PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Sundown tonight marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest on the Jewish calendar. This year, synagogues around the Philadelphia area will be helping to raise awareness about inherited Jewish diseases.

3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has the details.

Jewish congregations around the area will be getting information about 19 inherited diseases tonight and tomorrow during services for Yom Kippur. It’s a special mission for one Abington family.

Rabbi Lawrence Sernovitz, with Old York Road Temple-Beth Am shows youngsters in the pre-school the shofar, that will be used for services. His 3-year-old son, Sam, is in the class. This is a good day.

He has familial dysautonomia, a disease of his nervous system that causes a variety of problems.

“Almost every day we’re on an emotional roller coaster,” said Rebecca Sernovitz, Sam’s mother.

The couple knew they weren’t at risk for Tay-Sachs, but didn’t know about testing for the other 18 Jewish Genetic Diseases.

Sam was four months when diagnosed.

“We have a wonderful kid. We also have many challenges, and we don’t know what Sam’s life is going to be as he moves forward,” said Rabbi Sernovitz. He is on a mission now to raise awareness about Jewish Genetic Diseases. Brochures will be handed out at synagogues during Yom Kippur services.

“It’s time to get out there and get the word out there and to say listen if we care about ourselves, if we care about our family, and if we care about our community it’s time to get tested,” said Rabbi Sernovitz.

One in five Ashkenazi Jews, from Eastern Europe, is a carrier for a genetic disease, and there’s no way to know, except with a blood test.

“You look at a person, you don’t know that they’re a carrier, so you have to know about it and you have to get tested,” said Dr. Adele Schneider, Medical Director of the Victor Center at Einstein Medical Center. The center provides testing and counseling.

“Education is key to prevention, and that’s our goal, is to educate people so they know to get tested,” said Dr. Schneider.

“The message is one of renewal, one of growth, and one of hope. To make sure that the future is one that’s bright,” said Rabbi Sernovitz.

If both parents are carriers, there’s a 25 percent chance of having an affected child. One option is invitro fertilization. Doctors can screen embryos, using only those free of genetic abnormalities.


Victor Center for the Prevention of Jewish Genetic Diseases

Reported by Stephanie Stahl, CBS 3

Stephanie Stahl