Thursday, February 19, 2004

The Giving Tree

Blood and chocolate.

That was essentially the two-word take away from the email we received a few weeks ago from our synagogue announcing the first ever "Tu B'Shvat Bake Sale and Blood Drive."

What Tu B'Shvat - the Jewish Arbor Day, known also as "The New Year for the Trees" - and giving blood have to do with each other, I may never know. But it was an opportunity for our community to come together to help others in need...and eat chocolate brownies all at the same time.

"I think I'm going to do it," my wife Jody announced as she closed the message.

"You're kidding," I said.

"No, really. I've always wanted to. And it's a real mitzvah. Look at this," Jody said reopening the email. "If one member of the family gives blood, the entire family is 'insured' for a year."

More than that, I read. If at least half the households in our synagogue membership donated, the entire community would be covered for a year.

"You should do it too," Jody added.

"Yeah, right," I said, stifling a near shriek. "You know how I am around needles. I practically faint, and that's just when I get my blood taken at the doctor's office."

Jody nodded, remembering the last time when I had to lie on the table for 20 minutes drinking orange juice. And that was for just a drop compared with the bloody bucketful to be collected during our synagogue's blood drive.

"I'll tell you what, though," I said. "I'll come and watch you. Give you a little support. Then maybe I'll think about it."

When Jody, five-year-old Aviv and I arrived at synagogue on the day of the blood drive, I was blown away. The line to give blood was nearly out the door. People were literally pushing their way to the front in their eagerness to part with a pint of essential fluids.

"I've got another appointment," I heard one man say. "Can I cut in front?"

The three of us got in line.

We brought Aviv because we thought it would be educational. He'd learn about the importance of giving blood and see that it wasn't so bad. He tends to take things in stride anyway. If he could handle seeing his mother with a six inch needle shoved up her arm, we figured, maybe he'd become a doctor.

There were three stations in the line before we could progress to the main event. First Jody had to have her hemoglobin checked. This necessitated a finger prick. Apparently only women and vegetarians were forced to undergo this extra procedure. I couldn't watch.

Jody passed. I nearly passed out.

Then a nurse took her blood pressure. She passed again.

Finally Jody had to have her paperwork checked and stamped. No problem there: Jody deals with paperwork for a living.

As we entered the blood room itself, there were at least eight men and women stretched out on cots, attended by four young Magen David Adom workers flitting between them. I noticed a man in the corner next to the cookie table trying to stop his bleeding. His arm was drizzled red; there were drops on the floor marking a gory breadcrumb trail from his cot to his current resting place.

Was this typical, I thought? Maybe I should rush in, Indiana Jones-like, and save my colleagues from near certain agony.

The needle went in and Jody grimaced. I held her hand and concentrated on keeping my…I mean her spirits up. I stared at the ceiling, checked my cellphone, anything to avoid looking down to where the needle was.

20 minutes later, we were hovering over the sweets. Jody flashed her her "I gave blood" sticker which entitled her to two free chocolate chip cookies while I struck up a conversation with a friend.

"So, did you already finish?" I asked.

"No, I can't give blood," he replied.

"Why not?"


I nodded, recalling that he had lived in Africa for several years.

I turned to another friend. He shook his head too.

"Why can't you give?" I asked.

"I'm English."

"So?" Last time I checked, "blue blood" was only a figure of speech.

"Mad cow, don't you know. Israel won't accept English blood."

"Man! Why can't I have one of those diseases!" I sputtered.

Just at that point, Jody sauntered over to me, cookie in hand.

"Nu, how do you feel?"

"A little woozy," I replied. "I'll be OK."

Jody laughed. "So, what do you say? Are you ready to get in line?"

"Maybe next time," I said.

But what I really meant was maybe next time I'll actually look at the needle. I have a feeling that getting me to the point where I'm ready to give is going to take a long, long time...

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