Jerusalem mobilizes to save leukemia patient

Bone marrow drive to find donors for Matt Fenster.

Fenster 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Fenster 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Volunteers in Jerusalem will come together at a bone marrow drive on Wednesday as part of an international effort to save Matt Fenster, a New York resident with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).
A 35-year old lawyer and father of four from Riverdale, in the Bronx, Fenster has taken an active role in his community, including with his congregation, the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale. But on April 21, he was diagnosed with AML, for which a bone marrow transplant may offer the only chance for survival.
“My family’s world has been turned upside down,” Fenster wrote in a message on the congregation’s Web site. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy.
Now, the synagogue has sought to repay him for his years of service by organizing bone marrow drives in communities across America. But looking even farther afield in the search for genetic similarities within the Jewish community, synagogue member Neil Weidberg has been spearheading efforts in Jerusalem.
Having lived in Israel for a time, Weidberg said he had a sufficient network of friends in the city on whom he could count to attend the drive. But he noted that the large number of students there offered a prime target population.
“It was an obvious choice for me,” said Weidberg, who has been close to Fenster for over a decade.
Benji Lovitt, a friend of Weidberg’s who took charge of the events in Jerusalem, said the English-speaking community in Israel ensured a wide net of involvement. He turned to social media for publicity, using such sites as Twitter and Facebook.
“We’re all connected within one or two people,” Lovitt said.
“It’s very easy to mobilize the community.”
In late May, a drive at the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism in Jerusalem garnered around 150 samples, one of the series of events taking place from California to Florida in Fenster’s name. At the Salute to Israel Parade in New York City on May 23, a drive for Fenster netted nearly 2,000 samples.
The second event in Jerusalem is being held Wednesday from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the Young Judaea center at 8 Rehov Gad in Baka. Potential bone marrow donors are being asked to help defray the $54 cost of each test.
Melissa Meyers, who will attend the drive, said she had learned of it from Lovitt’s Twitter feed. She has passed along the invitation to hundreds of others.
“On a more fundamental level, it’s the Jewish community coming together in a really beautiful and positive way,” Meyers explained.
While finding a match for Fenster will truly mirror winning the lottery, organizers have emphasized the broader benefits of the drive.
“It’s not likely that [it’s] going to find a match for Matt,” Weidberg said. “But it is likely that it’s going to find a match for somebody.”
Over 6,000 Americans are currently in need of a bone marrow transplant, and national registries provide a constantly growing collections of potential donors.
Lovitt couldn’t predict how many people would come to the drive in Baka, but over a thousand people had been invited via Facebook alone.
“It’s to save lives,” he said. “So we can’t get ‘enough’ people.”
To donate money, please contact Benji Lovitt at Donations are appreciated and can help save Matt's life.