Meet the Nefesh B'Nefesh new immigrant conducting breakthrough radiology research

Known for her trailblazing work in radiology, U.S.-born olah Dr. Marcia Javitt demonstrates that underneath the white lab coat lies a tireless drive to succeed – and love of Israel.

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December 18, 2018 13:30
Meet the Nefesh B'Nefesh new immigrant conducting breakthrough radiology research

BONEI ZION winners of 2018 gather at the Knesset. (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)

 
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Dr. Marcia Javitt doesn’t like being told what she can’t do. Even as a young girl, her path to success was a clear one: she wanted to be a doctor.

“When I was in fifth grade and the teacher asked me what I want to be when I grow up, I said, ‘I want to be a doctor.’ He looked at me and said, ‘You can’t do that,’ and I replied, ‘Watch me!,’” she laughed.

Now, as the director of Medical Imaging at Rambam Medical Center, the medical community in Israel and beyond are watching.
Her latest career move was not an obvious one.

“My husband always wanted to live in Israel, but he never imagined there was something for me to do there. Once I saw a possibility to work here and Rambam recruited me, it was clear that it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. It was too amazing. Too special. I did not follow my husband to Israel – he followed me instead,” she said.

As a child of a strong, independent mother who had to care for her disabled husband, Javitt was taught to be resilient and goal-oriented.

“She wanted me to be independent and self-sufficient. She suggested that I would be happiest if I could make the grades to go to some sort of professional school,” said Javitt, who breezed through medical school in just three years.

“I knew if I didn’t follow some sort of professional path that my options would be very limited. My life situation was not promising at the time,” she said, recalling her mother’s death when she was 19. “I was determined to succeed. If you have that kind of drive, then standards set are nothing short of the very best you can do. It becomes very easy to make decisions in a way that’s consistent with success because nobody can drive you harder than you yourself.”

At Rambam, in addition to her administrative duties, her innovative research is paving the path for more streamlined, less invasive procedures that combat cancer.

“Rambam is in a great spot – in the middle of a beautiful, harbor-side area of Haifa. Only a few kilometers away is the biggest bio-technology, IT corridor in the world. On the Rambam campus sits the Technion Faculty of Medicine. Every day, I sit in my office and glue all of this together,” she said of the facility that is the largest hospital in the North and serves 2.3 million people.

“It’s an amazing place. When you walk through the halls, you see people from every background, religion and culture standing together to take care of patients. It’s actually a model for how people should behave. It’s something special,” she marveled.

“In the four years I’ve been here, I’ve participated in and initiated projects that would be almost impossible to do elsewhere. The kind of resources that exist here accelerate the possibility of making progress. There’s a huge amount of talent in this place,” she said.

For example, her team is conducting research on microwave imaging to detect and characterize breast cancer. Considering that mammography technology is both over 60 years old and uses ionizing radiation that may have potential risk from low-dose radiation exposure to sensitive breast tissue, a more modern and accurate approach is overdue.

“We just finished pre-clinical trials on how to create images of the breast without radiation exposure,” she explained.
Additionally, she is working on a project to use focal therapy to treat prostate cancer in susceptible men with organ-confined disease. Creating a “super-scan” that combines ultrasound, MRI and PSMA PET/CT scans into one, they can home in on the exact location of the tumor and target it with high-intensity focused ultrasound, which coagulates the cancer but leaves behind the healthy tissue. These men are spared radical prostatectomy with all of its potential side effects and complications. It’s an approach, Javitt predicts, that will be implemented worldwide in the years to come.

For her pioneering work, Javitt was selected as one of the seven olim honored this year at Nefesh B’Nefesh’s annual Bonei Zion Prize ceremony.

“Israel’s development over the past seven decades has been shaped by the remarkable contributions, ingenuity and talents of olim,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh. “They have transformed the landscape of virtually every professional field and community in Israel. I am humbled each year by the trailblazing achievements of the Sylvan Adams Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Bonei Zion Prize recipients.”

“They’re all amazing – every one of them,” Javitt said of her fellow honorees, “each one more than the next! I was honored to be up on that stage with people of that caliber.”

The other recipients of this year’s Prize included Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (US), founder of Ohr Torah Stone; Linda Streit (UK), founder of the Daniel Amichai Center for Rowing and Natural Studies; Kalman Samuels (Canada), founder of Shalva, the Israel Association for Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities; Arsen Ostrovsky (Australia), human rights lawyer and director of the Israeli Jewish Congress; Maj. Keren Hajioff (UK), the head of social media for the IDF; and philanthropist and Amdocs founder Morris Khan (South Africa), who received the lifetime achievement award.

Although Javitt is humbled by the honor, for her, the award is just another match ready to ignite the fire within her.

“It just makes me want to work harder,” she said. “I’ve got to keep going. It shines a very bright light on what I’ve been doing and it made me take a good, hard look at myself and say, ‘Well, you did this much, now do more.

“And don’t stop.’”

The Sylvan Adams Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize was established in order to formally recognize the achievements of outstanding Anglo Olim and their contribution to the State of Israel. A prize is awarded in the following six categories: Science and Medicine, Education, Community and Non Profit, Israel Advocacy, Young Leadership as well as Culture, Art and Sports. In addition, a lifetime achievement award is bestowed upon an Oleh who has dedicated his or her life to the State of Israel.

As Aliyah from western countries continues to increase, English-speaking Olim are making a remarkable impact on the Jewish State – economically, socially and culturally – contributing to Israeli society in all fields of endeavor, including education, Israel advocacy, medicine & science and the arts.

The Bonei Zion Prize is an expression of support for Olim whose contributions have helped better Israel in a meaningful way, and acknowledges those who encapsulate the spirit of modern-day Zionism by contributing towards developing the State of Israel.

Submissions are now open for the 2019 Sylvan Adams Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize through January 14, 2019. Additional information can be found at: www.boneizion.org.il.

This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh.

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