Gift of Life’s annual One Huge Night Gala in New York City on June 8, 2022 was an emotional evening and a happy in-person reunion with our many supporters. Gala attendees shared the heartwarming experience of witnessing two bone marrow donors meeting the children whose lives they saved, as well as recognizing Gift of Life’s Partners for Life honorees, Board of Directors member Mindy Schneider, and her husband Dr. Michael Lesser. Chairman Emeritus and Co-President William A. Begal was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Four-year-old Levi Sanders may have found the gala excitement a bit overwhelming, but he was thrilled to accept a giant, stuffed dinosaur from the Gift of Life donor who saved him, Zohar Swaine, a 49-year-old financial services executive from Teaneck, N.J. The two were introduced by Elizabeth Murray, representing the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, supporters of Gift of Life for the past eight years.
Levi and his parents, Ashley and Dwight, who recently relocated the family to Tennessee, were emotional and grateful to be welcomed to the stage, having waited two years to meet Zohar. They were originally scheduled to be introduced at our 2020 gala that was canceled due to the pandemic.
Everyone in the room was moved by the story of the little boy who has been ill his entire life, fighting a rare genetic mutation that damaged his ability to produce blood platelets, and who is now recovering thanks to two transplants from his donor.
Zohar, who joined the registry at our Steps for Life 5k in New Jersey in 2016, donated twice to help Levi, first a bone marrow transplant in August 2018, and to aid in the boy’s recovery, a blood stem cell donation seven months later.
“The only life Levi knew before the transplants was needle pokes, transfusions, and long days at the hospital,” said Ashley. “Zohar, you gave our son and our whole family a second chance at life. We will forever be grateful for your selfless decision.”
“I know that blood cancer is devastating to families because my own niece had leukemia, and when she was finally cleared, our family rejoiced,” said Zohar. “Seeing this beautiful, healthy boy filled with life and a bright future – who I will forever be connected to – brings joy to my heart.”
Jay Feinberg (above, left) presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to William A. Begal, Chairman Emeritus and Co-President of Gift of Life’s Board of Directors. The award is given to those who have made a significant impact on Gift of Life for many years.
Bill’s involvement began almost 30 years ago, in the early 1990s, when he was tested for and participated in searches for a matching donor for his friend, Allison Atlas.
On learning of Jay’s need for a donor, in late 1994 Bill and his uncle boarded a jet to Minsk, Belarus to visit the ancestral home of Jay’s family. They searched the region for a “genetic needle in a haystack,” as Bill says, and tested hundreds of people as potential matches.
Bill continued his involvement with Gift of Life, advocating for its lifesaving mission around the world, serving as a courier delivering stem cells and marrow to transplant centers in a dozen countries, and after joining the board of directors, he served as chairman for ten years. He has helped grow many of Gift of Life’s partnerships with other organizations, visited numerous donors on their donation day, held drives all over the United States, and when he married Kira, their wedding registry was a bone marrow registry, dedicated to growing Gift of Life.
“If you will it, it is no dream; and if you do nothing about it, a dream it will remain,” said Bill, quoting Israel’s founding father, Theodore Herzel. “With the efforts your parents, Arlene and Jack Feinberg, took to find your match, it certainly did not remain a dream.”
“I have been involved with Gift of Life for 28 years, just over half of my life,” said Bill. “I wrote a note to Jay after returning from Belarus, saying that I did all I could to test as many people as possible and make my mission successful, and that the skills I learned on that trip would help me throughout my life. Little did I know I would still be advocating three decades later. I am fortunate to have found such a worthwhile cause.”
To close out the evening we presented a special musical performance by 19-year-old Emily Rubinstein. She was the Season One winner of “Gift of Life’s Got Talent,” our virtual talent show now in its third season. Emily sang the Miley Cyrus hit, “The Climb.”
"Gift of Life's Got Talent" is a fun, donate-to-vote contest that highlighted the varied talents of Gift of Life donors, recipients, and supporters as they joined with us to celebrate our mission and raise much-needed funds. In Season One, Emily highlighted her talents as a singer and figure skater during her performance, which launched her to the top of the standings.
Emily is a student at Cornell University where she is studying biology. She hopes to become a doctor in the future. Her family became involved with Gift of Life in the early 1990s during the search for a match for Founder and CEO, Jay Feinberg. Her grandparents, who lived near Jay in New Jersey, were tested as matches for him and joined the registry. Years later, when Emily’s grandfather needed a transplant, the family was relieved to find his donor in Gift of Life’s registry.
Famed for her role as Elphaba in the musical "Wicked", bi-coastal actress Jackie Burns served as our master of ceremonies for One Huge Night.
She has been in numerous Broadway and traveling productions, including "If/Then", "Hair", "Rock of Ages", and many others.
Jackie previously served as Gift of Life's emcee for both the opening and closing ceremonies of our Virtual Steps for Life 5k Run and Walk in 2021.
Her involvement began when a close friend was diagnosed with leukemia and needed a match.
Thank you, Jackie, for your ongoing support.