In 2003, Gift of Life was asked to organize a donor search for a patient named Sharon Steiff, z”l, a beloved teacher at The Maimonides School in Brookline, MA. Sharon's friends and students flocked to her assistance, launching an urgent recruitment effort in the hopes of finding her miracle match. A special drive held at the school recruited 613 volunteers to Gift of Life’s Registry. Coincidentally, 613 is the number of mitzvot (good deeds) that G-d assigned to the Jewish people, the commandments that make us holy. When the Gift of Life volunteers and Sharon’s friends tallied up that number, they knew that this had been a special drive.
Sadly, Sharon did not survive her illness, but she said many times that she took great satisfaction from knowing that whether or not her own miracle match was found, others in similar need would find their own donors as a result of the drives held for her. Gift of Life was honored to celebrate Sharon’s life-saving legacy with over one hundred guests who gathered at the headquarters of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston as one of the donors recruited for Sharon was introduced to the woman whose life he saved by donating blood stem cells one year earlier.
The donor, 22 year old Yisrael Meir Goldman, was thrilled to have the opportunity, not only to perform such a wonderful mitzvah, but to finally meet the person with whom he now shares such an extraordinary bond. Thanks to Yisrael’s gift of his blood stem cells, Evie Goldfine received a life-saving transplant and is now the picture of health.
Evie’s story began in July of 2000 when she was diagnosed with aggressive stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Following intense treatments, Evie was declared in remission, but then relapsed in April of 2005. She knew immediately that she would need a transplant. When asked about her reaction to the news, Evie said, “It never occurred to me that I would NOT have a donor. I was not in a position to die.” She explained that after losing her husband to cancer when her children were in their teens, she could not leave them alone. Evie said, “I never cared about living for my own sake. It was only for the sake of my children.”
Evie’s donor, Yisrael, joined Gift of Life’s Registry in August of 2003 at the Maimonides School during the search for a match for Sharon. He said that he decided to volunteer as a potential donor because he knew what little effort it would take to save someone’s life. Yisrael said that he does not consider himself a hero, as helping others is everyone’s responsibility. He is one of nine children raised in a large family in Brighton, MA. He is also engaged to be married in a few short weeks, and will be making aliyah soon after that!
The presentation began with remarks from Jay Feinberg, Gift of Life’s Founder and Executive Director. He said, “Bone marrow and blood stem cell donors are true heroes who live the Jewish ideal Kol yisrael arevim zeh ba zeh, all Israel is responsible for one another. They inspire me to make Gift of Life my life’s mission.” Jay then invited Jeffrey Swartz, President and CEO of the Timberland Company, as well as Chairman of the Board of the Maimonides School, to make the special introduction of Yisrael and Evie. As he reached the podium, Mr. Swartz said, “Thank you Jay, not only for your words, but for all you have done in creating of Gift of Life. The saying goes, ‘As long as there is life, there is hope.’ Your work, and that of your dedicated team, ensures that patients, their families and our community as a whole have both.”
After the initial meeting, Evie presented Yisrael with a very special token of her appreciation, a mezuzah removed from the home of her late mother. As she handed it to Yisrael, she said, “This mezuzah is a symbol of my mother’s connection to Judaism and to G-d. She bought it on one of her many trips to Israel.” She continued, “Now I’m giving my mom’s mezuzah to you, to bring back to Israel once again. I hope you will affix it on the doorpost of your home, and think of your extraordinary gift every time you come and go.” She added, “And remember that you saved the life of a very grateful mother, grandmother and friend.”
Yisrael then presented Evie with an invitation to his upcoming wedding, to which Evie replied, “I am there!”
The following morning, Yisrael, Evie, and Louise Cohen, a member of Gift of Life’s Board of Advisors, joined over 330 students at the Maimonides School after morning prayers to share their extraordinary story. According to the school’s Executive Director, Josh Wolff, “The feedback we received from kids and faculty alike was amazing. They really ‘got it’ and the lessons were heard, loud and clear. It was a rare ‘teachable moment’ and it made an impression on many future leaders of the Jewish people.” As they were leaving the school, one teacher told Louise, "We might as well send the students home for the rest of the day. There's nothing more we can teach them after that."
All photos by Douglas Weisman, Copyright 2006