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Francesca Biller-Safran

Francesca Biller-Safran

Posted: October 19, 2009 05:20 PM

To My Fellow Jews, Stop Naming Diseases After Ourselves, Oy Veh!

What's Your Reaction?

As a half-Jew, I have heard first, second and seventeenth that we are at times thought of as anxious, neurotic and compulsive about things Gentiles would never ever give a second thought.

Can you imagine Clint Eastwood worrying whether it's more important should his mother attend her local socialist club meeting she hasn't missed in 50 years or mend your lucky interview jacket?

I also can't imagine Eastwood seeing a psychoanalyst for decades like Woody Allen only to make comments like, "My one regret in life is that I am not someone else."

Last night, while watching "Annie Hall" for the 117th time in which Alvy Singer's life, played by Allen, revolves around his angst-ridden self-identity, I began to explore beyond cinema and television where else my Jewish peeps may have earned some of this reputation.

I recently read an article about Asperger's Syndrome, named after a mensch of a Jewish doctor, described as "people who show significant difficulties in social interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests."

Not exactly the worst illness I've heard, but not one I'd name after myself either, which inspired me to ask the question, "How many other Jewish doctors have named afflictions after themselves?"

I recalled Schamberg's Disease and Crohn's Disease from a college course, neither one a pretty diagnoses. I won't scare you with the descriptions; google them if you must, but try not to convince yourself you have them as I did over the weekend.

For the file "You learn something new every day," when a disease is named after the person who first described the condition, this is known as an "eponymous" disease; which also includes publishing an article in a respected medical journal.

This certainly can't help, I thought. With the anti-Semitism I sometimes hear, I ask this instant that Jewish doctors think twice naming an illness after their surname, except if it is a good one -- disease that is.

For example, if intern Dr. Harvey Stein discovered a condition that described: "People who are born in Yugoslavia, particularly talented at playing the bassoon, and every eight days experience an episode of positive hyperactivity that may last up to 44.5 hours," this I could live with, calling it say, 'Stein's Syndrome.'

The epiphany came that perhaps eponymous diseases are the reason for much of the envy, animosity and even anti-Semitism around the world.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Matzo Ball Soup are okay companies and brands to be named after. The first brings to mind the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the other, well, an unbelievably delicious soup that cures the common cold. What's not to love?

This reminds me of a famous Milton Berle line when he said, "Every time a person goes into a deli and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies."

Paranoia has now set in. Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Smith were okay with their Jewish neighbors until they learned their daughter had Asherman's Syndrome; described as "intrauterine adhesions presenting a condition characterized by the presence of adhesions or fibrosis within the uterine cavity due to scars." Not so appealing to the Smiths, is it?

Or maybe Johnny Martin wasn't allowed to play with his best friend anymore because the friend had Albright-Butler-Bloomberg disease, described as "severe developmental anomalies, marked by short-limbed dwarfism affecting the lower extremities and bowing of the lower enlarged wrists and ankles, and premature loss of permanent dentition."

And because little Johnny's mother thought he may catch it and he never had a good friend again, perhaps he has a negative reaction to Jewish names ever since. Seriously, it can't be helping us much.

Look, everyone knows we're smart as heck when it comes to medical science, politics, poetry, business, producing, science, kvetching and humor, but enough is enough. Haven't we proved our intellectual prowess by now?

Take my name, 'Safran'. If I were a doctor who discovered that people under the height of four feet who spoke fluent French and and had all dined with Rush Limbaugh in the year 1983 shared the same chromosome, I certainly wouldn't call it 'Safran-aphilodous' or 'Safran's Scare.'

I would call it 'Four-Foot Limbaugh's Plight' or 'Rushin' Roulette's Plague.'

How about naming ourselves after the finer things in life again; like wine, delicious foods, department stores and fabulous vacations instead?

For example, it would be great to go into a swell restaurant and order the chef's specialty of the house known as Goldman Prius shrimp, or a fine bottle of a 1996 Weinstein or Vintage Kaufman. Even Francis Ford Coppola, an Italian-American filmmaker got smart with his starting his own label. Sorry, Manischewitz doesn't count.

Or what about being invited on a famous Harold Klein Cruise or Birnbaum Retreat while getting a Shwartz facial?

My theory is simple, all med students with Berg, Stein, Traub or Ski ending their name take note; You'll get credit, I promise, but don't come crying to me if you get all eponymous on yourself and become known for your name making people in doctor's offices cry and curse you.

Could you blame them?

Let's help ourselves out a little.

I declare 2009 as the year of the end of Jewish-named diseases, and from now on, only positive discoveries.

Let's get back to the days of associations like The Marx Brothers, Albert Einstein, Itzhak Perlman and even Rodney Dangerfield who once said,

"My mother never breast fed me, she said she only liked me as a friend."

God Love him.

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