Thank you for helping my mum

By Jonni Berger, May 17, 2013
Follow The JC on Twitter

What do a student in Birmingham, a tour guide in Jerusalem, a housewife in Bournemouth, a doctor in Sydney, a teacher in Bushey, an actor in Finchley and a rabbi in New York have in common? If they're Jewish, maybe religion? But if they're Reform, Orthodox, culturally Jewish or a "BuJew" (Buddhist Jew) between 16 and 70, how likely is it that they would all be united by a common purpose, particularly when that purpose is to come to the aid of a hitherto unknown, north-London Jewish mother? Not a celebrity or a communal figure, just someone loved by her family though a stranger to the majority.

You may already be aware; you may even have taken action. Over the past four months, I've been truly touched by the support of previously unconnected strangers who have attempted to help "Sharon Berger, 61, from Harrow" - otherwise known as my mum.

Like the son who doesn't know how to ask at the Seder, I was the son who once would never have dreamt of asking for help so publicly . But when my dear mum was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition curable only via a stem-cell donation from a stranger, I knew I needed to ask for help - and quickly. Our 999 call was to the entire Jewish community and they responded with the blues and twos.

Of course, some decided that being a donor wasn't for them, whether because they couldn't handle the potential consequences or didn't take the time to get past their misconceptions. But that didn't stop us.

Our 999 call was to the entire community

Spit4Mum, as the campaign became known, captured the hearts and minds of so many, not only "traditional do-gooders" but individuals across generations, irrespective of affiliation or denomination. Anybody can be a lifesaver and what spurred us on was the thought that the next person to register could be her lifesaver.

While social media is too often abused by those conducting witch-hunts, or used for sharing inane detail, the worldwide reach of Spit4Mum has shown that sites like Twitter can be valuable tools for appealing to the good in people.

The press, and particularly the JC, also came out in spades to show their support - not only looking for a story - with journalists registering as donors and keeping the coverage going throughout. The young, often dismissed as self-obsessed, got behind Spit4Mum in a big way –- with sixth-formers and students pushing for new donors in places where campaigns are typically unable to make headway.

For those who joined in, of course, involvement was motivated by the recognition that what happened to my mum could happen to theirs. But their individual mitzvot have created a ripple effect. What started as a response to an appeal to help a fellow Jew could help many others around the globe, Jewish and non-Jewish.

Thankfully and amazingly, a match was found during the course of our appeal. It wouldn't have been possible without so many individuals in the Jewish community taking action - showing that, as a group, we are stronger when we work together.

I am proud of having led an increase in the numbers of Jewish donors on the UK stem cell register - up by around 30 per cent in only three months - not to mention the impact worldwide.

My mum still has a long way to go to recover. While we don't know what the future holds, we desperately hope that her transplant will be successful and enable her to reclaim her life. If our family's story was a Hollywood film, it would be introduced with a dramatic voiceover full of promise and surprise. I sincerely hope that it also has a Hollywood ending.

Jonni Berger is a social media activist who founded the #Spit4Mum appeal

Last updated: 11:20am, May 17 2013