‘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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Pope Benedict XVI Visits Rome Synagogue

The 82-year-old Pope was responding to accusations from Jewish leaders that the wartime Pope Pius XII had failed to condemn the Holocaust and did not do enough to help Jews. In December the Pope sparked controversy when he made a move to bring the World War II era Pope a step closer to sainthood.

The Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, welcomed the Pope to the synagogue along with fifteen Holocaust survivors. However several leading Italian Jews boycotted the visit, including Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, head of the Italian Rabbinical Assembly.

Riccardo Pacifici, the leader of Rome’s Jewish community, did greet the Pope but in a speech said that he respected the Jews who boycotted the Pope’s visit. Pacifici said: “The silence of pope Pius XII on the Shoah still hurts as an undelivered gesture. A sign from the pope might not have stopped the trains of death, but it would have sent a signal, a word of consolation and human solidarity towards our brothers transported to the chimneys of Auschwitz.”

He also called on the Vatican to open its archives so that historians could investigate the wartime record of Pope Pius XII.

This call was echoed by Israeli Deputy Prime Minsiter Silvan Shalom, who was also in Rome. Shalom told Reuters: “I asked the Pope to find a way to make it possible to open the archives in the Vatican in order to give some details of the papacy of Pius XII in order to ease tensions between the Jewish people and Catholics.”

During his visit the Pope laid a wreath at the marble plaque commemorating the more than 1,000 Jews who in 1943 were deported from Rome by the Nazis.

The Pope apologised for Christian anti-Semitism. He said: “The Church has not failed to deplore the failings of her sons and daughters, begging forgiveness for all that could in any way have contributed to the scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism … May these wounds be healed for ever.”

He also spoke directly about the Holocaust saying that the “the singular and deeply disturbing drama of the Shoah represents the most extreme point on the path of hatred that begins when man forgets his Creator and places himself at the centre of the universe”.

Since becoming Pope in 2005 this is the third time that Benedict XVI has visited a synagogue.

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