When the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation holds its annual fundraiser on April 21, Jan Reicher will be a conspicuous attendee — not only because she’ll be honored as a Champion of Hope, but because she’ll be the only guest in a wedding dress.
Reicher’s wedding party will take place during the foundation’s California Wine Classic at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, hours after her civil ceremony at the Jewish Home of San Francisco.
The 51-year-old Reicher, who has ulcerative colitis and whose father suffered for nearly two decades with inflammatory bowel disease, said she feels undeserving of the honor but hopes pairing the event and her wedding will bring attention to diseases too often overlooked or hidden by embarrassed patients.
“I’m honored to be honored, because it’s bringing light and exposure to these illnesses,” she said. “And weddings are happy, so I’m happy to share this simcha publicly.”
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disorder of the digestive tract. There is currently no cure for it or for ulcerative colitis, which together affect about 1.4 million Americans — with a highly disproportionate number of those patients being Jewish. Reicher said Ashkenazi Jews are eight times more likely to suffer from IBD than the general population.
Ten percent of those with Crohn’s or colitis are younger than 18 when they first experience symptoms, according to the San Francisco-based foundation, and many of them feel stigmatized by frequent bathroom breaks and severe diarrhea. The diseases hit women and men about equally.
Reicher was 3 when her father was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 1968. He died in 1987 of colon cancer at the age of 51.
“He was gone for weeks at the Cleveland Clinic or the Mayo Clinic,” she said. “When I was young, one of my earliest memories was they took me to a parking lot of a hospital and my dad was supposedly way up on a top story waving to me from his window. I remember the trauma of that.”
Reicher was 22 and had just graduated from college when her dad died. She took over his general construction and commercial real estate firm in Pittsburgh for a couple of years, then began a career in marketing and communications and as a project coordinator — but always found time for volunteer work with nonprofits.
She was a co-founder and interim co-head of the Jewish Community High School of the Bay; a past president of Brandeis Hillel Day School; and was on the Jewish Community Federation’s board of trustees for six years. She now is an advisory board member of Shalom Bayit, dedicated to eradicating domestic violence in the Jewish community.
Reicher has spent the past three years as director of strategic projects and transformation at the Jewish Senior Living Group, which operates the Jewish Home of San Francisco and Moldaw Residences in Palo Alto.
Reicher, who has two daughters from a previous marriage, met Frenchman Alain Bismuth on JDate four years ago. They will have a religious wedding first in Playa del Secreto, Mexico, with 45 guests from France, Israel, England and the U.S. The ceremony will be performed by Reicher’s 21-year-old daughter, who graduates in May from Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
The wedding at the Jewish Home “was supposed to be this small, intimate thing that I thought would be uplifting for the people there,” but then she invited about 90 friends who will be attending the Wine Classic — so the civil ceremony at the Jewish Home now will have about 170 to 180 guests.
After a short reception, those attending the fundraiser will go by bus to the Ritz-Carlton, and Reicher will stay in her wedding dress.
Dr. Jeffrey Sternberg, surgical director of the Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases at California Pacific Medical Center, also will be honored as a Champion of Hope.
Reicher said she’s thrilled her wedding will bring attention to the fundraiser.
“It’s such a hard disease to raise money for because it’s so unglamorous, people are embarrassed to acknowledge they have it,” she said. “How can people turn down my wedding? I have an opportunity to make a difference.”