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The Schmooze

Saving Matt Fenster

This Sunday, at the Salute to Israel parade on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, participants and spectators will be able to do more than show their support for Israel; they could potentially save a life. A group of volunteers will be at the parade recruiting potential donors for a young father and other victims of leukemia in need of bone marrow transplants.

The donor recruitment drive is being organized by friends of Matt Fenster, a 35-year-old father of four children under the age of 8 and an active member of the Jewish community in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Fenster, who was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia last month, needs a bone marrow transplant to survive. With the support of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, two bone marrow donor recruitment drives will be held at sites near the Israel Parade: one at Temple Emanu-El, 1 East 65th Street, from noon to 5 p.m., and the other at the post-parade concert venue, Central Park Summer Stage — Rumsey Playfield, from noon to 7 p.m.

My husband, children and I met Matt Fenster, a lawyer, and his wife, Jennifer, a pediatrician, in the late 1990s, when they joined the Chavurah at the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale at the same time as a number of other young couples. Because the couples were all in their 20s, just beginning to start families, and because many of them had studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary, they had a lot in common with each other, and frequently socialized over holiday meals. Many of those same people are involved in the drive to help find a donor for Matt.

Matt became active in synagogue life and, for four years, served as vice president of Adath Israel.

The news last month that Matt had leukemia was heartbreaking for us, and for all who know him. What’s been so inspiring, though, is to see how the Conservative and Orthodox communities have come together to help find a donor for Matt. Stephanie Minkove, a parent at SAR — the Orthodox day school that Matt and Jennifer’s children attend — and Eric Saidel, member of Adath Israel, are co-chairing the Israel Day Parade drive.

The drive has the potential to grow the number of Jews in the national bone marrow registry. Matt’s best chance of finding a match is from someone who shares his Eastern European Jewish ancestry, but donors of all backgrounds are encouraged to join the donor registry. Testing is free, fast, and painless; done by swabbing the inside of one’s cheek; no blood is drawn.

Those who can’t make it to the parade can order a testing kit to use at home. There’s also the option of making a contribution to defray the costs of processing donor kits.

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