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December 30, 2016 2:14 pm

Channeling Jewish Values in the Fight Against Alzheimer’s Disease

avatar by Matt Robinson /

Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns, chair of The Judy Fund. Photo: Courtesy Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns.

Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns, chair of The Judy Fund. Photo: Courtesy. — Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns channels the Jewish values of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and personal experience in her work as an advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness. She is the chair of the The Judy Fund, which is the largest, fastest-growing private family fund under the national Alzheimer’s Association umbrella organization. It has raised and granted more than $6 million since 2003 to support Alzheimer’s research and public policy initiatives. The fund is named for Stearns’s mother, a recipient of the prestigious American Friends of Hebrew University’s Scopus Award, who suffered from the degenerative disease.

Stearns is the former senior vice president of strategic marketing at Universal Pictures, where she co-produced the film “Still Alice,” which won Julianne Moore the Academy Award for Best Actress in her portrayal of an accomplished linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. “Still Alice” has been recognized for generating a more widespread national conversation about the Alzheimer’s epidemic, and the lives of both those hit by the disease and their loved ones. Stearns has also collaborated with Emmy Award-winning producer and fellow Alzheimer’s advocate Maria Shriver on the “A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s” project.

In addition to her film industry accolades, Stearns was named by Newsweek and Advertising Age as a member of “The Marketing 100.”

Stearns spoke with about her work in the following interview:

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"Through fire and ash, through smoke and battle / You raise your shattered hands / A clot of blood covers... What gave you the idea for The Judy Fund?

Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns: I lost my mother and my grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease, both in their 70s. My mother, Judy, was diagnosed at 62, and died just before her 71st birthday. And I was raised in a family that valued and modeled philanthropy; both my mother and father made giving a priority. So my siblings and I had great role models exemplifying the core concepts of tikkun olam. The Judy Fund is a fine example of the impact that one family can have on millions to help do just that, raising money and awareness in support of one shared vision: a world without Alzheimer’s disease. Who is your demographic?

Stearns: We speak to thousands of donors nationwide. We engage baby boomer women with programs like Mind&Heart, a Judy Fund series we developed to educate and engage women on the vascular connection between heart and brain health. We speak to millennials on college campuses nationwide, as The Judy Fund is the charity of choice for the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. My father, Marshall Gelfand, was a Sammy [fraternity member] at Syracuse [University]; my nephew, Brian Gelfand, was a Sammy at the University of Pennsylvania; and my son, Greg Stearns, was a Sammy at the University of Michigan. Sammy chapters and alumni nationwide raised over $132,000 this past year for The Judy Fund. What are you focusing on today?

Stearns: We will continue to engage consumers by educating them about the realities of Alzheimer’s disease. People need to know that Alzheimer’s is the 6th-leading cause of death in the US, but the only disease in the top 10 causes of death with no disease-modifying drugs or a cure; that the median age of the disease is 72 years old; that women are disproportionally impacted by the disease, as two-thirds of people over the age of 65 who get the disease are women. Education and engagement is key and that’s what we do at The Judy Fund. What do you need most to succeed?

Stearns: Engaging people to donate to The Judy Fund so we can reach the United States government’s goal of a disease modifying drugs or a cure by 2025.

Matt Robinson has been writing for and about entrepreneurs for more than 20 years. He can be reached at [email protected]

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