaping Tomorrow Together," is just days away. A lot has changed, but a lot has stayed exactly the same.

In June of last year, Egypt elected Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi as its first new president in decades, but the country remains in economic turmoil, and its future is anything but certain. While Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has been greatly weakened since the last policy conference, violence in Israel's northern neighbor continues, and there appears to be no end in sight.

Since last March, President Obama was re-elected, and barring any major surprises, Prime Minister Netanyahu will lead the next Israeli government as well. But in the meantime, Israel has had to fight off an escalation in rocket attacks from terrorists in Gaza. And, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas again turned his back on the peace process, by seeking and securing status as a non-member state at the UN in violation of numerous international agreements. All the while, Iran, the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, has continued to move toward developing a nuclear weapon.

Neither President Obama nor Prime Minister Netanyahu will attend this year's conference (Vice President Biden will represent the administration, and Netanyahu will deliver an address to the conference via satellite), but the agenda remains pretty much the same.

FAMILIAR ISSUES

BJF Staff Associate Samantha Dubrinsky and I, along with others from our city and state, will attend the conference March 3-5. On its final day, we, along with others, will meet with Alabama's congressional leaders, and our discussions will surround many familiar issues. Last year's congressional meetings focused primarily on maintaining foreign aid to Israel and stopping Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

According to a Times of Israel piece previewing the conference, these issues remain AIPAC's top priorities. The article says AIPAC delegates will ask congressional leaders to support legislation to put increased pressure on Iran, and to maintain foreign aid to Israel in light of increased security challenges.

As I prepare to head to DC, I am struck by the fact that despite the changes that have taken place in the last year, Israel, and in turn the American pro-Israel community, face many of the same challenges. This reminds us that the difficulties and dilemmas Israel faces are complex, unavoidable and are not to be taken lightly. It also speaks to the value of the educational work done by AIPAC and the pro-Israel community as a whole, both of which remain well-organized and committed to supporting an American-Israel relationship that is beneficial to both countries.

We at The BJF work with AIPAC's Southeast office in Atlanta year round as it provides us with resources and guidance in continuing to educate and mobilize our community. And, I am particularly proud to be associated with AIPAC at this time of year.

Pictured at last year's AIPAC conference are, from left, Jewish community volunteer leaders Lisa and Alan Engel and The BJF's Daniel Odrezin.

WHAT WAS IN BIRMINGHAM'S GENES

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On January 13th, The Birmingham Jewish Federation, The Birmingham Jewish Foundation, and other very generous donors brought a Jewish Genetic Disease screening to Birmingham to help make people of child bearing age aware of what is in their genes.

There are 19 known Jewish genetic diseases that are more prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews whose ancestors are from Central and Eastern Europe. The national Victor Center for the Prevention of Jewish Genetic Diseases, which helped conduct the screening, has followed up with The BJF and given us the statistics from the screening. (The Victor Center keeps the names confidential.)

Although we don't wish for anyone to be a carrier of a disease, the reality is that on average 1 in 4 Jews is a carrier of at least one of the known Jewish genetic diseases. Of the 107 people screened in Birmingham, 29 were carriers, some of whom were carriers for more than one disease. The frequency, out of those who were tested in Birmingham, is 1 in 3.69, slightly higher than the typical ratio. Staff from the Victor Center provided each of them with initial counseling and options.

Our Birmingham screening project provided huge amounts of knowledge to many people who may not have otherwise pursued finding out what was in their genes. It also was the beginning of an ongoing process to create awareness and educate people in the field of Jewish genetics.

This project is one more reflection of The Birmingham Jewish Federation's dedication to the future of our community and commitment to provide important programs that engage young adults in the work of The BJF.

Jews are taught the following: "You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it." The BJF has started the work, and it will continue to be our focus to make sure we provide valuable information on these and other subjects to members of our community.

-- Amanda Sokol, Strategic Fundraising Associate