Archive for September, 2017

 

Sep 25 2017

Time for Reflection

by at 10:21 am

For people of the Jewish faith, this is a time for reflection and contemplation. Known as the ten “Days of Awe” between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (this year is 5778) and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jews around the world reflect on the past year, search within themselves to identify people against whom they have sinned, and to apologize for their actions, while resolving to improve in the coming year. It is a time of powerful symbolism that began for me on Monday evening, when Harriet and I attended a wonderful Anti-Defamation League event honoring Jack DeGioia for his consistent support of human rights, rejection of hateful behaviors such as racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and support of LGBTQ rights. How fitting that the ADL, a Jewish organization founded to combat anti-Semitism, chose to honor the Catholic President of this great university, reaffirming the linkage of Jewish teaching and values with universal human rights. I am so proud of how our University, under Jack’s inspired leadership, has approached its legacy of slavery with an unflinching gaze and determined actions to address this issue with honesty, courage and action.

Two days later, the holidays began for us with a wonderful Wednesday evening meal with our family. Little did we know that while we were eating, some moron was painting a swastika, an enduring symbol of Nazism and anti-Semitic hate, in the bathroom of a Georgetown building. Unsurprisingly, the University has responded quickly and vigorously, but this was a chilling moment for this child of a Holocaust survivor, and hopefully for all people of good will.

On Thursday morning, we went to services at our synagogue, Temple Micah, which interestingly holds its high holiday services at Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church near American University (in another show of inter-faith good will). While I am powerfully identified, I have never considered myself to be deeply religious, and do not expect transcendence during a religious service. I usually find that the sermon provides an excellent opportunity for a socially appropriate catnap. However, the Rabbi, Daniel Zemel, delivered a deeply moving sermon that emotively and intellectually linked Jewish theology, history and culture with American values and ideals. He reflected deeply on the historic divisiveness in our society and political life. He affirmed the shared Jewish and American values of honesty, an abiding reverence for truth, compassion and value-based behaviors. He noted that foundational Jewish teachings – the sacredness of the individual, the commitment to community and a concern for all people (“Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”; Deuteronomy 10:19) were echoed several millennia later by Jefferson in the most revolutionary political document in history (“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….”; Declaration of Independence, 1776). Jefferson did not refer to all Americans, but to everyone. Over the past two centuries, the term “men” has expanded to include all people, though the application of these principles has remained imperfect. This was perhaps the most powerful and moving sermon I have ever heard, and may well be the best talk I have ever heard in my life. Yet over the weekend, a travel ban on immigration was reinforced, Dreamers remained in agonizing limbo, and Americans peacefully exercising their rights as citizens to speak freely and protest injustice were lambasted. They happen to play football, and I had the privilege of being at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon as players from the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, many of them descendants of formerly enslaved people, exercised their rights in a way that has made the United States of America a beacon of hope and freedom throughout the world.

The idea of America, so resonant with millennia-old Jewish values, is alive and well. Others have tried and failed to dim that light, but these timeless ideas will prevail. However, this will not happen unless each of us works every day to decry intolerance and promote the values representing the best of our respective religious traditions, to assure that America will continue to strive to be Jefferson’s more perfect union and Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” I will see these aspirations in the flickering flames as we light candles this coming Friday to commence observation of the holiest day of the Jewish Year, Yom Kippur. I will have much to be grateful for, much to contemplate and a lot of work to do.

Have a good week.

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Sep 18 2017

A Different Type of Impressionism

by at 7:59 am

Congratulations to Washington on its victory over the Rams Sunday. My Eagles fell to earth with a hard fought loss to Kansas City, but there is always next week. Last week was notable for a few events. The Hyundai Hope on Wheels ceremony on Wednesday honored a Lombardi patient who has survived leukemia and also celebrated a research award to our own Todd Waldman from the foundation. Later that same day we celebrated the opening of a permanent art exhibit of color field works by noted Washington artist Sam Gilliam, which is located in the Lombardi atrium. It is a beautiful exhibit and adds so much to the patient experience. Kudos to Julia Langley for making this happen.

In another vein we had a different type of “Lunch with Lou” this past week. As many of you know, the Fornace lab, long a part of Lombardi, is now a part of the Department of Oncology. Al used the lunch as an opportunity for me to meet the lab members, hear about their work and talk about how they can access the resources of the department to help develop their work. It was great. I would welcome the chance to meet with other labs at upcoming lunches.

Thursday was notable for a data meeting presentation and thesis committee meeting by one of my graduate students, Reham Ajina, who is making wonderful progress in her work. I then had a very busy afternoon clinic, which always serves as a humbling, critical reality check for everything I do. The week ended with a very interesting joint meeting that involved Lombardi, the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop a novel immunotherapy concept that leverages the strengths of each institution. More about that later, but it was a most interesting and exciting half-day meeting. Clearly I am pulled in a lot of directions, but somehow I find this dizzying array of activities to be grounding and not at all distracting. I think of it like an impressionist painting; many little dots coalesce to form a coherent, immediately recognizable picture. I hope that never changes.

The coming week will be highlighted by Monday’s Lombardi Strategic Planning retreat, followed by a visit to the dentist and then an Anti-Defamation League dinner honoring Jack DeGioia. Assuming I make it through that gauntlet of events the rest of the week will be busy but a bit less hectic.

I hope you have a good week.

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Sep 11 2017

Weathering the Storms

by at 10:05 am

It’s been a while since my last blog, and it’s already to feel a bit autumnal around here. We had a great family vacation at the beach, and while I got a lot of work done on the CCSG, there was plenty of time for fun as well. I have returned to plenty of work, but have the satisfaction of having completed many first drafts of the sections for which I have primary writing responsibility.

All of the work we do has to be considered in the backdrop of natural events that have rocked our sensibilities the past few weeks. Firstly, Hurricane Harvey wreaked destruction in Texas that was nearly incomprehensible, leaving behind lost and shattered lives, and countless billions of dollars worth of reconstruction. As if that is not enough, Florida is being pummeled by Hurricane Irma, which might ultimately be even more catastrophic. My heart goes out to all who are in harm’s way, and to their loved ones as well.

On a lighter note (and there is nothing like somber events to put sports in their proper perspective), my Philadelphia Eagles finally broke a five-game losing streak to Washington. This of course has cued despair amongst Redskins fans and unbridled joy in Philadelphia. All such emotions are premature; the season lasts at least sixteen games, and Game 1 results can be misleading. Plus, the Eagles never fail to disappoint when all is said and done. But at least our homes are dry and we have electricity!

Have a good week.

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