Bone Marrow Donation Drive at the IAJGS Conference

(a.k.a. “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Spit!”)

The coordinators for the 30th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy are pleased to announce that we will be holding a bone marrow donation drive during this year’s IAJGS conference in Los Angeles! We are partnering with the non-profit organization Gift Of Life (, which focuses on finding bone marrow donors for patients in the Jewish community. Volunteers from Gift Of Life will have a table set up at the conference throughout the first few days of the conference week, so that attendees can easily join the international bone marrow registry, with no muss and no fuss. Saving a life has never been so easy!

When a person who is ill is told that he needs a bone marrow donor, his best chance of finding a suitable genetic match is usually from among his own family members, and failing that, from among his own ethnic group. As the Jewish population is considerably smaller than other populations, this can make finding a close genetic match tricky for Jews who are battling diseases like leukemia. Currently, an Ashkenazi Jewish person who needs a bone marrow donor only has about a 70% chance of finding a match. Worse yet, because non-Ashkenazi Jewish groups such as Sephardim and Mizrahim are still under-represented in the international donor database, a Sephardi Jewish person who needs a donor only has a 30% chance of finding a suitable match. Worst of all, a person who is half-Ashkenazi and half-Sephardi currently only has a 6% chance of finding a donor match! Yes, the statistics are really that bad, even when a search is run in the Israeli donor databases too. The same long-time genetic and social isolation that can make doing Jewish family history and Jewish genealogy so interesting can be devastating when it means trying to find a close genetic match.

We would like to improve these odds, and the best way to do this is to recruit more people, especially people who have ethnically Jewish (or partly Jewish) heritage, to join the bone marrow registry. Everyone who joins the registry through our table at the IAJGS conference this summer will be counted as part of our “Donor Circle”, so we will be able to track how many lives are saved in the coming years from people who originally signed up the conference.

Joining the registry is simple and painless; all it takes is a swab of the inside of your cheek, plus a simple form to fill out. Generally speaking, if you are eligible to give blood, you are usually considered eligible to be a potential donor. On average, 1 in every 1000 people listed in the registry saves a life through bone marrow donation each year. And with over 1000 people, most of them ethnically Jewish, expected to all be in one location for the conference this summer, how could we pass up this opportunity?

However, you don’t need to wait for the conference in Los Angeles to join the registry! Gift Of Life offers a way to order a test kit online through their website, which can be mailed to your home address. The cost is only $54. Simply go to this link, read the eligibility guidelines, and follow the instructions to receive your kit:
Important: when you are asked which Donor Circle you wish to be counted towards, please choose “JGSLA2010″, which is the name of the Donor Circle for this summer’s conference.

One more thing: Gift of Life does have a upper cut-off age of 60 years old to join the registry. Of course, many genealogists are older than 60, and are thus unfortunately ineligible to join the registry. But there are still two very important things than an ineligible person can do to help Gift of Life find more genetic matches for people in need.

The first helpful thing that an ineligible person can do is to donate to Gift Of Life to cover the cost of someone else’s test kit. Right now, there is a backlog of kits siting in freezers that have already been collected from would-be donors, but which cannot be evaluated for potential matches until someone covers the $54 cost of processing the kit. If you cannot join the registry yourself, due to your age or a medical reason, then please consider “adopting” an eligible person’s test kit, and donating $54 to process their sample instead of your own. You can donate at the conference in July, or you can use the Gift of Life website to make a credit card or PayPal donation here:
Important: For the dropdown menu that asks for “Fund Allocation”, please make sure you choose “My Donor Circle Allocation”. After you choose that, a new dropdown will suddenly appear that will ask you which Donor Circle you wish to be counted towards. Please choose “JGSLA2010″, which is the name of the Donor Circle for this summer’s conference.

The second helpful thing that an ineligible person can do is to use that most magical and awe-inspiring of Jewish gifts: the parental guilt-trip! Please ask your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, younger siblings, or other family members and friends to join the registry by ordering a test kit directly off the Gift of Life website. Offer to pay the $54 test kit fee for them, if you can. As genealogists, several of you have probably already asked some of your family members for cheek swabs for various genetic genealogy projects, such as the ones at Well, here’s your chance to do a cheek swab that could redeem somebody’s future, not just your past!

We hope you’ll consider joining the bone marrow registry or making a donation to them, either at the conference this summer or through the Gift of Life website before or after the conference. Look for our volunteer-staffed table set up next to the hospitality booth during the first few days of the conference. For questions about our bone marrow drive, or if you would like to volunteer a few hours of your time to help us staff the table during the conference, please contact Brooke Schreier Ganz at brooke {at} jgsla2010(.)com. You can contact Gift of Life directly by phone at 1-800-9MARROW or 561-982-2900.

Finally, we remember the words of the Talmud: “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

See you at the conference!

– Brooke Schreier Ganz & the Conference Co-Chairs