When Camy Steiner’s grandfather died in November, she knew exactly what act of tzedaka to undertake in his memory — raising funds for the Michael J. Nissenblatt Partners in Healing Foundation, whose namesake is a fellow member of her congregation, Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick.
It wasn’t the first time Camy, the daughter of Judy and Jeff Steiner of East Brunswick, had supported the foundation or paid tribute to her grandfather through that support.
Last spring, looking for a project to mark her bat mitzva and honor her grandfather, Ben Wolf of Monroe, it was Partners in Healing that caught the attention of the 13-year-old eighth-grader at Churchill Junior High School. “I always like to help people and I feel bad when others are sick and can’t help themselves,” she said.
Which pretty much is a reflection of Nissenblatt’s aims when the oncologist established the foundation in 2009 to financially support families suffering the devastating effects of serious illness during these harsh economic times.
Throughout his medical career, Nissenblatt said, he has always been guided by the Jewish values instilled in him by his parents. “My parents taught me about the mitzva of charity and the importance of giving back,” he said.
Through the East Brunswick resident’s many years treating cancer sufferers, he has launched many initiatives and foundations — and, along the way, distributed thousands of loaves of hallah to bring hope to people with life-threatening illnesses.
Partners in Healing “will cover pretty much anything but vet bills,” said Nissenblatt in a phone interview with NJJN. The associate director of medical oncology at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick also runs a private practice, the Central Jersey Oncology Center.
Nissenblatt started the foundation with Richard Anslow and his wife, Rena, of Marlboro; assisting with vetting applicants is Barry Lurie of Marlboro, who also sits on the board with his wife, Iris.
Nissenblatt listed some of the foundation’s achievements. “It has thus far funded a major construction on the home of a paraplegic man, paid for essential car repairs for a woman who had just been widowed because of her husband’s lung cancer, and funded transportation costs for many patients receiving radiation therapy and chemotherapy,” Nissenblatt said.
It has also funded costly copayments for critical medications used in cancer treatments and paid the dental expenses of other cancer patients. The foundation will also help with mortgages, rent, or credit card payments.
Last fall, when Nissenblatt heard of a woman who was suffering from life-threatening leukemia and whose husband had lost his job, the foundation provided the family with “an old-fashioned Christmas” complete with a tree, presents, and a meal.
“I have personally solicited the funding for the foundation and selected the recipients of the monetary awards,” said Nissenblatt. “I do this because I love people and I love my patients.”
Nissenblatt and his wife, Marlene, have also cochaired the American Cancer Society of Middlesex County’s annual Night of Wine and Roses for the last 15 years; the chapter’s top fund-raising event has brought in between $150,000 and $250,000 each of those years. Both also serve as society spokespersons and board members.
They established the Dr. Michael and Marlene Nissenblatt Scholarship with the East Brunswick Regional Chamber of Commerce Charitable Foundation, awarding three to four annual scholarships — about 20 to date — to post-graduate students of Western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and/or herbology “who embrace and bring the human touch and human spirit to healthcare.”
And those Shabbat loaves? Nissenblatt’s Challah Foundation, since its creation in 1994, has given out more than 150,000 loaves, referred to as “the bread of hope,” each Friday to cancer patients at RWJ, using a team of 10 volunteers from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. Nissenblatt himself joins in the weekly distribution.
The hallah distribution, “given to patients of all ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds, seems to bring a sense of harmony, restoration, and hope to people with life-threatening illnesses,” he explained. “I create each week’s list of recipients. We stop to talk with them for five minutes. They are handed a large loaf of kosher hallah by an anonymous person. It is a noble gift.”
Nissenblatt has also run the New York City marathon for the last 14 years and seven years ago joined Fred’s Team, which pays the bills of children with leukemia being treated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center through money donated to marathon runners. To date, his efforts have raised $180,000, consistently placing Nissenblatt among the top 10 fund-raisers.
Nissenblatt has received many honors for his work, including from B’nai Shalom.
“My goal as a physician has been to employ modern technology and science with the compassionate touch of traditional medicine,” said Nissenblatt. “I believe in developing close relationships with patients and in accompanying them on their paths in life.”
He added he considers himself to be a “symbolic” leader of the Jewish community, who leads by example, surely the role he occupied in relation to Camy Steiner.
“I really think it is a good cause that helps so many in need,” she said. “I believe I am helping to make a difference by helping him.”
Partners in Healing
To make a donation to the Michael J. Nissenblatt Partners in Healing Foundation, send checks to Partners in Healing, c/o Dr. Michael Nissenblatt, Central Jersey Oncology Center, 205 Easton Ave., New Brunswick, NJ 08901 or contact 732-828-9570 or firstname.lastname@example.org.