Walking On Empty: Pink Ribbons on Sack Cloth

Walking On Empty: Pink
Ribbons on Sack Cloth


Leonard Zwelling

         Jewish holidays are very hard for non-Jews to understand. (Heck,
it’s hard for us to understand.) This is because the calendar most of us use is
a solar calendar and the Jewish calendar a lunar one. The result of this is
that while the holidays to which most Americans have become accustomed fall on
either a specific date (New Year, Christmas, and Independence Day) or a
specific day like the fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving), Jewish
holidays move. In fact, the joke is that they are either early or late
depending on where they fall in relation to the solar calendar. Last year, the
Jewish holidays were so early that Hanukah fell on Thanksgiving. (Turkey,
candles and then Black Friday. It’s a great country.)

the Jewish population of several large cities increased, non-Jews took note of
the most observed of the Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These
are New Year and the Day of Atonement, usually occurring in the early fall. Many American Jews observe these days by
going to synagogue. In New York, when I was growing up, we used to have to take
these days off from school as formal absences. Eventually, the Jewish
population of North Bellmore got so large that the schools closed because too
many students and teachers were out and the days had become non-productive and
one of lost revenue as the state was supporting the schools based on

         The rest of the American Jewish world outside New York City
was largely confused by the moving holidays and so had three basic choices when
dealing with potential scheduling conflicts that might overlap important secular
events with these holidays. (The most famous of these occurred when the World
Series fell on Yom Kippur and Sandy Koufax refused to pitch. We were all so
proud.) One could:

1.  Get a Jewish calendar and consult it before scheduling
any future events in September and October.

2.  Not schedule events in these months

3.  Not care and do whatever and risk scorn as being

have seen all three choices made and I assure you it goes best when number one
is used.

it was beyond belief that an organization founded by a Jewish woman in memory
of her Jewish sister, the Susan G. Koman Foundation, would schedule its annual
fund raising run/walk in Houston on Yom Kippur this year (link below). But, it
happened and it seems like it will go on as scheduled leaving many Jewish woman
who participate regularly in a sort of quandary, although not really. They will
be in synagogue on Yom Kippur. Most of them without medical problems will also
fast as is the custom. Fasting is no condition on which to walk or run a race
no matter how just the cause and it would not be appropriate behavior for a Jew
on this day.


  I think it might be best if the local chapter
of the Susan G. Koman Foundation found it in their genes to reschedule this
event for some other day. This is the second gaffe for this group who a few
years ago withheld money for Planned Parenthood and then felt the backlash and
reversed its decision. The former CEO’s salary has also garnered some scrutiny:


         I have long been an opponent of the “ribbon/disease-of the
month club” in cancer. The various societies collecting money for research on
particular cancers tend to create an over bloated administrative structure,
with redundant efforts to compete for the same donations. In addition, the
latest genetic research suggests that two breast cancers may have less in
common with each other than one of them has with a cancer from a different organ
represented by a different color ribbon.

         What is likely is that each cancer is different from any
other and that funding the best research regardless of the tissue-specific
cancer target is a good idea. Better to fund research on a rare cancer that
truly produces new insights than an average proposal on your favorite cancer
for implicit in the drive for ribbon money is that the breakthrough for breast
cancer can only reside in breast cancer-based research and we simply do not
know that to be true. Combination chemotherapy demonstrated its utility in
hematologic malignancies, but its value was realized in solid tumors as well.

         However, if we are going to insist on providing way more
jobs in the non-profit sector than is necessary and allow each ribbon to
compete with another ribbon for the same money, let’s at least give all the
Executive Directors of these Ribbon Charities a Jewish calendar so that they
don’t embarrass themselves.

         L’Shana Tovah, y’all.

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