What does a hero look like today? What does it take to be a hero? This summer, five of the URJ Camps, partnered with the Gift of Life Foundation to host Bone Marrow Registry Drives in an effort to “find heroes” who match those in need of a bone marrow transplant. With nearly 200 people swabbed at URJ Camp Harlam, URJ Kutz Camp, URJ Goldman Union Camp-Institute, URJ Eisner Camp and URJ Jacobs Camp, our communities had the opportunity to put into action our commitment to the Jewish concept of pikuach nefesh (saving a life). This valuable learning opportunity is highlighted by the story below by Beth Kanofsky, Assistant Director at URJ Camp Harlam.
On Sunday, our first session campers left camp, most by around 11 AM. This is an emotionally charged time for camp staff as they conclude their work with campers, say goodbye, and also think about the next session to prepare for. Between sessions we take time to relax, refresh, and prepare for the next challenge.
On Monday, we welcomed Ruth Miller from the Gift of Life Foundation. Ruth shared with our staff the story of Jay Feinberg, Gift of Life’s founder, and his search to find a match and have a bone marrow transplant. The staff were touched by the story and it brought to mind their own stories. Many staff members had friends or family members undergoing treatment or waiting for a bone marrow transplant. Some had lost people close to them to the diseases that bone marrow transplants can help treat. The staff were filled with emotion, and ready to take action. Our trained volunteers went to the tables, and with just a simple cheek swab, they were able to add 50 people to the Gift of Life registry.
Following the drive, Ruth and I stopped into the misrad (office) to organize the kits and prepare them to be shipped to Gift of Life’s headquarters. I stopped to speak to a staff member about our Chavurah families who were hosting Israeli campers during intersession. We briefly discussed the Teller family, who graciously hosted three of our participants for the two nights before their session at camp started. Ellen Teller, our camper Hannah’s mother, had been particularly helpful and I mentioned this to someone else in the office. All of the sudden Ruth said, “Wait, Ellen Teller from North Jersey?” I replied “Oh, how do you know Ellen Teller?” Like all good games of Jewish Geography, I expected to hear that they grew up together, or that their children were friends, or any mix of stories. Ruth responded that Ellen was actually a bone marrow donor, matched with a patient 10 years ago. We paused for a moment, looking at each other, surprised at the coincidence. And yet, I don’t really regard this as happenstance. After all, both of our organizations are part of a network of Jewish people, committed to Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and helping each other.
As a staff member at a Jewish camp, there are endless opportunities to positively impact campers and change their lives. The Camp Harlam Staff of 2011 were given a unique opportunity to help a stranger and change the course of their life. Indeed, a member of our camp community had already done this. During a time of transition in the summer, it was refreshing for our staff community to participate in something so sacred. Hopefully, the registration of our staff and many others this summer will result in the changing of a life, or many lives, in the future.