Hundreds of people from 21 Monmouth County organizations are expected to participate in the 11th annual Mitzvah Day on Sunday, Oct. 24. This year’s theme, “A Caring Community,” reflects the countywide effort to help the sick, needy, and elderly as well as clean the environment and help soldiers overseas.
“In addition to drives for food, clothing, and toys, plus a beach cleanup, this year’s Mitzvah Day features the ultimate mitzva — saving a life,” said organizer Shelley Feingold, operations and outreach director at the JCC of Western Monmouth County. “For the first time, we will hold three Gift of Life Bone Marrow registration centers, in addition to two blood drive donor locations.”
The bone marrow drive is coordinated by Ocean Township resident Mel Cohen, who has made it his life’s mission to locate lifesaving donors. It’s a quest he knows from first-hand experience.
“A total stranger donated his stem cells to me in 2007 to give me back my life. Now I urge more individuals to step forward to become donors so that other patients may find their miracle match,” said Cohen, who retired in 2006 after 30 years as executive director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services.
Cohen, who serves as chairperson of the central New Jersey chapter of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, met his donor two years after his surgery. “He was a 30-year-old man from Roslyn, NY, who had undergone the test to try to help a member of his congregation who needed a transplant. He wasn’t a match for that person, but two years later my doctor found him on the registry,” Cohen said. “As a Jewish community we have an obligation to give back. And there’s no better way to do that than to give someone else life.”
A simple, painless cheek swab is all that’s required to get listed on the national registry. Testers must be between the ages of 18 and 60 and in relatively good health. Registration is being held at three locations: Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro, Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen, and the Ruth Hyman JCC in Deal.
There is no fee for the test, but donations are gratefully accepted to help cover the $54 processing cost for each kit. (More information about the test can be found at www.giftoflife.org.)
“As cochair of the social action committee at Rodeph Torah, I personally feel very strongly about our involvement in tikun olam,” said Mindy Krull of Marlboro, who is organizing the drive at her synagogue. “I believe that every individual is responsible to contribute toward this goal in a way that is meaningful to them. The community-wide Mitzvah Day program allows for a choice of ways to make a difference.”
It is especially important for Jewish people to be tested, said Janet Kaplan of Sayreville, cochair of the social action committee at Beth Ahm. “The number of Ashkenazi Jews was drastically reduced in the Holocaust, so there is unfortunately a much smaller pool from which to draw. It is also important for us, as parents, to teach our children these important lessons. We must take care of each other.”
Manalapan resident Ken Gross of Temple Beth Shalom in Manalapan chairs the event’s clothing drive, which gathers truckloads of everything from suits to socks.
“From a personal standpoint, any charitable endeavor is a mitzva. When I was younger, I did not have a lot, so I understand the need people have for help. In today’s economy, there are many needy families who have never struggled before. Every little bit that we can all do helps.”