BANGOR, Maine — Over the past few years, the Pine Tree chapter of the American Red Cross has given a variety of gifts to blood donors, from free coffee and chili to wristbands for unlimited rides at the Bangor State Fair.
The blood drive Wednesday at Congregation Beth Israel, however, was the first time donors were served latkes, or potato pancakes, after giving blood. It also appears to be the first time a blood drive has been held at a Bangor synagogue, according to Aaron Hoovler, the team supervisor of the Red Cross crew that collected blood for five hours at the Conservative synagogue on York Street.
“This is a maiden voyage,” he said.
More than 20 people from Bangor’s Jewish community had given blood by 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Hoovler said. He said there is always a critical need for blood during the holidays, but the recent ice storm that hit southern Maine and New Hampshire so hard severely decreased the number of people able to donate blood.
The Pine Tree chapter serves Maine and New Hampshire, Hoovler noted.
A letter from the Red Cross seeking donors in December prompted Rabbi Steven Schwarzman to plan the blood drive, which was held in Beth Israel’s large function room. He invited members of Beth Abraham, the Orthodox synagogue across from Schwarzman’s shul, or synagogue, and Beth El, the Reform synagogue on French Street, to participate.
“It’s a mitzvah to give blood — and then there’s the food,” Jay Smith, 54, of Bangor said Wednesday to explain why he decided to donate blood. “As a Jew, you sometimes ask yourself this time of year, ‘What do you do?’ You want to support your community, but you don’t celebrate Christmas.”
A mitzvah is a meritorious act, according to “The Joy of Yiddish,” “one that expresses God’s will.” It also is defined as a good work, a truly virtuous, kind, considerate and ethical deed, said the book’s author, Leo Rosten.
The blood drive was held in the middle of Hanukkah, the eight-day commemoration of the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judas Maccabee in 165 B.C. after the temple had been destroyed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of Syria. The oil found in the temple should have lasted just one day but miraculously burned for eight.
The menorah, lit on successive days, re-enacts the miracle. It is traditional to eat foods fried in oil during the holiday such as potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts.
“I would love for this to become a tradition,” Schwarzman said of the blood drive, “because it makes such a statement about what we feel about the community. It did seem a little funny to have all those signs with red crosses on them go up around the synagogue.”