Hasidic shoe wholesaler is leading an effort to get the New York City area’s Orthodox Jews who have recovered from Covid-19 to donate their blood plasma en masse, so that it can be used as a therapy by people still battling the coronavirus.
Chaim Lebovits, of Monsey, N.Y., has been working for weeks to create a network of rabbis, religious organizations, virus researchers, health professionals and hospital administrators to educate Orthodox Jews about the benefits of plasma donation, as well as testing them and receiving their blood.
So far, Lebovits said, more than 3,000 people — mostly men — have donated plasma at blood banks around the region, and 6,000 more are being tested on Wednesday to see if they have the antibodies that would enable them to be able to donate plasma. Lebovits said that he hopes to organize more than 45,000 people from the Orthodox community around New York City to donate plasma.
“The plasma isn’t just used for frum” — religious — “people or Jewish people, it’s for people in general,” Lebovits said. “We as observant Jews have an obligation to preserve life, and save life, and help as many people as we can.”
The effort began after Dr. Shmuel Shoham, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University’s medical school, who studies infectious diseases in organ transplants, told Lebovits in early March that the Orthodox community could be a good source of convalescent plasma — antibodies to the novel coronavirus in the blood of people who have recovered from Covid-19 — early on in the U.S.’s coronavirus crisis. The Hasidic community was hit early and hard by the disease, which means both that many Hasidic Jews know someone who has died from the disease — and many more are now candidates for donating plasma, because they have been exposed to it.
“I had no idea that he would drop everything and completely immerse himself in this, and do something that to me is so lifesaving, and is giving his community members a chance to do something, now that they have this power in their body to make a difference,” Shoham said.
Dr. David Reich, president and chief operating officer of the Mount Sinai hospital system, said that more than half of the donors to their plasma collection efforts have been Orthodox.
“The level of organization from the Orthodox community has been a step above,” he said.