Sunday, June 20, 2010

A-Positive Family Tradition

Being the oldest of three sons, whether by design or de facto, one of my roles in my family structure was to “break in my parents” as I used to say. In so many ways, being the oldest comes with unique opportunities, but also challenges. Things that my brothers got away with I’d never have gotten away with, yet my growth and milestones were much more significant because except for the PhD, many of the significant things were ones I did first. The dynamic is the same in my own family where my oldest has complained for years that it’s not fair how much her siblings get away with as compared to her. She’s definitely played the role of breaking us in as parents, as I did decades earlier. However, she also has her milestones measured as benchmarks not just in her own life but in the entire extended family dynamic. She’s been the first to do many things. The most noteworthy of late are her being called up to the army, and on the verge of getting her drivers license. Old hat for anyone who’s done this before, but headline news for us, her siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. All this was trumped, in my mind at least, by my daughter being the first to carry on an important family tradition. Like my mother, and myself, for whom donating blood was/is an imperative and privilege, this week I took my daughter to donate blood for the first time. She was nervous before, and a little pale and dizzy afterward. But as she said, “it’s scary to think about before you’ve ever done it, but once you do it and see that it doesn’t hurt, it’s no problem.” For much of her adult life, my mother was a regular blood donor. She had the most rare blood type and understood how important it was to donate. When she’d hear about a car accident or other disaster locally, she’d go to the hospital to donate without being asked. When someone was in need of her type specific blood and she’d get a call, she’d go to donate at any hour of the day or night. Once, a relative by marriage who shared the same blood type was having surgery and my mother camped out at the hospital in case he needed her blood. My mother instilled the importance of donating blood in me and, when she was no longer able to donate for health reasons, she was pleased to see that I would continue in her tradition of donating regularly. Four years ago, as she lay dying requiring transfusion of tens of units of other people’s blood just to stay alive, it became more clear to me than ever how important this was. There’s a Jewish tradition to donate charity on behalf of someone who is gravely ill in order to find favor in Gods eye and a reversal of the severe outcome. As my mother lay dying I called upon people in most continents of the world to donate blood on her behalf so that she would merit a continued long and healthy life. Since then, my kids know that I have been fortunate to help bring thousands of Americans to donate blood in Israel, to provide a direct and tangible way to help save lives here as a meaningful bond between Americans, Jews and non-Jews, with the people of Israel. On July 9 2006, just weeks after my mother’s death, I arranged to host a group of Iranian Jews from NY to donate blood at Magen David Adom. One woman passionately pleaded with me for her blood to go to the “brave soldiers of the IDF.” I assured her that if there was a need to do so, Magen David Adom would provide all the blood to the Israeli army, but that then, things were peaceful and there was no need for blood in the IDF. Three days later, the Second Lebanon War began, and it’s almost a certainty that her blood went to the early Israeli victims of that war. There are many reasons to donate blood in general, and many more in Israel. Before, during, and after donating blood with my daughter this week, I tried to instill some of the importance of this so it would become part of her. There are many positive things that we do, or should do, but too often don’t do. Diet. Exercise. Homework. Chores of all kinds. We know that there’s a positive value in doing them, but often they slip to the back burner, or off the burner entirely. Donating blood should not be like that. It is a social and religious imperative and, for those who can, it should be a regular event. The privilege to be able to donate blood gives new meaning to the adage “better to give than to receive.” After a late lunch together and some nice bonding time, we walked out of Jerusalem’s central bus station where the blood donation took place. I heard my daughter mumbling something that was inaudible with the background noise of the buses behind us. “What?” I asked. “July, August, September,” she repeated. “What are you talking about?” I asked again, thinking that the blood was not flowing to her head so well. “July, August, September. September is the next time I can give blood.” If it costs me lunch every time, it is an investment that is well worth it. Because on the same day that my daughter was told that she’s ready to take the road test to get her drivers license, one of these new milestones that we as parents have to be broken in for, and four years to the week that her grandmother died, she also accepted the baton from one generation to the next, continuing A-Positive family tradition. Grandma would be very proud. I am. May my kids always be able to give and never receive.