(Zev a”h who lost his life at 27-years-old to Melanoma)

One gracious sun fills our world with light, warms our planet, nourishes vegetation to grow, and does a myriad of other wonderful things for every one of us. However, just as with everything in life, we do well to embrace this gift with intelligence and moderation.

On March 11th, in preparation for the Passover holiday when thousands flock to sunny spots around the globe and with summer just a few months away, The SAFE Foundation presented a Sun Safety Program to 11th and 12th graders at The Yeshivah of Flatbush.

The event began with a film titled “Dear 16-Year-Old Me,” featuring a series of skin cancer survivors sharing vital messages about maintaining optimal skin health. They said things like, “Get to know your skin; one bad sunburn doubles your chances of getting melanoma; the skin is like an elephant – it never forgets.” And, “Melanoma is a young person’s disease.”

As a testament to this last statement, the Director of Project SAFE, Shira Berkowitz, LMSW, shared her story of how she lost her husband to melanoma when he was just 27 years old. She began, “I’m here to tell you a very painful story – my painful story. It’s not easy for me, but if I save one of your lives through sharing my pain, it will be worthwhile. I was a high school girl just like you, excited to live my life – to go to college, marry and have a family. I never could’ve imagined that my dreams would be shattered by something as foreign sounding as Melanoma.” Shira went on to describe her husband Zev, a”h, as a yeshivah student who spent most of his adult life indoors. “However,” She said, “As a child, he used to spend every day after camp at his family’s pool. In those days, nobody knew about sunscreen.” Shira cautioned, “If you notice an irregular spot on your skin, see a dermatologist, not a regular doctor.”

Rabbi Levy, Principal of YOFHS supported this statement, saying that he schedules regular visits to his dermatologist. He advised, “When in doubt, check it out.”

Next to speak was Dr.Yair Keilson, a first cousin and close friend of Zev’s who is board certified in Internal Medicine, Hospice and Palliative Medicine and Medical Oncology. He was in med school during the time that Zev was sick. The experience affected his decision to specialize in Oncology. Dr. Keilson presented many slides illustrating how the skin is structured and how it can be negatively affected by the sun. He also gave tips as to how best care for one’s skin. (See below.)

Lily Ovadia, was last to speak. She spoke of her best friend, Fortune Levy, a”h, who died from Melanoma when she was a 26-year-old mother of a daughter and pregnant with twins. Before passing away, Fortune was supposed to address students about skin safety, but was not able to. Lilly aims to bring awareness to as many students as she can and thanks The SAFE Foundation for giving her the opportunity.

Dr. Etty Mizrahi, the Director of Guidance at Yeshivah of Flatbush High School, said, “Project SAFE’s Sun Safety program was an impactful one for our students and faculty.  Through the lens of genuine personal stories, as bravely shared by Director of Project SAFE Shira Berkowitzand Lily Ovadia, our students were able to truly grasp the importance of sun safety and melanoma screening. The medical perspective, relayed by Dr. Ari Kielson, provided our students with practical and concrete information.  Through programs like this, we can reach students in a more meaningful way, allowing us to continue these very important conversations about making safe choices.”

                                  Sun Safety Tips

  • Apply a water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher to protect against UVA and UVB rays. Most sunscreens only protect against UVB, which means you are less likely to burn, but still leave you exposed to harmful rays.
  • Know that UV rays are most damaging from 10 to 4.
  • Reapply SPF after 2 hours, after swimming or after towel-drying your skin.
  • Know that it just takes just 15 minutes of sun a day to fulfill one’s daily Vitamin D requirement. You can also get Vitamin D from kale, mushrooms, fatty fish, canned light tuna, and egg yolks.
  • When in the sun, wear a wide-brimmed hat and UV protective clothing.
  • If not wearing a hat, protect your scalp with a UV protective spray.
  • See a dermatologist once a year to chart and keep track of any potential problem areas.
  • Learn the ABCDEs of melanoma, so you can identify problematic spots on your own.