There is a line in the Talmud, the ancient book of Hebrew wisdom, that applies to all of us, said Cantor Jenny Izenstark of New York City—herself especially. “Have you heard the saying, man plans and God laughs?” asked the Cantor. “To me it means you just have to roll with it. Whatever life brings you, turn it into lemonade. I’ve always been good at doing this—but I didn’t know I’d have to be quite this good.”
In the spring of 2013, at the age of 49, Jenny Izenstark, who holds three Masters degrees and received a Fulbright grant to study opera before her 1993 ordination as a Cantor, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It was the third diagnosis of an autoimmune disease in as many years—and it’s been a medical journey that nearly killed her. “I pretty much have my mojo back,” said Cantor Jenny, who is now a patient at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, “but it’s been quite a dramatic and humbling experience. Certainly, I didn’t expect to almost die before I turned 50.”
When she was diagnosed with adult-onset type 1 diabetes, her brother called the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in Chicago, who referred Jenny to Dr. Robin Goland and the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center for her care. “I give Dr. Goland and her team at the Berrie Center the credit for turning my life around,” the Cantor said. “It is really a great resource for anybody with diabetes—but especially if you are newly diagnosed. The Berrie Center is the only place that offers the high level of support and education I feel I need to be successful.”
In addition to recalling the wisdom of the Talmud, Jenny’s story is an important reminder that an autoimmune disease, including type 1 diabetes, can come on at any age. Jenny eventually received a diagnosis of “polyglandular autoimmune syndrome type II”, a rare, genetic condition that is defined by a combination of two or more autoimmune diseases—adrenal insufficiency (Jenny’s first diagnosis), autoimmune thyroid disease (her second diagnosis) and often type 1 diabetes.
The diagnosis of polyglandular syndrome can be complicated because the symptoms of both adrenal insufficiency and hypothyroidism are very nonspecific and the correct diagnosis is hard to make. However, the syndrome can be life threatening if misdiagnosed, which it often is, and was, in Jenny’s case. In 3 years, Jenny saw 19 different doctors, spent six weeks in the hospital and was tested for many other illnesses (including lupus and lymphoma) before the onset of her diabetes last April, which finally led to her correct diagnoses.
Born and raised in Chicago, Jenny earned Masters degrees in Opera Performance, French and Sacred Music and went on to fulfill a dream and earn a living as an opera singer in Europe. Midcareer, Jenny applied her gift for music to another sacred art form. She entered a 4-year program at Hebrew Union College in New York and became a Cantor of Reform Judaism and an ordained member of the clergy in the Jewish community.
Jenny now works as a freelance Cantor (www.cantorjenny.com) leading worship on the Jewish holidays, officiating at lifecycle events, teaching music and providing pastoral care. Cantor Jenny’s specialty is working with kids with special needs on their B’nai Mitzvah. (“These children tend to fall through the cracks at big synagogues,” she said. “There was a niche that needed to be filled.”) She sings opera in her spare time. “My attitude is to just keep moving forward,” she said.
Click here to support the Berrie Center.