Blood brothers: U.S. tourists donate more than dollars
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Blood brothers: U.S. tourists donate more than dollars

Former Teaneck resident Jonathan Feldstein may have made aliyah in ‘004, but his work in Israel increasingly brings him into contact with his former neighbors in Bergen County.

Most recently Feldstein — who has been organizing blood drives for American tourists in Israel — arranged for donations by participants in UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jersey to Jerusalem mission, which returned Sunday. (See page ”.) Thirteen units of blood were collected during the three-hour session at Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel, which Feldstein said was "normal for that length of time" — though not close to the record of 47 units collected at another drive three days earlier.


In front, Jersey to Jerusalem participant Jerrold Yaffee of Fair Lawn, who was on last week’s UJA of Northern New Jersey’s mission to Israel, donates blood at Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel.

The Magen David Adom representative pointed out in a telephone interview that "as much as there is a general sense of pride and a desire to participate, those who are rejected for one reason or another are truly disappointed." As a rule, he said, 33 percent to 50 percent of would-be donors are turned away because of factors such as age, weight, or medications they are taking.

"Those who are able to give are very grateful and thank us for the opportunity," he said. Feldstein said that J’J mission member John Weichel of Allendale told him, "Seeing … the suffering of those in Nahariya on the northern border firsthand, I wanted to do my small part to help save lives in Israel. I am very glad I had the opportunity to donate today." Also, according to Feldstein, Rabbi Helaine Ettinger of Kinnelon said, "I felt helpless this past summer, not being able to give blood in Israel. Thank goodness it’s not the same emergency now. But I felt very glad that the blood drive was part of the mission schedule."

The practice of asking tourists to donate blood began in ‘006, when MDA, which supplies 100 percent of the blood for the Israel Defense Forces, began to experience a blood shortage, said Feldstein. While many Israelis came forward to give blood during the war, donations slacked off afterwards and new sources needed to be found.

The new approach was two-pronged. In the United States, American Friends of Magen David Adom, which Feldstein serves as Israel representative, sent press releases to the Jewish media and communal organizations saying that AFMDA "is calling on all travelers to Israel to donate blood while they are there," particularly those with type O blood. In Israel, blood drives were set up throughout the country with ads in the local media welcoming the American groups and inviting all interested people to participate in the scheduled blood drives.

According to Feldstein, who worked for UJA Federation of New York in Rockland County before ‘004 and now lives in Efrat, MDA ran two dozen blood drives for American tourists between April and December ‘006 and collected about 300 units of blood, "representing about 10 percent of the increase in total blood donated to Magen David Adom in ‘006." Since Jan. 1, it has organized between 1’ and 15 drives, including the "Sharing for Life" blood drive in Jerusalem hosted with Yeshiva University in early January.

While the blood supply is now stable, he said, the group’s goal is to collect 1,400 to 1,500 units per day. MDA is also looking to replace its now-old fleet of bloodmobiles within five years, he said. "We have an extraordinary need," said Feldstein. "Our current fleet is technologically and mechanically insufficient."

To help address that need, he said, Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck, to which Feldstein belonged before making aliyah, donated funds for a state-of-the-art bloodmobile during the summer’s war with Hezbollah.

Synagogue past president Bennett Deutsch told The Jewish Standard that he had been looking for a concrete way to help Israel during the war and called MDA to see what it needed. Told by Feldstein that the group could use $160,000 for a high-tech bloodmobile with greater capacity than the vehicles in its aging fleet, Deutsch set about collecting the money.

"The project had broad appeal," he said, but he noted that "it could only happen by asking for large gifts." In the end, he collected almost exactly the amount that was needed, receiving contributions from some 40 synagogue members.

The new bloodmobile — "designed specifically for the needs of Magen David Adom," said Feldstein — will join the fleet this summer.

Feldstein wants giving blood to become as much a part of an Israel experience as a visit to the Kotel or Yad Vashem. "We want Americans to put it on their list of things to do, as much as going to Masada," he said. He tells people that "by taking one hour and donating one pint of blood, they have the ability to save up to three lives. It is a very hands-on, meaningful, and personal experience anyone age 17 (with parental consent) to 65 can do," said Feldstein. "There’s no more direct way to save lives in Israel than by donating blood."

For further information or to arrange a blood drive in Israel, e-mail Jonathan Feldstein at jfeldstein@afmda.org.

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