Posts Tagged ‘health’

Q&A With ‘Camp Gyno’ Creator Naama Bloom

August 14, 2013

This interview was first published on The Sisterhood blog at the Forward.


Meet the Brooklyn mom and entrepreneur behind “The Camp Gyno,” the viral video that has racked up almost 5.5 million views in just a couple of weeks, and drawn the attention of many major media outlets.

The video was conceived as an introduction to HelloFlo, a subscription service for women’s periods founded last March by Naama Bloom. Subscribers receive a nicely wrapped monthly care package of sanitary products and a treat, all delivered timed to their menstrual cycle. Starter kits for girls getting their first period are currently available for pre-order.

Bloom, 40, spoke with the Sisterhood about her company, the video and how she learned how to use a tampon at Camp Galil, a Habonim Dror Jewish summer camp in Ottsville, Pa.

Click here to read the interview and watch the video.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


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Only In America

March 18, 2010

Despite the attraction of opening with the linguistically clever wish for “osher va’osher” (happiness and wealth – which are both “osher” in Hebrew, with one homophone beginning with the letter alef and the other with the letter ayin) in the Shanah Tovah greetings I send at the Jewish New Year, I make sure to first extend wishes for bri’ut (health).

The reason for this is because, like so many of us, I always heard parents and grandparents saying, “You don’t have anything if you don’t have your health.” Very true…if you live in Canada, where I grew up (or in any of the many Western, industrialized democracies with socialized medicine and/or universal healthcare coverage). But here in the United States, this saying has no validity unless the word “insurance” is added to the end of it.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately, as health insurance and healthcare reform in this country appear to be going nowhere. Yesterday morning I found myself – yet again- asking, “What the hell is wrong with this country?” in response to two particular news stories I read in the newspaper and heard on the radio. The first was about the $75 million drug heist from an Eli Lilly & Co. warehouse in Connecticut this past Sunday. The Associated Press has reported that, unsurprisingly, these types of extreme pharmaceutical thefts are on the rise in the US. “Security experts say the incentives behind pharmaceutical theft are largely confined to the U.S. and unlikely to change anytime soon. ”’Whenever you have a health care system where drugs are very expensive and there’s a fragmented supply chain, you’re going to have a means to profit from stolen drugs,”’ said Ron Greene, a spokesman for FreightWatch. According to Greene, pharmaceutical theft is virtually nonexistent in Europe, where government controls keep drug prices low and most people have health care coverage.”

The second piece was a report on NPR’s Morning Edition about pro- and anti-healthcare reform legislation protesters outside the district office of Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy in Columbus, Ohio. On one hand, there were people there saying things like, “We just took the time to come out here today to try to stop this stuff from getting rammed down our throats…. We really don’t want it.” And on the other, “I’m here because I believe health care is a right…I believe that people’s lives are being destroyed by the system that’s currently in place.” I tend to agree with the latter opinion.

Which brings me to why I was so disturbed by what I heard toward the end of the radio report, which you can listen to in its entirety by clicking here. I was almost jolted out of the seat of my car as the protesters’ loud shouts, raw anger and virulent accusations against one another and the government emanated from my dashboard’s speakers. One protester lashed out at another, shouting, “You’re crazy! You’re crazy!” Actually, I imagine that people in countries such as Canada, France, Israel, and the like, are looking on at these types of scenes here and thinking that all of us Americans (citizens and residents alike) are crazy. For them, healthcare is indeed a right, a given that allows them to feel a degree of security in life and make career and other choices without having to be chained to a job solely because of the health insurance it provides (of course, in this country right now, you are lucky to even have a job, let alone one that offers good benefits, if any).

This is supposedly a republic, one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all (hey, you don’t have to be a citizen to have memorized The Pledge of Allegiance). So, what happened to the justice, the tzeddek? According the Maimonides in The Guide for the Perplexed (3:53), “Justice denotes the act of granting to every one who has a right to something, that which he has a right to and giving to every being that which corresponds to his merits.” So, justice means giving a person something because she is owed it by the repaying of an obligation or simply because she deserves it – without any connection to anything she has done for anyone else. Not everything in life needs to be a quid pro quo. Sometimes when you do right by others, you end up doing right by yourself. “For when you walk in the way of moral virtue, you do justice unto your rational soul [nefesh], giving her the due that is her right,” says Maimonides.

Or I could just skip my appeal to Americans’ sense of morality all together and take the more tachlis (practical, bottom line, “tell it like it is”) approach of a Facebook page of which I am a fan. It’s called, “Were you dissing Canada? I couldn’t hear you over my healthcare benefits.”

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Update: On March 21, 2010, the US Congress passed healthcare/health insurance reform legislation that will be signed into law by President Obama on March 23. This is the first major overhaul of the country’s healthcare system in decades, and although it does not amount to the kind of universal healthcare/socialized medicine types of systems in many other countries, it is definitely a step in the right direction. Click here to read the front page article in The New York Times on the passage of the Senate and House bills, and click here to read about how the change in legislation will impact Americans in a “tachlis” (bottom line, practical) manner.

The Beauty of Disease

February 6, 2010

H1N1 (Swine flu) virus sculpture by Luke Jerram

One would generally not view disease as a beautiful thing. But disease and the organisms that cause it are part of nature, and Judaism recognizes the beauty of nature. Jewish tradition provides us, for instance, with blessings to recite when we encounter natural wonders such the vastness of the ocean or the colors of a rainbow. There are ones we can say upon hearing thunder or discovering a new species for the first time.

For Jews, this appreciation for nature is attributable to an awe for God’s Creation. Jews, however, do not view Creation as perfect, but rather consider humans as partners with God in making the world that God gave us an even better place. Hence, the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and the answer as to why so there are so many Jewish doctors.

Statue of Maimonides in Cordoba, Spain

The boast of “My son, the doctor” has been heard coming in an uninterrupted stream from the mouths of Jewish mothers for millenia. Sherwin B. Nuland wrote an excellent article called, “My Son, The Doctor: The Saga of Jews and Medicine,” for The New Republic in 2005, providing a thorough explanation for this phenomenon. He explains that the fact that approximately one third of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah refer to the cleanliness of the human body and the maintenance of health led the Rabbis of the Talmud and later scholars, such as Maimonides, to conclude that the goal of the prevention and treatment of illness and the consequent prolonging of human life was to serve God.

“It was a Maimonidean precept that the purpose of keeping the body healthy is to enable the unhindered pursuit of knowledge of God, and of the perfect morality for which God is the model. The study of medicine, in sum, is a religious activity.”

Nuland went on to highlight that Jewish medicine derives from Greek medicine (and that in general, there really is no “Jewish medicine,” because Jews have always adapted their practices to the cultures in which they lived), which looked to natural science for cures. God’s having given free will to humans and enjoining us to “Choose life,” signaled to Jews that care of our bodies was up to us. No wonder, then, that there are so many Jews in the fields of medicine and scientific research.

“And so the rabbis of the Talmud taught in the presence of a heritage of ethics and with the conviction that the preservation of life is a basic teaching of their religious system of values, to be carried out by human action, existing as an instrument of divine will, yet applied independently of the divinity’s direct intervention. Though God is the ultimate healer–and indeed, in several dramatic biblical passages God chooses to intercede in order either to cause or to cure illness–God is not to be used by mankind as a medicine. When sickness occurs, a doctor is to be sought out, an imperative clearly articulated by Maimonides: ‘One who is ill has not only the right but also the duty to seek medical aid.'”

Medical professionals, whether they work in the lab or in the clinic, encounter daily the marvels of natural processes and the devastation they can wrought on the life of a human being. How exciting it is to make scientific discoveries and advances, and how painful it is to see patients suffer and die if treatment is unsuccessful. Nature is beautiful, but disease is ugly.

Conceptual artist Luke Jerram

This dichotomy is also not lost on those of us who happen not to be physicians. British conceptual artist Luke Jerram‘s exploration of the tension between microbes’ devastating beauty and their devastating impact on humanity has resulted in an exhibition called “Glass Microbiology.” He, with the help of expert glassblowers, has created sculptures of viruses and bacteria of exceptionally intricate – and jarring – beauty, as is expressed in the following letter the artist received from a stranger last September:

Dear Luke,
I just saw a photo of your glass sculpture of HIV.
I can’t stop looking at it. Knowing that millions of those guys are in me, and will be a part of me for the rest of my life. Your sculpture, even as a photo, has made HIV much more real for me than any photo or illustration I’ve ever seen. It’s a very odd feeling seeing my enemy, and the eventual likely cause of my death, and finding it so beautiful.
Thank you.

Jerram’s sculptures allow us to contemplate the realities of disease, reminding us that it is a very physical presence in our world. Jerome Groopman, a doctor I very much admire, and who happens to be a practicing Conservative Jew, has written and spoken about the relationship between medical science and religion. The two are not mutually exclusive of one another; science does not make belief in God obsolete. But, he like the hundreds of generations of Jewish doctors who have come before him, knows that in the Aleinu prayer we proclaim that our role is l’takken olam m’malchut shaddai, to repair the world in the sovereignty of God. God may be ultimately in charge, but it is our job to study nature and heal the sick:

“As much as I wish there were miracles — boom, my hand’s fixed — those are fantasies. What Judaism teaches us is the knowledge that we’re created with reservoirs of resilience. We are created with the capacity of wisdom, which means judgment — not just knowledge, but the ability to assess and weigh that knowledge to make choices. Very integral in Judaism is the sense of hope. There is capacity to improve. What it takes is drawing on gifts of science with mobilization of the spirit.” (, 2007)

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.