Community Connections, Faces of the J, Jewish Life, Mitzvah Corps

Giving the Gift of Life

In 2018, 21-year-old Madeline Weinstein was on her Birthright trip, a program that offers Jewish young adults a free 10-day educational trip to Israel. One night, a representative from Gift of Life Marrow Registry, an organization that facilitates blood stem cell and bone marrow transplants for patients with blood cancers, spoke to the group and encouraged them to join the donor registry. It was an easy decision for Madeline; she did the quick cheek swab without thinking twice.

“The odds of being a match were so small, so I figured I’d live in the registry until I aged out and just forget about it,” she said. And she did forget about it—until she got a call two years later from Gift of Life notifying her that she was a potential match for a stem cell donation.

“I was super excited when I got the call,” Madeline said. “I felt chosen to help.”

The process began with blood tests — a lot of blood tests. The upside: “it helped me get over my fear of needles,” Madeline said with a laugh. When donation day finally came in October 2020, Madeline was nervous, but also happy knowing she was going to impact someone’s life so directly. The entire donation process took about six hours, and Madeline passed the time chatting with her mom and Facetiming friends. She was also literally wrapped in the encouragement of her friends and family: they had written messages of love and support on the blanket she had with her that day. All in all, it was a surprisingly relaxed process, she said. “It’s amazing that something so effortless can add years to someone’s life,” she said. “It’s really humbling.”

When Madeline joined the SJCC staff as Program Manager this past July, she knew one of the programs she wanted to offer at the J was a Gift of Life Registry Drive, much like the one she encountered in Israel. She’s trained to collect cheek swabs so she can continue to be involved with the organization in a hands-on way.

In Judaism, one of the highest forms of tzedakah (charitable giving), is when the giver and the recipient are unknown to each other; Madeline noted that joining the registry aligns with this Jewish value. “Especially during the High Holidays, when we’re thinking about being inscribed into the Book of Life for another year, joining the registry is a great way to add another page to someone’s Book of Life,” Madeline said.

The J is hosting a registry drive on October 18; stop by between 3 and 6 pm for a quick cheek swab (details here). You’ll also have an opportunity to join the registry at our Pop-Up Blood Drive on October 26-27.

Madeline hopes everyone who’s able will join the registry. “It just takes 30 seconds – and it’s way easier than a COVID test,” she said. “You never know who you’re going to save.”

Learn more about Gift of Life and becoming a donor here >>