February 2018 marks the start of the third season of Susan G. Komen® Philadelphia’s unique and successful program developed specifically to educate college-aged students on key breast cancer issues for Jewish women and men. Yasher Koach—meaning, may it be for strength—started in the spring of 2016 with a generous grant from a foundation which went on to provide two additional grants to fund the continuation of the program in 2017 and 2018. The foundation, which wished to remain anonymous, recognizes the enrichment, potential lifesaving knowledge and life-long tools the program offers the Jewish community by addressing topics of special concern to Jewish populations.
“From the start, we knew we wouldn’t, nor couldn’t, try to put young Jewish adults in a ‘breast cancer box’ with other populations,” said Elaine I. Grobman. “From the BRCA gene and working breast health nutrition into a Kosher diet, to overcoming certain generations-old cultural practices that tend to deter talking about the topic of breasts and the role of spirituality in survival, there is a host of concerns and challenges specific to Jewish women and families. The only way we will defeat breast cancer is by addressing those deeper issues which are holding individuals back from early detection and other breast health practices. We can do this most strongly in the Jewish community by, among other initiatives, starting with young adults.”
In 2016 and 2017, Yasher Koach embraced approximately 600 female and mall college students, connecting with them through Hillel organizations at Drexel University, Temple University, University of Pennsylvania and Muhlenberg College. This winter and spring, Komen Philadelphia anticipates connecting with an estimate 800 students through events at Temple University, University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University in Philadelphia, and Franklin and Marshall in Lancaster.
The events are held on campus in an intimate setting that allows for more direct education as well as fosters peer sharing, interaction with health professionals and the formation of a single student community dedicated to supporting each other and working together to help stop the devastation of breast cancer in their families as well as in the local Jewish community. The two-hour events include presentations by local breast health physicians, a rabbi or other member of the faith community, and at least one member of the Komen Philadelphia breast cancer survivor community. Presentations are followed by Q&A, peer sharing of experiences with breast cancer and challenges they face in their own families, and interaction with Komen Philadelphia leadership for those interested in getting more involved with the organization.
“Our only priorities with Yasher Koach are to educate and, therefore, empower these young women and men… and to mobilize them in being advocates not only for their own breast health, but that of their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and siblings,” said Grobman. “But, so far at every event, the students have wanted to know how they can get involved with Komen Philadelphia as activists, advocates, or fundraisers. We find the Hillel students to be very responsible and driven young people who are hungry for ways to make an impact on their community. We are grateful that they see Komen Philadelphia as a means to do so and we welcome their passion for helping us increase the number of breast cancer survivors.”
The first year of Yasher Koach, Komen Philadelphia focused only on Jewish women at the colleges. Very soon thereafter, they had an overwhelming number of requests to involve the men as well, which the organization did for the 2017 season, and will continue in 2018. The Hillel organizations at the campuses are also very enthusiastic about continuing the initiative.
“That first year we were asked, ‘Why target college-aged Jewish women… shouldn’t we be talking to those aged 40 and older?’” said Grobman. “The next year we were asked, ‘Why include young Jewish men when mostly women need to be concerned about breast cancer?’ The answer to both is the same. Because our Jewish families are very close knit. We all have a ‘Jewish mother’ and we all—women and men alike—have within us the propensity to be that figurative Jewish mother. We knew by going to college students we wouldn’t only be setting the women on the right path in terms of their personal breast health, but that we would be setting in motion an ‘army’ of young people who would take care of making sure their mothers, sisters, grandmothers and aunts did everything possible to protect themselves against death from breast cancer. I guess you could say, through Yasher Koach we’re making defeating breast cancer more of a family affair!”
The first two Yasher Koach events in 2018 will happen at Temple University on February 16 and at Franklin and Marshall College on April 4. An event at Drexel University is currently being planned. If you are involved with a local Hillel organization and are interested in having Komen Philadelphia’s Yasher Koach as part of your campus’s offerings, contact Elaine Grobman at 215-238-8900.