I attended UCLA in the late 1990s. In those days, one of the quintessential UCLA experiences was walking down the main drag of campus called Bruin walk. Bruin walk was full of tables lining both sides of the broad walkway, advertising social and religious clubs and organizations, fraternity and sorority recruitment opportunities, and a variety of community events on and off campus.
Once a year, the Jewish Students Union group would set up shop at a table on Bruin walk and advertise for genetic screening. Sexy, huh? Yeah, I know.
READ: What Happens When You Are a Carrier for a Jewish Genetic Disease?
What the students were publicizing was the free screening process for Jewish people in order for them to see if they were carriers for conditions, syndromes, and diseases that are prominent in the Jewish genome, particularly the Central and Eastern European population of Jews known as Ashkenazi Jews.
You see, Jews have for thousands of years emphasized marrying each other, and that fact, combined with the population bottleneck that occurred several hundred years ago, has made for a genetic brew that has genes that congregate more frequently than in the normal population. (FYI, this is one reason being Jewish isn’t “just” a religion; this makes it an ethnic line.)
READ: Caroline & Randy Gold on Their Daughter’s Jewish Genetic Disease & Starting JScreen
Some of the diseases we can be “carriers for” are things we’d never know about until we marry and make babies with another carrier. The consequences can be dire and in some cases, fatal. Diseases such as Tay-Sachs and Gaucher’s are the most common diseases you can be screened for, but there are many more.
A note: My ex and I have different genetic backgrounds, as he is a convert to Judaism with roots in Germany and England. It was still important for us to get tested, though, since the diseases don’t only exist in the Jewish population! So, if you think you don’t need to get tested because you are dating a gentile, you’re wrong.
READ: Guide to Jewish Genetic Diseases
Emory University has a program called JScreen where you can get screened for a variety of diseases so that you make sure you don’t pass on any conditions to your offspring. There is financial assistance if you need it. It is extremely important to get tested to see if you are a carrier. There is no other way to find out besides tests like these.