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Foreword: In this midst of this bleak time that will be forever known as the Coronavirus pandemic, hope has sprung from something called convalescent plasma. And, arguably, no one has personified that hope better than the Orthodox Jewish community of Lakewood, New Jersey. For two weeks now, Lakewood residents, in conjunction with Lev Rochel Bikur Cholim of Lakewood, have driven daily from the Garden State down to the Diamond State to donate convalescent plasma. As a result, we have met many wonderful people who come in beaming with enthusiasm to help their fellow man and with an appreciation for the phlebotomists and support staff that is palpable. Last, but not least, the men and women of Lakewood, NJ, have brought in wonderful kosher food and treats daily that have been – if you’ll pardon the pun – heartwarming. This is a summary of the new relationship BBD has formed with the community of Lakewood. –Tony Prado, Communications Specialist, BBD

One of the pleasures associated with beginning the convalescent plasma program here at BBD has been working with the scores of residents traveling in daily from Lakewood, New Jersey, to Delaware, to give this potentially lifesaving blood product.

This is the program in which recovered COVID-19 patients donate blood plasma to help treat other patients with more advanced cases of the illness. The patient is transfused with the donor’s plasma with the goal of using the donor’s antibodies to help clear the virus more rapidly and help decrease the need for ICU beds and ventilators.

Since beginning the convalescent plasma program on April 15, members of Lev Rochel Bikur Cholim of Lakewood, New Jersey, have formed a significant bulk of our 450 CP donors thus far. The Orthodox Jewish community of Lakewood was hit hard by COVID-19, and the reason was obvious to Rabbi Yehuda Kaszirer.

We have a very strong sense of community here. Prior to the outbreak we would gather in synagogues and other community events as we’ve done for thousands of years,” Rabbi Kaszirer said. “Unfortunately, when this hit, many in our community got COVID-19. We got together, and have been trying to fight it in every way, shape and form.”

Bikur Cholim was created in 1991 to assist members of the Lakewood community going through medical challenges. 

The nearby New York Blood Center was booked solid with convalescent plasma donations, which led Bikur Cholim to NYBCe’s affiliate, Blood Bank of Delmarva.

The donors have come down to the Christiana Donor Center and the Dover Donor Center to give plasma with aplomb. When they arrive, they express their heartfelt appreciation for the staff fighting on the frontlines against COVID-19, and they bring delicious, kosher food to the staff that puts smiles on everyone’s faces.

Rabbi Kaszirer jokes that a week ago, he thought Newark, Delaware, would have been a typo for Newark, New Jersey. But, like his congregants, he has embraced the new relationship in which up to 35 Lakewood residents per day have traveled nearly two hours each way to give convalescent plasma.

“Like the rest of the world, we’re waiting for the cure,” Rabbi Kaszier said. “However, there is a lot of promise with the convalescent antibodies as an available treatment. Therefore, our community went on an all-out campaign in the last two weeks. We’ve literally recruited thousands of volunteers to get tested for antibodies.”

Simi Halpern, a Bikur Cholim employee and a member of the plasma donation team, described how thousands of people from the community showed up to a couple of blood drives around town to take the plasma test. Those who tested positive for antibodies to the Coronavirus from that initial pool of people started a rotation of daily trips to Delaware from the Garden State, she said. Since then, Bikur Cholim has arranged for an additional 4,000 to be tested.

Rabbi Kaszirer and Simi give credit to Mr. Sim Shain of Paraflight Aviation, who coordinated a flight on his company’s plane with just a few hours’ notice, to deliver the tests to Rochester, Minnesota, to expedite the results.

“As a Jewish community, we’ve always been there to help each other,” Simi said. There’s a very strong bond between us. They’ll travel however long it is if they can help one person. When this came about, there was no question we would do whatever was in our power to help others. God is on our side and He’s going to help us.”

Added the Rabbi: “It’s a lifesaving call. And in life, there are opportunities where we make a decision and it could have an impact for generations and generations. The decision that BBD made will make a difference in lives of hundreds and thousands of people.” 

Part of Bikur Cholim’s mission is also to provide kosher meals to patients and staff and local hospitals. When this crisis came

about, Bikur Cholim members knew they needed to show all those on the frontlines their support. Eli Tress –  Director of the Medical staff meal distribution program by LRBC–  took this project upon himself, arranging food and rides to New Jersey’s surrounding hospitals.

“The ever generous community came together and donated $300,000 solely to fund this project of Bikur Cholim!” Eli said. “The result of this has been deliveries of meals, snacks and medical protection equipment to dozens of hospitals, as well as to BBD staff, as a gesture of gratitude to the nurses and medical staff.”

As a result, donors have been showing up with Bikur Cholim candy bars, chocolate covered pretzels, pastries and other food much to the delight of BBD staff. (Just wait until you try a kosher chocolate bar.)

“The outpouring of support and dedication to show appreciation to the medical heroes is not just something I’m seeing from the Bikur Cholim organization but rather is coming from every individual from every sector of the Lakewood community,” Eli said. “Everyone in this community is reaching out and asking how can they give back to the medical heroes on the front lines. This is something our community is known for – coming together and giving back.”

There are several people involved in making the relationship with BBD possible, including, but not limited to, Yehuda Kaszirer, Leeba Lederer, Yehoshua Lapides, Chaim Lichtenstein, Avrumi Milworm, Raizy Werner and others.

Simi also said BBD Calendar Plan Schedule Specialist Jamie Ford as well as Technical Support Specialists Jennifer Walton and Amanda Miller have been a pleasure to work with, and all of the Lakewood donors have been thoroughly impressed with all of the phlebotomists and other staff.