In 1991, news of then New Jersey resident Jay Feinberg’s struggle to find a donor to rescue him from leukemia inspired thousands to get involved in the campaign to save his life. When students at nearby Solomon Schechter Day School (SSDS) in Essex County, NJ heard his story, they immediately organized the Walk for Life to raise money to fund the search.
Miriam (Heller) Stern, who was an eleventh grader in 1991, met Jay and was determined to help him however she could. Though students were too young to donate bone marrow, they remained dedicated to the cause. Together with SSDS principal, Dr. Joyce Raynor, Heller and her friends on the school’s social action committee organized the very first Walk for Life. Since then, students have raised and donated over $60, 000 to Gift of Life through this annual event.
In the fall of 2006, Jay returned to New Jersey to address the students at SSDS in an assembly that reignited their passion and dedication to supporting Gift of Life. “Last year, I celebrated my 10 year anniversary cancer free, and I owe much of this to the people right here at Solomon Schechter. I probably wouldn’t be here had it not been for students like you, and your amazing principal Dr. Raynor!”
Students like Carly Rabner where inspired by Jay’s words. She explained, “His speech was really well presented. In past years we just walked and it didn’t really mean anything, but it means a lot more now.” Adi Segal agreed and said, “I saw Jay Feinberg’s presentation and it was really motivating. He has an amazing story to tell, and I think all the students were touched by it.”
Gail Shapiro, who is the faculty advisor for the National Honor Society chapter at SSDS, which coordinates the Walk each year said, “Helping others is part of this school’s philosophy, and the kids here genuinely want to be involved. Ever since the Walk began, the students have been thrilled to be a part of it. We hope to be doing it for many years into the future.”
Samantha Glickman, a student, pointed out, “It’s important to support Gift of Life because you never know, it could be you the next day, or a friend or loved one who is diagnosed with leukemia. It’s so important to help others.”
Dr. Raynor, who remains principal at SSDS said, “In Jewish tradition, the best thing we can do is save a life. Nothing else even comes close. It is the most important commandment, and it is very rare to have a chance to play a role in saving lives like this. The Walk gives us a special opportunity to teach value and meaning to our students.”
The Walk for Life has done more than raise funds in New Jersey. As young people across North America learn about the Walk, they have begun to mimic the event in their own communities, spreading awareness and bringing life and hope to so many. Plans are underway to develop a school curriculum for all grade levels to use in conjunction with the Walk, educating students about bone marrow donation and the importance of participating in the registry as volunteer donors.