by Jordan Cohen
The gift of Birthright has left me with many wonderful memories, but my experience was more than just a trip to Israel. It has led me to meet the people and find the organizations that would change my own involvement in the Jewish world and provided me with opportunities and connections throughout the Atlanta Jewish Community, opening doors for me to build networks within my own profession.
Shortly after my trip to Israel, I began my second year of my Master’s program. I am currently finishing my graduate studies at Emory University in the Rollins School of Public Health and have continuously looked for ways to connect my passion for public health with my love for my community. When the semester began, so too began a new student organization, the Jewish Students of Public Health. Formed by classmates and friends of mine, the JSPH was the means by which we could bridge the Jewish Community with public health. We met with Bennie Cohen* to discuss current initiatives within the community and how they could fit in with our ideals and goals as an organization. When he told us about the Atlanta Jewish Gene Screen, I knew right away that this was the kind of connection we were hoping for.
The AJGS is a genetic screening initiative that was started by Randy Gold and his family to raise awareness about the importance of genetic testing. I began volunteering with the AJGS during their first year of existence and have attended many events in and around the Atlanta community. AJGS is constantly finding ways to involve the entire community, whether hosting a fashion show at the Georgia Aquarium or hosting a party for Purim. The mission of the AJGS is to encourage young Jewish couples to get tested for the 19 known genetic diseases that affect the Ashkenazi population. Many of these diseases are preventable and our goal is to prevent children from being born with any of these diseases. When the initiative was first started, it cost thousands of dollars to get tested, but because of the effort of the Gold family and those working with the AJGS, it currently costs a mere $25 out of pocket. Today, because of my involvement and because of the connections I’ve made through Bennie, I am still engaged in activities with the AJGS and have made many more connections within the Jewish community.
I am confident that no matter where I go or what I decide to do, I will still have the connections I have made through my experiences with Birthright and the AJGS. By incorporating my passion for public health into the Jewish community as a whole, I will be able to use the networks I’ve created to my advantage in the next stages of my life.
*Bennie Cohen is the Southeast Regional Director for NEXT: a Division of Birthright Israel Foundation.