Founders

From left: Sherman Minkoff, Becca Hornstein and Andi Minkoff

The founders of two prominent, local Jewish organizations, Becca Hornstein of Gesher Disability Resources and Andi Minkoff of the Minkoff Center for Jewish Genetics, will speak about the origin story for each agency on Oct. 27. The event is sponsored by the Women’s Leadership Institute and part of its Panel series.

The Institute’s stated mission is to strengthen the Jewish community by increasing the presence of women in communal decision-making positions and by building a Jewish women’s network. This year-long leadership program is available to women between the ages of 25-45, who are seeking comprehensive leadership training.

The Panel series, an anchor program of the Institute, hopes to add a dimension of understanding to real-world challenges, skills and solutions to be a successful leader in a variety of arenas, which is why these founders were chosen, according to Rabbi Elana Kanter, the Institutes’s director.

Gesher’s story begins when Hornstein’s family moved to Phoenix 38 years ago. Upon arriving, she called many synagogues to see if her 9-year-old son Joel, who has autism, could attend religious school.

“Most congregations,” Hornstein said, ”had absolutely nothing — no special education program, no sign language interpreters and no family support groups.” When she asked congregation administrators why they didn’t have any kind of assistance for people with disabilities, she heard one answer again and again: “I’m not aware of any Jews with disabilities in Phoenix.”

She felt that Joel was not only disabled — he was invisible, she said.

Because of her son’s disability, Hornstein’s family felt excluded from participation in Jewish life for many years. Instead of walking away from synagogue life, the family found a warm welcome at Temple Chai, which supported her efforts to assist children and adults living with special needs.

National statistics indicate that 1 out of every 10 people in the United States has a disability requiring assistance. Hornstein, based on her personal experience, decided to increase awareness and challenge the status quo. It was the beginning of a long journey, which started in 1985 with the creation of the Council for Jews with Special Needs. That organization continues today as Gesher Disability Resources.

Hornstein’s efforts led to the provision of a variety of services to accommodate the special needs of the Jewish community. The organization also aspires to acknowledge the value and dignity of every member of ’lal Yisrael, the people of Israel. And Hornstein’s story helped get another agency off the ground.

Hornstein has given many educational presentations in the community about Jewish genetic diseases, too, and was invited by Andi and Sherman Minkoff to speak to their chavurah in 2002.

The Minkoffs were especially interested in this topic. Due to the mapping of the human genome which had been completed a few years before, the Minkoffs realized that testing was now available for a multitude of Jewish genetic diseases. Parents might be spared the tragedy of having a child with a fatal genetic disorder.

Together with Jewish Family & Children’s Service, the couple formed a group to explore community education and testing for Jewish genetic diseases.

In 2004, the Jewish Genetic Diseases Center of Greater Phoenix, currently called the Minkoff Center for Jewish Genetics, was established.

The Minkoffs envisioned a Jewish community free of genetic disease. The center’s mission has been, since its founding, to provide awareness, education and screening for Jewish genetic diseases. In 2005, the center provided the first community-wide screening event, which drew more than 130 participants. A few years later, the office moved out of the Minkoff’s living room kitchen and onto the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus, and an executive director was engaged.

It evolved from screening four diseases to testing for over 104 different genetic abnormalities. Prenatal screening and genetic counseling are also provided.

The couple hoped that Andi’s passion and extensive connections to the Jewish community combined with Sherman’s medical skills could make the vision of a Jewish community free of genetic diseases in the future possible. JN

The This zoom panel is free and open to the public on Wed., Oct. 27, at 6:30 p.m. To register, go to bit.ly/WLIOct21