Interfaith blood drive in Ridgewood
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Interfaith blood drive in Ridgewood

Temple Israel to host Christian, Muslim congregations

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At last April’s blood drive are, from left, Jerry Birenz; Mahmoud Hamza of the Muslim Society of Ridgewood; Rabbi David J. Fine, spiritual leader of Temple Israel; the Rev. John G. Hartnett of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Ridgewood; and Jerry Pagotaisidro, R.N., blood drive supervisor for Community Blood Services. courtesy community blood services

Bringing other religions on board has brought logistical challenges and opportunities to the semi-annual blood drive of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center of Ridgewood, which takes place on Sunday.

The congregation has been running a blood drive since 1993, according to congregant Jerry Birenz, its founder.

But it is only in the past few years that first St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church and more recently the Muslim Society of Ridgewood have joined in.

“It works out pretty well, because people at Temple Israel tend to give in the morning, while bringing to or dropping off from Hebrew school,” said Birenz. “Church gets out around noon, so they come afterwards.”

Reaching out to Ridgewood’s young and growing Muslim community, which Temple Israel did a couple of years ago, brought special needs.

“Some of the Muslim women wanted their blood to be only taken by a woman,” said Birenz. “Some felt more comfortable behind a curtain for modesty reasons, since they are lying down. We made those accommodations because we wanted to encourage them to come, to encourage interaction among our communities.”

Temple Israel is one of about 20 synagogues in the New Jersey and New York region served by Community Blood Services, which provides blood to 30 hospitals in the region. With an expected 50 to 60 donors between the three congregations, “that’s a very nice blood drive,” said Karen Ferriday, director of community affairs for Community Blood Services.

Nationally, only 5 percent of people donate blood; in New Jersey, said Ferriday, the number is less: 3 percent. The need, though, is important, she said.

“We normally need 250 donors a day,” she said. “For quite a while we have been falling short. The bad weather made things a little bit worse. The shelf life of blood is only 35 days, so we constantly need to replenish the supply,” she said.

“If anyone is interested in running blood drives, they should call (201) 444-3900. We are happy to help,” said Ferriday.

Birenz said the synagogue’s drive targets existing blood donors, rather than first-timers.

“Some people have weird feelings about giving blood. Some are afraid of needles. Some afraid of disease, even though the needles aren’t reused,” he said.

“Someone who has given in the past realizes that it’s not painful, it’s not a hassle, and understands the good that it does,” he said.

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