“I was raised to believe that all Jews are responsible for each other, and I embrace this philosophy each day. I have found great personal satisfaction in advocating for the rights of others, both individually — one patient at a time— and collectively, by helping to impact public policy.”
The Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation facilitates life-saving bone marrow and stem cell transplants for more than 3,000 people around the world. The foundation has registered 262,189 bone marrow donors, identifying 13,662 matches through 10,227 donor drives, which has facilitated 3,075 transplants in 45 countries.
Every four minutes a child or adult is diagnosed with blood cancer. One in 200 people will receive a blood stem cell transplant in their lifetime. It’s not surprising that a large, genetically diverse donor registry is crucial for their survival. Gift of Life is dedicated to the proposition that every patient suffering from blood cancer is entitled to an equal opportunity to receive the transplant that can save their lives. To accomplish this goal, a suitably matched donor must be found.
Through an entrepreneurial approach, Gift of Life has been an innovator in the field of donor recruitment and retention. Gift of Life “firsts” include: using cheek swabs to test donors at drives; registering donors online via its website; and prioritizing donor availability through innovative retention programs such as SpeedSwabbing®, the deployment of buccal swabs as a testing platform for large scale recruitment. This has been the catalyst for an industry shift in the technology. The most recent innovation is a mobile platform developed for paperless recruitment, which has been proved so groundbreaking that other worldwide registries have expressed interest in using the technology.
Gift of Life facilitates transplants for children and adults suffering from many life-threatening diseases, among them leukemia and lymphoma, and is the only donor registry in North America dedicated to recruitment within the Jewish community, adding much needed ethnic diversity to the overall donor pool. It was the first registry in the world with this goal, and it is focused on multiplying the size of its donor registry, increasing the match rate to more than 80 percent for Jewish patients – a critical step towards achieving its ultimate goal of expediting donor matches for those in need.
When Jay Feinberg was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Charles Bronfman Prize in 2004, Charles Bronfman described him as a Jewish hero. Feinberg is singularly passionate about the proposition that every person battling blood cancer deserves a second chance at life, and about engaging the public to recognize that the cure is within each of us.
Shortly after graduating from college, Feinberg was diagnosed with leukemia and required a bone marrow transplant. He used his personal crisis to create a lifesaving grassroots movement: The Gift of Life Marrow Registry. By enrolling more than 260,000 Jewish donors, Gift of Life has increased the chances of a Jewish patient finding a bone marrow match to 80 percent from less than five percent in 1991.
Under Feinberg’s leadership, Gift of Life has become one of the world’s most effective donor registries. The organization has facilitated transplants for more than 3,000 cancer patients around the world. Groups in Israel, England, Brazil, and North America have adopted his registry model for specialized ethnocentric recruitment strategies. The membership ranks of Gift of Life have grown through partnerships with the international Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), the Foundation for Jewish Camps, Hillel International, Taglit Birthright Israel, and the Reform Action Center of the Union of Reform Judaism. Its newest initiative — the Gift of Life Campus Ambassador Program — engages students on college campuses to educate and enroll their peers while teaching them Jewish values and leadership skills that will last a lifetime.
Gift of Life has been an innovator in the field of donor recruitment. Most notably the organization was the first to deploy buccal swabs as a testing platform for large scale recruitment. This innovation has been the catalyst for an industry shift to the technology.
Prior to winning the Prize, Feinberg served as a policy adviser to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the New Jersey Department of Health. He also received a National Marrow Donor Program Recruitment Award, Hadassah International’s World Citizenship Award, and an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University in recognition of his humanitarian achievements. In 2008 and 2014, Gift of Life was awarded accreditation by the World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA). The WMDA elected Feinberg to the Board of Directors, where he served as Secretary of North and South America. Feinberg received the prestigious Maurice N. Eisendrath “Bearer of Light” Award from the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) in 2013. This Award is the highest honor given by the Reform Movement and has been bestowed upon other luminaries including Michael J. Fox, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Rabbi Richard Hirsch, and Abba Eban. In 2013 and 2014, he was twice voted a finalist in the Heroes in Medicine program of the Palm Beach County Medical Society, the former for Community Outreach and the latter for Health Care Innovation.
Feinberg was voted the 2010 Jewish Community Hero by the Jewish Federations of North America. In 2013, the Algemeiner Journal named him among the “Jewish 100 List of the Top One Hundred Individuals Positively Influencing Jewish Life.” He received his B.A. in Political Science from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He lives in Miami, Florida.