'Birthright has saved 34 lives'

Participants in Jewish identity program urged to join bone marrow registry.

June 10, 2010 10:34
1 minute read.
University of Virginia students celebrate reaching

birthright 311. (photo credit: Neta Shor)

Taglit-Birthright Israel has saved lives.

The program, which brings Diaspora Jewish college-age youth to Israel for trips focusing on Jewish history and identity, is already acknowledged as one of the better-known success stories in the Diaspora Jewish effort to keep young people affiliated.

But in the midst of fulfilling its stated purpose, it has also increasingly been recognized as a platform for other good works.

For the past six years, Birthright has had a relationship with Gift of Life, a US-based registry for potential bone marrow, blood stem cell and umbilical cord blood donors. These donations are an important part of the worldwide battle against leukemia and lymphoma, and organizations such as Gift of Life are in a race to register as many donors as possible in order to find genetic matches for those who need them.

In 2004, Gift of Life started working with Birthright in the hope that it will be able to reach the tens of thousands of college-age Diaspora and Israeli youth who participate in the free trips each year.

For its part, Birthright has encouraged its participants to get their cheeks swabbed for the database during their stay in Israel, and even hosts special booths for that purpose at its annual summer “mega-events” in Israel.

So far, 17,416 participants have registered, resulting in 363 matches and 34 successful transplants. The most recent transplant was conducted last Wednesday.

According to Gift of Life executive director Jay Feinberg, the patients helped by Birthright participants come from “all over the world and are all different ages.”

The youngest patient is six months old, the oldest 70, he said, adding that they hail from England, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Australia, Spain, Israel, Canada and the US.

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