Naomi Balaban

Together We Are Saving Lives

Jerusalem Marathon, March 15th, 2019. (Rachel Fine)
Jerusalem Marathon, March 15th, 2019. (Rachel Fine)

Roughly 2.5 years ago while on the Nativ College Gap Year Program, I found myself sitting in the basement of a Jerusalem hostel with the rest of my group. We were given a series of talks by a handful of different people; I sadly admit that I forgot most of what was mentioned as the talks went on and the speakers left. Just like most gap year programs and birthright groups in Israel, we had a representative from The Gift of Life Marrow Registry come to inform and educate us about the registry and most of all, empower us to swab and potentially save a life. It was a no-brainer for me to sign up, as I grew up with parents who taught me that if you are able to give, you should. I swabbed, filled out my information, and left it at that.

At the start of the school year, I received an email from Gift of Life with the subject stating “Student Ambassadors Wanted” and as a student with another year ahead of me, I thought it sounded like a great thing to add to my resume. I was constantly looking for things to get involved with and for someone with a passion for psychology and social work, this organization stuck out to me. However, to my dismay I quickly found out that Gift of Life did not have any college ambassador programs in Israel. I typically would have just left it and not thought much, but the cause was important to me, so I decided to take action.

The Gift of Life Marrow Registry is about giving people opportunities. They give people from all over the world the opportunity to swab and save a life. They give patients the opportunity to find a life saving cure. While I have not actively donated, they gave me opportunities too, as I have been able to get connected to so many people and create my own version of a campus ambassador program here in Israel.

Adding participants to the Gift of Life registry on campus

During Gift of Life presentations, we learn about the founder, Jay Fineberg, who found out he was dying of Leukemia and desperately needed a perfect match to save his life. Instead of giving up on his search, he inspired his friends and family to add people to the donor registry and after four years, as the very last person was tested for him, he found his perfect match. And yes, she saved his life.

Jay’s story gives us the understanding that we are all capable of greatness, taking away the lesson that ‘it just takes one’. I was determined to continue in Jay’s footsteps and create an Ambassador program in Israel, giving my international peers the opportunity to save a life. It took a lot of emails, approvals and then, it took action. With the help of the AEPI fraternity on campus, Student Union Representatives, promoting on mine, my friends, and the schools social media platforms I was able to put together an incredible team.

As the day approached, there were some nerves regarding how successful we would really be, but by days end my entire team and I were completely blown away. Literally, it was so windy that our table almost flipped over, branches fell on the canopy above us, the rain just about soaked everything, and all we could do was hold our booth down and wait. There was no giving up for my team as we worked and searched for matches, reminding ourselves, that patients are also searching for their matches to get their second chance at life.

University life in Israel is very different than that of America. For starters, 2/3 of our student body is Israeli, meaning that they have most likely swabbed previously during their time in the army. As for our international students, many of them went on a gap year of some sort and swabbed then. These became two obstacles for us as we wanted to swab as many people as possible. The night before our booth went up, my team and I set ourselves a goal of adding 50 people to the registry. While the wind was nearly knocking us over, the students themselves gave us our biggest push, as they not only swabbed but came back with friends to help and show them how to swab.

Throughout this entire experience I was amazed by not only the organization, but by the help of my team and those who volunteered on the spot to join us. Still to this day, their hard work and push inspires me as I’ve started to live by their teachings. The mission that Gift of Life teaches is the Power of One, and I truly believe that. I was one person, that started with one email, which became one phone call, which was able to bring together individuals who shared and believed in my passion to save lives and create change. When adding up all of these “Ones”, we were able to create a unified team to swab, educate and empower students about this cause. That day we surpassed our goal, adding 75 donors to the registry, and I am pretty sure that there was already at least one match among them. Come on, there definitely has to be!

Jerusalem Marathon – Friday March 15th, 2019 • Photo taken by Rachel Fine •

Fast forward to Friday March 15, 2019; The day of the Jerusalem Marathon. Within my entire 21 years of life, living with 2 parents who work for nonprofit organizations, I am always finding ways to volunteer at events, but never before have I had the chance to really do a project like this on my own.

Within a few months of participating with this organization, I was now not only my version of an Ambassador, but was raising funds to test donor kits, joining the Gift of Life Jerusalem Marathon team. I committed to raising funds for three kits, each kit is $60 to test in the lab.  Twenty-three days, 19 shares, 3 Facebook posts, and 2 Instagram stories later, I not only reached my goal, but multiplied it by 5, finishing with 15 complete kits in my donation page. From the moment I saw that number on my page, I screenshotted it and sent it to everyone who not only donated, but supported me along this journey and thanked each of them.

Gift of Life has since become a community that I still continue to look to for constant inspiration. Not a day goes by where I am not amazed by how supportive the people I have met through this organization. They have taught me that everyone has the power to create change, it’s up to us to make it happen. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunities that Gift of Life has given me, along with all of those who have been by my side. I can’t wait to learn about the lives saved, and hope my story inspires others to join the community, the registry, and be a part of the real change in this world. Together we are saving lives.

If you are interested in learning more information or continuing donations, you may do so at

“He who saves a single life, saves the world entire” – Talmud

About the Author
Originally from America, Naomi studies psychology at the Raphael Recanati International School at IDC in Herzliya. Upon completion, she hopes to continue her pursuit towards gaining both a Masters in Social Work and Business Administration. During her time here, she has become actively involved in working and/or volunteering for different organizations within and outside of her school.
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