I joined the bone marrow registry at a Gift of Life drive when I was a first year at UNC-Chapel Hill. The NC Hillel director at the time, Or Mars, also joined the registry that day. While I have been hoping ever since to be someone’s match, that day has yet to come. Though I’m not destined to be a match (yet), it’s remarkable how the stars have still seemed to align in other ways almost ten years later. I manage the RAC-Gift of Life partnership, and specifically, spend a lot of my time helping congregations across the US organize bone marrow drives on Yom Kippur. As you’ll read below, Or became a match for a young boy a few years after swabbing. Amazingly, his story is deeply intertwined with Yom Kippur, and to top it off, his wife is a rabbi at a participating Yom Kippur congregation this year!
Enjoy his story below, and be in touch with me to learn about all the ways to get involved with our partnership with Gift of Life.
“In August 2008, I was blessed with the opportunity to be a bone marrow donor for a 7 year-old boy suffering with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. It is a very rare disease and often fatal, unless treated with a bone marrow transplant. I was a perfect match for this unknown boy and was asked to be a bone marrow donor. Throughout the donation process, Gift of Life took care of everything involved with this mitzvah, including expenses. I just had to show up and they lovingly chaperoned me the rest of the way.
A few days before Rosh HaShanah, I donated my bone marrow to this nameless boy. The process took an hour, and I was back in my hotel room by that afternoon with very little discomfort. Ten days later I was told that the bone marrow was accepted by the patient’s body. Such good news! He received the donation on Rosh HaShanah – b’Rosh Hashana yikateivu – On Rosh Hashanah it was written. And his body accepted it on Yom Kippur – u’v’yom Tzom Kippur yaychateimu. And on Yom Kippur it was sealed.
A year after the donation, both the recipient and I were able to connect and begin building a relationship. Is started with this letter from his dad:
“We received some wonderful news today – you agreed to release your contact information to us – and we are delighted by the opportunity to meet you and to get to know you. As you now know, your selfless act saved the life of our then seven-year-old son…As far we are concerned, you and your family are and always will be an integral part of our family.”
On our first phone call, Mikey was very eager to learn what allergies I had – because now that we share the same bone marrow, we also share the same allergies. I was thrilled to tell him that I have no allergies – he doesn’t either now.
I will forever be connected to Mikey and his family. It has been 6 years and we are in regular touch. We visit each other once a year and a few months ago, my family and I were at his bar mitzvah where we were honored with having an aliyah on the Torah.
Being a bone marrow donor through Gift of Life is one of the greatest things I have ever done. The obligation of pikuach nefesh (saving a life) overrides all other obligations in Jewish life. Being given this opportunity allowed me to actualize all of my Jewish values in one act. It is as simple as this….the more of us that are in the registry the better the chances that people with fatal diseases, like Mikey had, will find a match for hope of a cure.”
Or Mars is the Director of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program at The Wexner Foundation. He is married to Rabbi Sharon Mars; she serves as the Associate Rabbi at Temple Israel, whose congregation will be participating in the RAC and Gift of Life’s Yom Kippur Project. They live in Columbus, OH with their three children. For any questions about being a bone marrow donor, please feel free to contact Or at email@example.com.