It happened four years ago, at the end of a routine workday. Avinoam Laufer, 40, was headed homeward in Petach Tikvah. On the way, he felt acute pains in his head. He stopped his car and understood that he was experiencing a stroke. He managed to summon an ambulance and inform his wife before losing consciousness. The doctors explained to the frantic family that there was no choice but to do surgery to insert a drain, so as to stop the bleeding in his brain. Avinoam never woke up from the surgery. For 17 days he lay in a coma. When the doctors established that he was in a state of brain death, his family was called in to part with him.
“Avinoam lived a life for the Jewish people,” his wife describes. The connection with Ezer Mizion was formed yet in his lifetime, through a project he started with a group of friends, in which, every Shabbat, families would host people who were stuck in the Schneider and Beilinson Hospitals on Shabbat, providing them with sleeping accommodations and meals. In time, the project was named for him: “Eshel Avinoam.” Eishel refers to the tree near the home of Avrohom Avinu (the Jewish forefather) who planted the tree for the benefit of his many guests. The Hebrew word “eshel” – comprised of the letters aleph-shin-lamed — stands for achilah (food), shtiyah (drink), and linah (sleeping accommodations)which were provided both by the tree and in his tent. Using the same initials, the word also stands for Avinoam Shalom Laufer.
She is only eight years old. Her parent try to smile when she talks of what she wants to be when she grows up. But it’s so hard. You see, Miri is not well and only a bone marrow transplant can save her life. To be successful, a genetically matching donor must be found. With the transplant, Miri will someday become a Mommy. Her children will, in turn, mature and produce grandchildren for Miri – generations…eternity. But without the transplant, …
Ezer Mizion, the largest Jewish registry worldwide has saved the lives of so many cancer patients around the globe. A drive was recently held in NY and NJ where thousands made their way, in the rain, in the cold, to the Ezer Mizion stations in order to ‘Swab for Miri’. As the drive progressed, Ezer Mizion received requests from more precious members of the Jewish nation – two in Flatbush, two in Lakewood, one in Buffalo – who were desperately waiting in hope and prayer for the genetic match that will mean Life.
Jews rallied. Busy mothers maneuvering the crowds with double strollers. Fathers trekking to the stations late at night after Evening Prayers. In twos and in threes. Another and another and another. Thousands! Closing time came and went, virtually ignored. How could we close when more people, so very tired after a long day, were detouring away from a relaxing cup of coffee in a warm home? Instead they were heading toward the still bustling stations to save the life of another!
A woman arrived with two babies in tow. “I never go anywhere,” she told us. “No weddings, no shopping. Nothing. I have a cancer patient at home. I don’t even have the time for basic housework. But for this? To help save a life? For this I just had to come!” “Yes!” we thought to ourselves. “You really understand. The pain. The fear. That tiny glimmer of hope that, at times, seems all but extinguished. A dying spark until Ezer Mizion arrives to fan it into a flame of faith.
Founded in 1998, Ezer Mizion’s International Bone Marrow Registry, is the largest Jewish registry worldwide and has saved the lives of 4,293 patients whose sole chance of survival had been a transplant. Three hundred and ninety-four lives were saved in 2021 alone, more than one per day! Several years ago, Ezer Mizion opened its Stem Cell Harvesting Center, one of the first centers in the world to operate outside a hospital. A full medical staff operates at the Center, including a doctor, nurses, medical technicians, and a Clinic Director, operating according to the strict guidelines and regulations of World Marrow Donors Association (WMDA), which guarantee the quality of the stem cells and ensure the highest standards of performance.
The Registry now numbers 1,130,526 potential donors ready and anxious to donate their stem cells to save a life. It is our fervent prayer that among the many new swabs taken, some will emerge to be perfect match for each of these Yidden and all those around the globe for whom a transplant will mean a Future.
To view heartwarming video of transplants entitled Nothing in Your Life: www.ezermizion.org
There he was, speaking with enthusiasm, with confidence in front of several hundred people. A newly minted adult Jew in his pristine Bar Mitzvah clothing, chosen with such care for this very special occasion. Flanked by his father and grandfather, he was too involved to notice the tears in their eyes as they remembered. Scenes from his babyhood flashed through their minds and enhanced the significance of this momentous evening a thousand fold. His father thought of the day he was born when he first heard the shouts, “It’s a boy! It’s a boy!” His joy was boundless. Avichai’s grandfather recalled how he would stop by the house every day on his way to work just to see Avichai. “He’s my pal. He makes my day!” And they recalled the day their world fell apart. When their precious Avichai was diagnosed with leukemia. The baby’s uncle was Dr. Jerry Stein, the director of the Bone Marrow Unit at Schneiders, a major hospital in Israel. His professional knowledge did not allow for any rosy dreams. He knew that 50% of these patients die. “My heart fell out of my chest when I heard the news!”
Will a stem cell transplant donor be found?
The only hope was Ezer Mizion’s International Bone Marrow Registry, the largest Jewish registry worldwide. A stem cell transplant was needed to save this young life. Genetic matching between donor and recipient is vital for success. A search was performed. The computer raced through hundreds of thousands of names. The staff held their collective breath. The family sat glued to the phone immersed in the timeless words of Tehillim (Psalms). Would the response be the ominous words: No Match Found, a virtual death sentence? Or would there miraculously be a genetic match? From the millions of Jews that inhabit the earth, would there exist a near perfect DNA match? Would he be among those registered in the Registry? A click, a bing. A sound barely heard in the busy office. The computer had stopped at a file. His name was Ziv. His parents had named him Ziv which means light, because he had brought light into their world. And now he was about to do the same for Avichai’s family.
“Would you be willing to donate to save a little boy’s life?” he was asked. The question hardly made any sense to him. “What is the question? Of course, I would donate.”
A year later, the two families met. The little boy, now a healthy, mischievous two-year-old, handed Ziv a present, a Chanukah menorah, a candelabrum of light, and gave his new friend a hug. The atmosphere was electric with unspoken words. Avichai would live!
His family rubbed their eyes. The audience of hundreds were listening intently. Many knew his story. Was this a dream? No, it is real. Avichai has become a man. A Bar Mitzvah bochur (young man). He would grow and mature. He would marry and raise a family who would, in turn, raise their own families… generations…eternity.
Hodaya’s wedding was to be in a few days. Her phone didn’t stop ringing. But this time it wasn’t a mazel tov call or even a call from the makeup lady. “I’m calling from Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Registry. I have exciting news for you. (What could be more exciting than my wedding, Hodaya recalled wondering.) A 69 year old lady is in need of a transplant to save her life and you have been found to be a perfect genetic match. Are you willing to donate?”
“Yes! Yes!” she answered trying to make the mental leap from gowns and flowers to IV’s and syringes. “Yes! But can it wait a bit? I really want to do it but you see, I- I-I’m getting married in a few days and…”
“Mazel tov!” said the kindly voice on the phone. “Call me when you’re feeling up to it after the wedding.”
If Hodaya thought her head was awhirl before the call, it was now spinning out of control. What an opportunity! To save a life! She couldn’t wait to share the news with her husband-to-be. And so it was almost immediately after the wedding, during the week of sheva brochos (celebration week), accompanied by her new husband, she began the procedure that was to save the life of Ilana. Within one week, Hodaya began the creation of a new Jewish home and the re-creation of an elderly Jewish woman.
Yes, the stem cell transplant was a success and a year later, as per international regulations, they met for the very first time. Amid hugs and kisses, the two cried with Ilana pouring forth words of gratitude for the gift she had received from a bride.
It was my birthday and I knew just what I wanted. When I was a little kid, I had some birthday requests that were so out of line that even i understood they were just dreams. Like the time I wanted a horse (We were living in an apartment building.) Now as an adult about to turn 40, my birthday dream seemed just as unattainable. What was it? : A gift of giving, It’s what Ezer Mizion calls a Personalized Donor Pool – a group of potential bone marrow registrants who stand ready to save the lives of cancer patients. My own group whose genetic testing I would be responsible for. Whenever one of them would be found to be a match for a cancer patient and donate his stem cells, I would receive a call with the electrifying words: You have saved a life. What a gift! Every month, I would read the list of names of those whose pools had saved one, sometimes two, lives and I’d think, “Why not me?!”
And so I began working on my birthday gift. I drove everyone crazy. There were hundreds of messages on my facebook page focusing only on this. My whole family was caught up. Even my kids were involved answering phones all night. It was a matter of raising a large sum of money and some of my friends teased me with comments like, ‘Dream on…’ but some of my friends responded more encouragingly and joined in to help me. And as the numbers climbed up, more and more changed their minds and decided to join what seemed to be a winning team. The final numbers (for this year- remember,I have another birthday coming up next year…):
728 people who donated a total of $40,000+ that sponsored 716 new registry members!
Recently our donor pool was launched. My husband and I came for a tour of Ezer Mizion’s cancer support facility in Petah Tikvah. We got home an hour ago and the tears don’t stop flowing. If I only could show all of you what this place looks like! It’s an entire world of chessed, What they do for the patients! To walk into the Registry and see a soldier who was found to be a match for a patient sitting there, waiting to donate, to give life to another human being. Many of them. All spending hours of their time just so someone they never met could have a future.
What’s the best birthday present you ever received? I’ll tell you what mine was, says Noy Arielli. It was an opportunity. An opportunity to give to someone I didn’t even know. An opportunity to save the life of another Jew. My Rabbi had said that a birthday is a time to celebrate being alive and to use the day to give to others. So you can imagine how grateful I felt when the opportunity to do just that fell into my lap. A bit before I had received a call from Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Registry. I had completely forgotten about my having registered with them about 8 years ago. But they didn’t forget. They keep people on the database for decades in the hope that someday they will be found to be a genetic match for a cancer patient whose sole chance of survival is a bone marrow transplant. When an oncology clinic calls – it may be from any part of the world – it’s important that a match be found soon. You see, a cancer patient can’t wait. Ezer Mizion is the largest Jewish registry in the world and has over a million potential donors. Well, the computers began their search. I can imagine the tension in the room as the little circle went round and round. And then click! My name lit up. From all those million files, it was my DNA that matched. They were still nervous, they told me later. Maybe the donor is too involved in a new job or is on vacation or is expecting a baby or maybe she’ll just plain back out.
The ring on my phone was like that of any other call. I didn’t know it was my birthday present on the line. When they asked me, I nearly shouted, “Yes! Of course I’ll do it.” The questions came afterwards. I needed information but there was no doubt in my mind that i would do it. I already felt a connection to the recipient. Him? Her? A child? A grandmother? It didn’t matter. When my birthday came, I sat there for several hours, just smiling with happiness. I was really saving a life!
Of course, my role was only part off the story, a third of what Ezer Mizion calls the Triangle of Life. Before that, funds had to be raised to pay for the genetic testing of new registrants. That came from all of you out there who donate so generously, sometimes in highly unusual ways. Like the employees of the Israeli high-tech company, Syna Media. They got together and voted on each one donating a day of his vacation to Ezer Mizion. This donation culminated in an astounding sum of 200,000 Shekels to Ezer Mizion’s bone marrow registry. This amount will be used towards swabbing 555 potential stem cell donors who will be added to the constantly expanding registry. Some of those will one day be the lucky ones and receive the same call I did.. all because the Syna Media people gave up one day of their vacations. Pretty special, wouldn’t you say?
Two adorable twins. Too young to understand numbers and question why the ‘two’ doesn’t match their actual age. When they mature perhaps Mommy will explain that this was a party celebrating another birthday. It had been two years since Yarden. had received her life-saving bone marrow transplant. No family member was a genetic match and her parents had been forced to look elsewhere, somewhere, around the globe, for someone whose DNA matched their precious child. We cannot imagine the tension, the fear, the prayers that filled their home until one morning, the phone rang. “I’m calling from Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Registry. I have wonderful news…” Life hasn’t been easy for the twins. They were born together but have been apart for so much of their life what with Yarden in and out of hospitals. May they now spend the rest of their lives together, enjoying each other’s company in perfect health.