This year, Jewish singles will have the opportunity to make a miracle when they go to the MatzoBall at Royale in Boston on Christmas Eve.
The famed Boston event is taking place for the 33rd consecutive year, and the 2019 edition is featuring an inaugural partnership with Gift of Life Marrow Registry to increase chances of matching blood cancer patients in need of a life-saving marrow or blood stem-cell transplant with individuals who can provide it. All it takes, event planners say, is a cheek swab that will add the donor to the marrow registry and allow them to say “Swab Sameach” on a day that, in addition to being Christmas Eve, is also the second full day of Chanukah.
Valerie Janovic, Jewish Community Engagement Coordinator for Gift of Life, said that the “Swab Sameach” Chanukah campaign arose out of a decision to “associate the holiday of miracles with the miracle of saving a life.” She called the MatzoBall, which occurs in eight cities nationwide, a “perfect opportunity to reach young people across the country, educate them about Gift of Life and the miracle of saving a life, and encourage them to join the registry,” which today numbers over a quarter-million people in the US and has made more than 17,000 matches, facilitating 3,500-plus life-saving transplants.
“Blood cancer is not a very rare form,” Janovic said, but added, “This campaign is aiming to increase awareness of blood cancer and bone marrow research. I believe there is widespread awareness about blood cancer, but not as many people know about the opportunity to cure it by donating bone marrow or stem cells.”
At the Boston MatzoBall, a volunteer at a table will ask attendees if they are already on the Gift of Life registry, and if not, whether they would like to join. Janovic estimated that the process takes three to five minutes. “All they need to do is swab their cheek and fill out a quick health survey,” she said. “If they’re a match for someone, they’ll get a call with an opportunity to save a life.”
“Walking out the door, I think, a lot of people will want to [participate],” said MatzoBall National Event Manager Jordyn Cohen. “We’ve sent emails. It doesn’t hurt … There’s no cost.”
Gift of Life was created by Jay Feinberg in 1991 after he was diagnosed with leukemia and sought a life-saving marrow transplant. Janovic said that it is “not exclusively a Jewish organization but it does have Jewish roots.”
“Because he is an Ashkenazi Jew, he was unable to find a match” at first, Janovic said. “The chance depends on genetics. The Jewish community got together to set up donors across the country, from New York to California, in synagogues and community centers, trying to find a match to save his life.”
Feinberg eventually did find a match, but “he did not want to go through that ever again,” Janovic said, adding that this spurred him to found Gift of Life and the registry.
Cohen realized the importance of finding a match after her aunt was diagnosed with bone cancer and searched for a donor, eventually locating one in Germany through her hospital. Her cancer is now in remission. “She’s gone through hell,” Cohen said. “She lost her hair, she had chemo,” and is in a two-year waiting period. But, Cohen said, “she’s alive, thank God.”
This year’s MatzoBall will perhaps create similar life-saving opportunities thanks to singles who participate in the registry. And it sounds like a variety of people can benefit. “We work to add Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardi Jews as well as other minorities,” Gift of Life’s Janovic said. “We’re just trying to increase diversity in the registry and see if people can find a match.”