You shouldn’t be fired for trying to save lives

You shouldn’t be fired for trying to save lives

This postcard for Be the Match, featuring the Roths, encourages bone marrow donation.
This postcard for Be the Match, featuring the Roths, encourages bone marrow donation.

After talking to our congressman, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, at the Fair Lawn Memorial Day parade, I thought of the following rabbinic teaching. At the beginning of Genesis, we read that God created only one person, and from that one person our entire world descended. The rabbis conclude that “…anyone who saves one life is as if he saved an entire world” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4: 6).

I am a volunteer for Be the Match, the national bone marrow transplant registry. Recently, the group asked its members to speak to our representatives in Congress, asking for their support for proposed legislation H.R. 7770, called the Life Saving Leave Act. That bill would enable more people to become bone marrow or stem cell donors by allowing them time off from work to complete the donation.

I have a personal connection to this. I was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer in 2015, and I learned that I could be cured only with a bone marrow transplant. There was no perfect match for me in the more than thirty million donors listed by Be the Match. Eventually my doctor said that my best hope for a cure was a riskier half match with my son, Gabe. I was very fortunate that I survived the transplant in 2018.

Gabe is the executive director of Fix the Court, a nonprofit group that advocates for non-ideological “fixes” that would make the federal courts, and primarily the U.S. Supreme Court, more open and more accountable to the American people. Since he is the top executive at his work, it was easy for him to take off the time to donate his bone marrow.

Be the Match recently began to lobby for passage of H.R. 7770. It is hard enough to find a matching donor, as I well know, but the additional issue of that donor being able to take time off from work to make the donation hadn’t crossed my mind. Often a donor can’t take time off from work to make the donation without losing his or her job. Sometimes donors do not live near a hospital where they can make a donation, so they must miss additional time from work. That makes it impossible for them to donate.

H.R. 7770 would allow bone marrow and stem cell donors to take up to 40 hours of leave from work to save a life. It’s unpaid time off, so there are minimal costs for employers or the government. I had heard about the bill on our monthly Zoom call for Be the Match volunteers. At their request, I sent Be the Match a photo of myself with my donor — my son Gabe — and his daughter, my granddaughter, Isabella. Be the Match is using that photo in its materials promoting the legislation.

When I saw Rep. Gottheimer at the parade, I pulled out my cell phone, checked the email from Be the Match, and memorized the name and the number of the proposed law by repeating it to myself several times. Was it a coincidence that the number had so many sevens in it? Seven is a key numeral in Jewish life. I caught up with the congressman as he was leaving, briefly introduced myself as a bone marrow transplant survivor, and explained the importance of H.R. 7770. I was very pleased to see that Rep. Gottheimer showed interest and made a note of it in his cell phone.

A few weeks ago, at our most recent meeting of Be the Match volunteers, I learned that Rep. Gottheimer had become one of the first co-sponsors of HR 7770, the bipartisan effort to enable more people to become donors.  Rep. Gottheimer is known for finding common ground on our most pressing issues. I thank him for taking this key practical step to save lives. It reminds me, as our rabbis taught, that saving one life is equivalent to saving an entire world.

Let’s hope our Congress will pass this bill, to save many individual lives and many worlds.

Ronald Roth is rabbi emeritus at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Congregation B’nai Israel.

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