Ezer Mizion, IDF mark a decade of partnership

The Ezer Mizion bone marrow registry has been instrumental in saving 2,200 lives, of which 1,100 were saved through IDF donations.

September 21, 2016 04:00
4 minute read.
ATTENDING AN EVENT at the President’s Residence on Monday are, from left, President Reuven Rivlin, O

ATTENDING AN EVENT at the President’s Residence on Monday are, from left, President Reuven Rivlin, Omer Ben Horin, Erez Raslevsky, Hagai Topolanski and Bracha Zisser.. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN / GPO)

Erez Raslevsky, a husband and father, stood on stage in the garden of the president’s residence, barely able to speak.

His voice and body trembled as he spoke of getting a fever, going to a hospital, undergoing tests, being diagnosed with leukemia, then told he had six months to live. He simply could not believe the doctors, but decided not to give in to despair.

He derived comfort from Ezer Mizion, the organization that has collected the largest registry of Jewish potential bone marrow donors in the world.

Dr. Bracha Zisser established the registry in 1998 with her husband, international businessman and mega-philanthropist Moti Zisser, who succumbed to cancer three months ago.

Dr. Zisser started talking about Raslevsky, then stopped mid-sentence and called him to the microphone to continue the story.

The upshot was that he received a bone marrow transplant from a soldier whom he had never met, but to whom he now owed his life. “I’m here today because of him,” he said.

Since the transplant, Raslevsky has started to do things he always put off for a rainy day. That included a marathon bike ride across Israel. He has now fully recovered and in good health, he said. “I want to thank the soldier who gave me back my life.”

Seconds later, Omer Ben Horin was on stage, and Raslevsky grabbed him in a warm and sustained embrace as if they were father and son. Both had tears in their eyes.

The occasion was the 10th anniversary of a life-saving partnership between Ezer Mizion and the Israel Defense Forces.

Ben Horin belonged to a donor pool headed by David and Sarah Farajun who, together with other members of the family, also joined Raslevsky and Ben Horin on stage.

There were other similar reunions earlier in the day.

At about the same time, Shir Tahar, then a 24-yearold combat veteran, was preparing to go on a trip to South America when she suddenly was struck with terrible pains in her legs.

She too was diagnosed with leukemia, literally on the eve of her trip. She met her donor Eyal Goldman, now a university student, on the lawn of the president’s residence.

They had never met before.

“I’m delighted to meet Eyal,” she said. “I owe my life to him.”

Goldman said that when he got the call from Ezer Mizion, telling him that someone who matched his gene pool was in need of a bone marrow transplant, he did not hesitate to donate his stem cells. He was no stranger to transplants, as his mother had donated a kidney to his father.

The partnership between Ezer Mizion and the IDF was agreed upon between the Zissers and Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, who was then head of the Manpower Directorate in the army, and who is now a Knesset member.

While consent is not compulsory, but soldiers who agreed on recruitment to donate a blood or saliva sample, said when they were eventually called to donate marrow they were pleased to do so, though the experience itself was uncomfortable and took several hours.

Even though they did not know the identities of their recipients, they maintained regular contact with Ezer Mizion to learn whether the transplant was successful.

In one case a soldier donated marrow to a 24-year-old woman. The transplant was successful, but the woman died anyway, which was terribly upsetting to him, despite not knowing her identity.

A female soldier said she had never come to terms with the death of her best friend from cancer at the age of 14. When she finally had the opportunity to save a life she regarded it as a gift. Later, she discovered that she’d saved the life of a 56-year-old woman, and burst into tears when she discovered the woman was the same age as her mother.

Another soldier said that because his mother had died of cancer, he was only too glad to try to save someone’s life.

At the beginning of the ceremony there was a film with nine-year-old Sivan Bejano, a beautiful child with a sunny personality, who is still hoping for a donor to appear. One scene in which her mother tells her to be strong and brave seemed to touch a nerve with everyone.

“How very moving,” said President Reuven Rivlin as he began his address. He said the event was not the usual type of gathering hosted at the President’s Residence.

In fact, with soldiers saving the lives of total strangers, it was absolutely unique.

Rivlin expressed a very warm place in his heart for the IDF and described the event as “the bone marrow and DNA of Israeli society in all its diversity.”

The Ezer Mizion bone marrow registry has been instrumental in saving 2,200 lives, of which 1,100 were saved through IDF donations, said Ezer Mizion founder Rabbi Chananya Chollak.

The current head of the IDF Manpower Division, Maj.-Gen. Hagai Topolanski, received a medal for his personal involvement in the Saving a Life Partnership, and for encouraging IDF recruits to give something of themselves, and in that way, restore a whole world.

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