Monday, February 27, 2017

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and what to do about it

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Rabbi Yehuda Lave

Give Others the Benefit of the Debt

Someone in need of money asked the great sage The Taz for a loan. The Taz did not have any cash on hand, so he gave the man a valuable household item to give to a pawnbroker. The pawnbroker would give the man the money, and The Taz would later redeem the article.

When The Taz went to the pawnbroker, he found out that the man had taken twice as much money as they had agreed upon.

Nevertheless, The Taz remained calm and said: "It was fortunate that I didn't have any money available when the person asked for the loan. He evidently needed more money than he asked me for, but was probably too shy to ask for a larger loan. My giving him an article to pawn enabled him to receive the money he really needed without having to approach a second person for another loan."

Love Yehuda Lave


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Say no to the Fear By: Rifka Schonfeld


I am tired










Tired of not being sure


Tired of needing             to make sure

to be certain


That things are             off,




As they should be…



The above is the beginning of a poem I found written by someone who is struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The author who goes by "Forever Learning," ends the poem with "I want to be free." This poet's OCD makes him tired and trapped in the constant need to make sure and to be certain, like many others who suffer from the anxiety disorder.

In recent years, the term "OCD" entered into the vernacular – people have started to say, "Oh, you are so OCD!" when their friends are worried about seemingly silly things. But, what does the term really mean?

Each of us knows what it feels like to be anxious or apprehensive: the night before a big test, going on a date, or when preparing for Yom Kippur. So, how do you distinguish that normal anxiety from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

The World Health Organization estimates that around 2.5% of the world's population is affected by OCD – ranging from children to senior citizens. Evidence is strong that OCD tends to run in families. Of course, having a genetic tendency for OCD does not mean a person will develop it.

Dr. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph of the Emours Center for Children's Health Media states that people "with OCD become preoccupied with whether something could be harmful, dangerous, wrong, or dirty — or with thoughts about bad stuff that might happen. With OCD, upsetting or scary thoughts or images, called obsessions, pop into a person's mind and are hard to shake."


Whereas with regular anxious thoughts, a person can be distracted from thinking them, or be able to suppress them, in a person with OCD the rise in anxiety is so strong that the person feels that he or she must perform the task or dwell on the thought over and over again, to the point where it interferes with everyday life. Patrick McGrath, Ph.D., author of The OCD Answer Book, adds, "OCD is a mental disorder that affects the deepest parts of a person's brain. It is not something to be wished away or punished into submission."

Here are different areas where obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors may be concentrated:

            Washing and cleaning: People who consistently wash and clean may have a fear of getting contaminated or spreading contamination. To offset this, someone with OCD might engage in excessive showering and washing in order to kill germs. Often, this can lead to extremely dry skin that cracks and bleeds.

            Hoarding: People may resist throwing out objects because they believe the item might have a use in the future. At times, this can mean saving meaningless scraps of paper or souvenir baseball caps from years ago.

            Checking: Before going to sleep, people with OCD will frequently check and recheck the locks on doors and window. Prior to leaving the house, they will ensure that the stove is off, sometimes returning to confirm several times.



If someone you know shows signs of OCD, talk to a health care professional. In screening for OCD, most doctors use a tool called a structured clinical interview to determine if the person has consistent symptoms. These interviews contain standardized questions to ensure that each patient is interviewed in the same way.



Once diagnosed, the most successful treatment helps people change their thoughts and feelings by first changing behavior. Often, it involves exposing people to their fears in order for them to recognize that no disastrous outcomes will occur, thus eventually decreasing their anxiety. Over time, the affected person gains confidence that he or she can fight OCD. They learn that giving into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder does not make the worries go away. An important note, though, is that this method of treatment should be provided by a professional and not simply attempted at home.

The good news is that with increased awareness, OCD is treatable and surmountable. The first step is recognizing the fear – then you can learn how to fight it. In a children's book that I wrote about anxiety entitled My Friend, the Worrier, the main character Shimon begins to feel like his life is under the control of his anxiety and OCD. Throughout the book, as Shimon's worries grow, the monster that follows him continues to grow. Only when he begins to say "no" to the monster and refuses to "feed" it, does the monster begin to shrink. The book is a great resource for children suffering from any form of anxiety, and can help adults speak to children about this important issue. In addition, there are plenty of other children's books available on the subject, as well as workbooks and self-help books.

As a community, we can choose to address these anxiety disorders head on without stigmatizing them. This way, everyone can stop feeling so tired of fighting the battle alone!

Rifka Schonfeld

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and social skills specialist, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years.


The Jew who discovered Penicillin's use

Ernst Boris Chain, about whom it is no exaggeration to say that he was one of the most important scientists in world history, is nonetheless a name that you may not recognize. Here is his incredible story.

The discovery of penicillin is attributed to Alexander Fleming (1881-1955), who sought to find a chemical substance that would destroy infectious bacteria without harming tissues or weakening the body's defenses. An accidental observation in 1928, which was a direct result of his disorderly habit of not discarding culture plates promptly, led to the discovery that if penicillium notatum were grown in the appropriate substrate, it would discharge a substance with antibiotic properties, which he dubbed "penicillin."

This serendipitous observation began the modern era of antibiotics, when the active ingredient in that mold later turned out to be a potent infection-fighting agent and the world's most effective life-saving drug.

Exhibited here is a November 9, 1951 correspondence from Fleming to photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt after a several-hour sitting that resulted in Eisenstaedt's production of the scientist's defining portrait. Fleming complains, in jest:

I have suffered but now the ordeal is over. I can only hope that the results justify the time and trouble spent. It seems to me that bacteriology is easier than photography.

The "ordeal" of which Fleming writes was no doubt his 1951 photography session with Eisenstaedt, who captured him in the lab, depicting him as carefully studying an upheld petri dish. Eisenstaedt (1898 – 1995) was a Jew who, after escaping Germany at the onset of the Holocaust, went on to become universally recognized as the defining photojournalist of the twentieth century.

Though Fleming was the first to explore the special properties of the distinctive penicillin mold, he saw no way to extract it and, convinced its anti-bacterial qualities were unsuited to action in the human body, concluded that its production was unworkable. He therefore ceased all research into the substance.

The truly great scientific advance began when German-Jewish biochemist Ernst Chain (1906-1979), today recognized as a major founder of the field of antibiotics, perhaps the single most important revolution in medicine, came upon Fleming's original paper on penicillin in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology and solved the mystery of penicillin's chemical nature.

It was Chain who recognized the potential of Fleming's nearly forgotten discovery, and it was he who isolated and purified the active antibacterial substance and worked out its molecular structure. Using samples that Chain produced, he and Howard Florey, also a Jewish refugee from Hitler, demonstrated penicillin's stability, nontoxicity, and effectiveness against infections in laboratory animals and humans.

Moreover, it was Chain and Florey who figured out how to mass-produce it in drug form, thereby saving countless millions of lives. Many know that Fleming received the 1945 Nobel Prize for his work with penicillin, but few remember that he shared the award with co-recipients Chain and Florey. (The focus of this article, however, will be on Chain's life and contributions.)

Chain was born in Berlin, where he earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and physiology (1930) and spent three years working on enzyme research. One of the fortunate few who recognized what the rise of National Socialism meant for the Jews, he left Germany soon after Hitler came to power and emigrated to England, where he worked as a professor and research scientist at Cambridge and then Oxford University. His mother and sister, however, remained in Germany and were subsequently murdered during the Holocaust.

Chain was a proud Jew. As he explained in a lecture at the University of London in 1970, "As far as my own actions are concerned, I am trying to be guided by the laws, ethics, and traditions of Judaism as formulated in the Old Testament." He married within the faith (to chemist Anne Beloff) and was an outspoken anti-assimilationist. He was also a dedicated Zionist and a powerful advocate for providing a Jewish education to young Jews; in fact, his own children, after spending time on various Israeli kibbutzim, received a religious education in Israel. In words that could well summarize the role of a yeshiva day school education today, Chain explained:

We must have appropriately trained teachers who can transmit to the young that the traditions of Judaism are not archaic and dusty, but have great relevance to the problems facing us in the modern world.


Toward that end, he chose Rabbi Baruch Horowitz, head of the Jerusalem Academy of Jewish Studies, about whom he wrote:

I am quite certain of one fact. If we get too far from the basic ethical laws of Judaism, Israel as a country and the Jews living in the diaspora are doomed, and sooner or later they will disappear. Rabbi Horowitz is one of the rare people who can get the values of Judaism across to young people, and he can get them to accept that they are as valid today as they were when they were formulated 3,000 years ago.

In "Why I Am a Jew," a speech he delivered at the World Jewish Conference of Intellectuals in 1965, Chain said:

While we have witnessed astonishing technological progress over the last 4,000 years, human relations have remained essentially unchanged since the time the Torah was written, and have to be regulated by very much the same laws.For this reason, the fundamental teaching of Judaism, as expressed in the Old Testament, and developed by the great sages of the Middle Ages, one unitarian Almighty, benevolent, all-pervading, eternal Divine force, of which the spirit of man was created an image, is for me still the most rational way of accepting man's position and fate in this world and the Universe.

And in a speech accepting a Doctorate of Philosophy Honoris Causa from Bar-Ilan University, he stated:

In the search for an ethical code of behavior we have to look for more lasting values than scientific discoveries or theories. We, the Jewish people, have had the extraordinary privilege to have been given a lasting code of ethical values in the divinely inspired laws and traditions of Judaism which have become the basic pillars of the Western world.

Shortly after World War II, Chain was invited to make aliyah and to set up his own biochemical department at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovoth. He was promised that a new building devoted to biochemistry and biology would be built to his specifications and that he could name his own salary. He accepted an invitation to visit Eretz Yisrael in April 1946, where he lectured to the Convention of Palestinian Chemists on "The Chemical Constitution of the Penicillins" and later spoke on the same subject at Hebrew University. In a dramatic personal appeal, Chaim Weizmann wrote to him:

I do not know how much weight my words may have with you when you will be considering your further connections with the new center at Rehovoth, but I must tell you that it would be a great benefit to Palestine as a whole and for science in our country in particular, if you could make your residence here…. with the help of your authority we might be able to build up in Palestine a local tradition of science of which there is to date only a modest beginning…. your great discovery has made you a man chosen to do a great service to Palestine. So much depends on your presence here; in fact, everything…

Though Chain cared deeply about Eretz Yisrael and was by many accounts leaning toward accepting Weizmann's offer, he had great difficulty balancing his Zionism against the best interests of the future of antibiotics and his decision to reject the offer was ultimately made by a combination of the Arab armies' invasion of Israel in May 1948 and an attractive offer to work at the Superior Institute of Health in Rome.

Chain believed that advancing the development of penicillin, and curing diseases that were the scourge of the entire human race, were ultimately more important and could not effectively be pursued in Israel, a country beset by war.

Nonetheless, he continued his strong support of Israel in general, remaining active in Jewish organizations and in Israeli institutions of higher education, and of the Weizmann Institute in particular, serving as a member of its Board of Governors. He also received honorary degrees from Yeshiva University (1948) and from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (1961).

Saul Jay Singer Continue reading: 1 2 All Pages

About the Author: Saul Jay Singer, a nationally recognized legal ethicist, serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar. He is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters, and his column appears in The Jewish Press every week. Mr. Singer welcomes comments at


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Love Yehuda Lave

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