In the westernmost nook of the Port Authority Bus Terminal last Thursday, Sept. 11, the New York Blood Center offered typical blood drive mementos, like apple juice, jelly beans and Oreo cookies. Strewn among these American delicacies were a handful of taco-flavored Bissli snacks, Osem Duvshaniot honey cookies and assorted Israeli candies.
The 9/11 blood drive commemorated the Aug. 4 “blood brothers” agreement signed between America’s Blood Centers and Israel’s Magen David Adom, which stipulated that each country would provide the other with blood in emergency situations. At the center of the event was New York Israeli community leader Oren Heiman, a managing partner at Shiboleth, a law firm in Midtown, who spoke with the staff at the Port Authority center immediately after he heard about the August agreement. “That triggered my idea of putting together an Israeli blood drive on Sept. 11,” Heiman said, explaining that this day could mutually commemorate all the terror that both Israel and the United States have experienced.
“These two countries are affected by Islamic terrorism more than any other country in the world,” he said.
By organizing the blood drive in honor of this fight against terrorism, Heiman was merely building upon his long history of community involvement. Since his arrival in New York a decade ago, Heiman said that he has been involved in over 25 Israeli-American organizations, and during a trip to Israel a few years ago he conducted a drive to recruit organ donors. For the 9/11 blood drive, he sent out e-mails out to his various networks of local Israelis, and he said that many more expressed interest than could actually attend due to lack of Social Security numbers or other required data. In total, 28 residents showed up to give blood and four were disqualified for medical or travel reasons, leaving a total of 24 Israeli donors.
“I would not be surprised if the only ethnic group that would decide to do a blood drive on Sept. 11 would be Israelis,” Heiman said, noting that he intends to make the 9/11 drive an annual event. “I think that the name blood brothers symbolizes more than anything else the connection between the two countries.”
Blood Center staff were very receptive to Heiman’s idea and noted that individuals are welcome to sponsor drives as long as they can guarantee at least 20 participants, according to Novelette Thomas, manager at the New York Blood Center, who worked with Heiman to organize the event. Typically, she said, groups must make arrangements with the central organization, but Heiman was able to work directly with the Port Authority staff because he is a frequent donor at this location.
“The idea that he had about actually doing the blood donation on 9/11 I think was very good,” Thomas said, hoping that his efforts will spread blood donation awareness among other Israelis. “I do hope that he does continue it, even if he just does it every 9/11.”
Heiman was actually born in New York and moved with his family to Israel when he was 9 years old, only to return to the United States when he was 30. Now, nearing his 40th birthday, Heiman is celebrating having spent nearly half his life in New York, and he still holds both American and Israeli passports.
Yet even those Israelis who did not identify as American at all were excited to get involved in the blood drive.
“My blood is being given to an American person and not an Israeli one. The idea is that we give in the country we’re in,” said Tal Shapsa, a law student in Israel interning at Heiman’s firm for the summer. “We’re giving and not asking for anything in return — that should mean something,” she added, explaining that her donation allows her to feel more connected to America during her brief stay here.
American or not, the Israeli participants saw their contributions as a proactive step toward a vital partnership in international security.
“There is a special connection between America and Israel in good times and bad times, and in order for us to be part of this connection, we need to participate in these types of events,” said Lior Erez, a mechanical engineer who has worked for a medical device company in the United States for the past 10 years.
While Erez considers himself to be a “long-term resident” of the United States, he still ultimately identifies himself as Israeli and intends to move back to his homeland eventually. But he maintains that people need blood both here in America and Israel, and the mutual exchange program may unfortunately be crucial at some point.
“God forbid something would happen, this connection would come to be a test,” Erez said, as a nurse prepped him for his donation. He felt that it was particularly important to strengthen this connection on 9/11, as a sign of the commitment between the two countries.
“It’s one of the first time when United States Jews were introduced to a terrorist attack of huge magnitude,” Erez said. “Israelis unfortunately have been going through this for the past 60 years.”
On perhaps the most solemn date in America’s calendar, Israelis and New Yorkers alike poured in and out of the Port Authority center, prepared to give of themselves and get only a handful of sugary snacks in return. And by the end of the day, there was plenty of apple juice left on that table, but nearly all the Egozi candies were gone.