Traffic was sparse at Israeli polling stations last Tuesday,
but Yerushalayim's Malcha Mall was packed wall-to-wall with
thousands of people enjoying a day off from work. Shoppers
faced long lines everywhere they turned -- restaurants,
music stores and cellular phone outlets. But by far the
biggest line was to save the life of a little girl named
Four-year-old Naama Bitoun has leukemia, and there is only
one thing that can save her life -- a successful bone marrow
transplant. But a matching donor has not been found in any
of the international bone marrow databases, and time is
To help Naama find that elusive donor, Ezer Mizion, an
international medical assistance organization based in Eretz
Yisroel, and Magen David Adom joined forces and held blood
drives on Election Day in dozens of locations throughout the
country, including Malcha Mall.
Although both organizations have vast experience in
organizing and running blood drives, officials did not
foresee such a turnout. A crush of people flocked to the
makeshift blood donor station set up on the top floor of the
mall. By 3 p.m. test tubes for the blood samples were
running low, and additional supplies had to be rushed in
because so many people wanted to help save Naama's life.
Despite the fact that many volunteers were on their feet for
hours, and the donors had to interrupt their shopping to
wait in line, no one was complaining -- quite an unusual
thing in Eretz Yisroel. In fact, this was one day at the
mall that had people positively beaming.
WHAT'S THIS LINE FOR?
Yonatan Zeevi is a 17-year-old yeshiva student from
Yerushalayim. But today he is taking time off from his
studies (because of the pikuach nefesh involved) to
perform one of the toughest jobs in the world: He is
responsible for making sure that more than 1,000 Israelis
get directed to the right line, and that they all stay happy
while they wait to donate blood samples for bone marrow
Israelis are notorious for their lack of patience, but
Yonatan is an expert at crowd control. After five hours on
the job and answering the same questions countless times, he
is still smiling.
To Yonatan's left is the area where people can give just 5
cc's of blood -- the small amount needed for tissue-typing --
so that they can be registered as a potential donor at the
Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Data Registry. This process takes
just a few minutes.
To his right is the area where people can donate blood to
the Magen David Adom national blood bank -- a full 450 cc
unit -- in just 20 minutes. A small amount of their donation
will also be sent for tissue-typing as part of the drive to
find a bone marrow donor for Naama and other cancer
patients, while the remainder will be stored at the blood
bank for use in a medical emergency.
Before people can donate blood at either area, they have to
go to a table and fill out a medical questionnaire. And
there is yet another table where people can make a financial
contribution to help cover the cost of tissue-typing the
Yonatan has to explain all this to people -- over and over
While many people had heard through the newspapers or radio
about the bone marrow drive to save Naama's life -- and the
lives of dozens of other Jewish cancer patients all over the
world who are in desperate need of bone marrow transplants --
others didn't know that they would have this opportunity to
perform a mitzva while out on a routine visit to the
Ro'i, 20, is an IDF soldier who came to the mall just to
have fun, but then decided to spend part of his day helping
others after he saw the poster advertising the campaign.
"I want to contribute and try to help," he says, as he waits
in the line to donate the full 450 cc's. "Maybe I can save
this girl's life."
A VALUABLE LESSON
If the average age of the people waiting in line is any
indication, the importance of donating blood is one lesson
children in Eretz Yisroel have absorbed well. The majority
of the blood donors were in their 20s, and their enthusiasm
Where does this urge to help out others with such enthusiasm
A clue comes from a man who chooses to stand in line for the
Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Data Registry. "I give blood to
Magen David Adom twice a year at work," he explains to
Yonatan. "Today I want to help this little girl --
The man goes to wait in line with his young son. Although
blood donors have to be between the ages of 18-55, and the
boy is only 8 years old, the time he spends waiting in line
is not wasted. He, like the hundreds of other kids who are
at the mall with their parents, are getting an invaluable
lesson in what it means to help others.
Yardena Cohen is another parent who is teaching her kids
about the importance of helping people in need. She came in
all the way from Beit Shemesh with her two teenaged
daughters specifically to donate blood for the campaign.
"We know it's always important to give blood," says Mrs.
Cohen, "but when we saw the advertisements for Naama, it
became more real."
Her 19-year-old daughter points out that they're not just
helping Naama, but also all the other cancer patients who
need to find a matching donor. Her younger sister is only
17, so she is still too young to donate blood, but she says
that when she turns 18 she will follow in the family
"We're always happy to give," Mrs. Cohen says.
AN AMAZING TURNOUT
Dr. Bracha Zisser, Director of the Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow
Data Registry, had expected the national campaign to add
another 25,000 potential donors to the registry. But the
daylong drive exceeded expectations and brought in a total
of 32,000 new donors, making it Ezer Mizion's most
successful campaign ever.
"I say this after every campaign -- that Israelis are
incredible givers -- but this time all of us are completely
blown away," she says.
The Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Data Registry was founded in
1998, and it began with just 5,000 donors. This year that
total exceeded 60,000, and once the 32,000 new samples are
tissue-typed, the registry will have more than 90,000
potential Jewish donors.
"We need to have at least 250,000 Jewish donors worldwide,"
says Dr. Zisser, "in order to give a Jewish cancer patient a
reasonable chance of finding a matching donor. Before this
campaign, there was a total of 120,000 donors registered in
databases around the world, so now we have passed the
halfway mark in reaching this goal."
That's good news for little Naama, who is too sick to leave
her hospital bed, and needs to find a matching donor soon.
All Jews have a special genetic makeup that makes it
extremely rare for them to find a non-Jewish donor. Naama's
problem is compounded by the fact that she has an extremely
rare tissue type, and she needs as wide a donor pool as
possible to find that one person who may be able to save her
Despite the large turnout on her behalf, the struggle is not
yet over. Each of those 32,000 samples has been sent to the
United States to be tissue-typed, a process that can take
anywhere from six to eight weeks, at a cost of $65 per
sample in lab fees.
"The costs of running this campaign are close to $2
million," says Dr. Zisser. "Many Israelis who were unable to
donate blood because they were over 55 or not in good health
made financial contributions. But Jews all over the world
can also make a donation to the campaign and have a share in
At the Malcha Mall, Naama's family members were raising
those funds -- one shekel at a time.
Two older women, who are both cousins of the little girl,
have been at the mall since the doors opened at 9 a.m.
Although they are heartened by the tremendous amount of
people who have come to donate blood, their job is to
convince the passersby to donate even a little bit of change
to help cover the lab costs.
And they are taking their job very seriously.
"How long will this interview last?" asks one of the women,
who does not want to be distracted from her task for even a
few minutes. "I don't have a lot of time."
"Shekel, shekel," calls out her cousin, as she holds out a
large bag that is heavy with coins.
"Even a small contribution helps," she says to a young Arab
couple who are pushing a child in a stroller.
The man reaches into his pocket to make a donation.
At the mall, at least, all members of Israeli society seem
to have agreed to put aside their differences. For one day --
for one little girl -- the cultural barriers dissolve, and
everyone is momentarily united.