‘Race Against Time to Save Mum’

The family of a mum-of-two from Kenton, who is undergoing last-ditch treatment for a rare form of cancer, this week made an urgent plea to young Jewish News readers to register as bone marrow donors.

The emotional appeal was issued to those aged between 16 and 30 by Jonni and Caroline Berger, whose mother Sharon has Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

Sharon, 61, entered a hospital isolation unit on Monday to undergo six weeks of aggressive chemotherapy, at the end of which a matching bone marrow donor needs to have been found.

Jonni said: “It is now a race against time. A match for our mum is most
likely to come from someone in the Ashkenazi community.”

The situation has been exacerbated by a cruel twist of fate. The best chance of a genetic match comes from the immediate family, but while Sharon’s three
siblings all match each other, none are a suitable match for her.

However, her children were determined that their mother’s fate should not come down to a stroke of bad luck, and last month launched the ‘Spit4Mum’ campaign, so named because of the way in which tissue-type is tested.

Orchestrated online through social media networks, their campaign has already increased the number of registrations. They have attended recent community events, such as Limmud and the Juefa football tournament, and have enlisted celebrities, including singers Charlotte Church and Danni Minogue, to help encourage those within the relevant age group to sign up.

“The response from the community has been amazing,” said Caroline. “We have had offers from old friends and fellow community members, as well as people we have never met before. People have offered to set up screening clinics to enable people to join the register.”

Dr Ian Ellis, a clinical geneticist in Liverpool, reinforced the family’s call for donor registrations. He said: “Genetic matches usually come from within the family and the Ashkenazi community is essentially one big genetic family, so there is a specific need for Jewish community members to register as donors.”

Jonni and Caroline’s efforts have already had an impact, and there were signs this week that the community is mobilising. Among the organisations actively supporting the Bergers’ drive were schools, including Emanuel and JCoSS, and youth programmes, including United Synagogues’ Project Chesed and Reform’s RSY-Netzer and Jeneration.

University students across the country were also beginning to show their support, at a time when many sit their January exams. Alex Green, president of the Union of Jewish Students, said: “UJS recognises the urgency and importance of this. We will continue to do our utmost to mobilise Jewish students around
the country to maximise the likelihood of finding a match.”

Sharon’s husband Stephen, who acts a volunteer courier for the Anthony Nolan Trust delivering samples across the country, said he was delighted at the social media frenzy generated by the plight of his wife, but confirmed his family’s desperate calls for young adults to register.

“There must be a bone marrow match for Sharon out there somewhere,” said Stephen. “We just need to find them. Finding a match would be better than winning the lottery.”

Full details of the Spit4Mum campaign can be found online at http://is.gd/Spit4Mum. The Anthony Nolan Trust can be contacted on 0303 303 0303 or online at www.anthonynolan.org. If you would like to support the campaign in your community, contact Jonni Berger at jonni@thebergers.co.uk

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‘Please Help Save My Life’

Marilyn Jacual suffers from a blood disorder that she fears could lead to leukaemia if a suitable match is not found.

The 61-year-old, who was born in the UK but moved to Israel more than 40 years ago, said: “I’m not old. There are so many things I still want to still do in life but without a transplant I won’t be around in a few years time. I would say to anybody that it’s a mitzvah to come forward and you would potentially be helping many people, not just me. It’s just a simple test and even if you’re a match it’s not a painful procedure.”

Despite regular hospital visits, Marilyn continues to work part-time for the American Embassy “to keep me sane”, but is no longer able to go out much. “My kids and five grandchildren come to me,” she said: “It’s the summer holidays and I would generally take time off to help look after them. I haven’t done any of that this year, I just don’t have the energy.”

Since Marilyn was told by doctors six weeks ago that she needed a transplant, her three siblings have been tested – including David Grueneberg, a member of Maidenhead Synagogue, through the Anthony Nolan Trust – and dozens of people have approached Ezer Mizion in Israel in an effort to give the gift of life.

However, a 100 percent match has not been found within the family or in the Israeli charity’s register. “There’s some people that have 100 matches. Unfortunately I don’t. My parents were from Germany so the best chance of finding a match would be a German Jewish background or European background. They have now said they will start searching for a 90 percent match which must mean they are looking quite urgently.”

Marilyn is hoping that one potential match discovered overseas will prove suitable following further testing. She said: “Hopefully if this person doesn’t work out we’ll find someone else. I believe there will be someone out there for me. The kids keep saying everything will be fine and I’ll have a transplant by Rosh Hashanah. That’s what I’d like to think too. It would be a new beginning.”

A spokeswoman for the Anthony Nolan Trust, which overseas the largest register in the UK with 420,000 potential bone marrow donors, said: “There are thousands of tissue types which means there may only be one match for a patient.”

There are around 8,000 Jewish potential donors on the register but the charity urged more to come forward. “Ethnicity is a factor in defining a person’s tissue type so it’s more likely a match will be found within the same ethnic group. We know people from ethnic backgrounds find it harder to find a match. If you’re not a match for Marilyn, you may be able to help someone else. We need people aged 18 to 30 to come forward as the patient has a better chance of good long-term outcomes but we recruit people up to 40.”

– More information at anthonynolan.org

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Do Florida Jews Hold Key To White House?

But while they’ve tended to lean towards the Democrats in the past, as Erica Morris of the South Florida Jewish Journal reports, this time around they could scupper Obama’s campaign.

Swing state is a term that South Floridians are familiar with. The sunny state has been the butt of numerous late-night talk shows, and anyone from the area could spend an afternoon bemoaning the topic of hanging chads, those pesky paper tears that caused quite a stir in the 2000 election. But a new problem has arisen for Florida residents that has less to do with voting mishaps and absentee ballots, but rather, with actual politics.

It seems the Jewish community, usually a national cheerleader for the liberal-leaning Democratic Party, has some qualms about Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the party’s nominee for the upcoming presidential election. The issue is of particular interest in Florida, as the state’s Jewish population eclipses most other areas in terms of sheer quantity. The decisions of Jewish voters will have a large impact on Florida’s 27 electoral votes, making up one-tenth of the 270 national Electoral College. If Republican hopeful Senator John McCain can sway enough members of the Jewish community, he’ll be one step closer to those 27 votes and even nearer to the White House come inauguration day.

“There is a lot of unease about Obama,” said Jessica Epstein, 34, a member of the Young Democrats of Miami. “The Jewish community sees him as being vague, almost ambivalent about Israel. If he would make a stronger case for himself, act more declaratively, Jewish voters might be more comfortable with him as a choice of candidate.”

Obama won no points earlier this year when it was revealed that his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, called Judaism a “gutter religion”. Obama promptly uninvited Wright from political rallies, but the damage seems to live on.

The nominee’s religious background has also been used as fodder for challengers. A self-proclaimed Christian, Obama’s father and stepfather were both practicing Muslims and Obama briefly attended a Muslim school while living in Indonesia as a child.

Some constituents are also displeased with Obama’s calls for negotiation, perhaps even compromise, in the Middle East. While some Republican candidates, like McCain, are against the idea of placing responsibility on the part of the Israelis, Obama seems to think peace between the Palestinians and Israel can only come through mutual exchange.

“Some people take issue with the way he’s voted regarding Israel‘s arms,” said Joe Greenberg, 48, a member of the Miami-based Jewish Americans for Obama.

“He voted to ban cluster bombs, one of the main weapons used by the Israeli Army. But they’re also used by the Palestinians. It’s a two-way street, and Obama’s acknowledging that there needs to be concessions on both sides.”

Obama’s recent selection of Senator Joe Biden as a vice presidential candidate might add a new level of respect to the campaign, as some perceive Biden as more pro-Israel than his running mate. The Jewish American Committee, an organisation that rates politicians based on their record toward Israel, ranks Biden as near perfect.

Within the political world, Obama has won support from Jewish Democrats like Robert Wexler, a member of Congress representing Florida.

“As president, Barack Obama will strongly support Israel’s right and capability to defend itself, ensure Israel’s qualitative military advantage and finally make progress toward the goal of a two-state solution that preserves Israel’s security as a Jewish state,” Wexler said in a speech about Obama’s recent trip to Israel.

Still, some voters are concerned that these platitudes amount to an all-talk-and-no-show-mentality.

“There’s a sense that Obama might be avoiding addressing this issue,” Greenberg said. “There’s been a lot of discussion about his stance on Israel; that he hasn’t come out and gotten to the heart of it.

“I think we’re going to need to hear some strong ideas from him, for the Jewish voters to feel satisfied.”

The significant chorus of concerns seems to rest not so much on policy or statement, but more, on a feeling that Obama might not be able to provide the kind of staunch response towards Israel that some Jewish voters are looking for in a candidate. Whether or not that is true remains to be seen.

One certainty, though, is that the Jewish voter must be a responsible one. This voting season places tremendous accountability in the hands of the Jewish community and one can’t afford to underestimate their own political efficacy.

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