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Published: Saturday, 6/22/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Interfaith Blood Drive’s goal: ‘to bring all faiths together’

BY TK BARGER
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Devorah Shulamit, 71, at Grace Lutheran Church on Monroe Street in Toledo, Ohio. Devorah Shulamit, 71, at Grace Lutheran Church on Monroe Street in Toledo, Ohio.
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Devorah Shulamit gives the sweat and tears so that people in the interfaith community can donate blood.

She said that you won’t see the atmosphere of the Interfaith Blood Drive “and the values that we stand for anywhere else.” Blood donors see those values stated in posters children have made “about unity and peace and faith and brotherhood,” she said.

The Interfaith Blood Drive Ms. Shulamit, 71, has coordinated since its inception a quarter century ago is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and Sunday at Grace Lutheran Church, 4441 Monroe St., concluding with an interfaith “Celebration of Life” service at 7 p.m. at the church, followed by a reception. “If we break down prejudice and biases, then we’ve done our job.”

The aim of this blood drive is “to bring all faiths together,” Ms. Shulamit said, and that was one of her initial obstacles in working with the American Red Cross.

“They thought it was religious, and that was the big hurdle to get through, [to show the Red Cross that] it’s not religious. [Technically] it is, because we bring over all faiths, [but] we have people who come in here who are atheists and agnostics but really love the idea that we’re bringing people together in peace for saving lives instead of destroying them.”

The seed for the blood drive came from a trip Ms. Shulamit, a registered nurse and mental health counselor, made to Israel in 1987 as a present to herself for completing her master’s degree.

“When I was standing there on Friday night, which is the holiest night for Jews and Muslims, the young men came down the cobblestone steps ... arms over shoulders and they were chanting in Hebrew, the [Christian] church bells were chiming, and the call to mosque was simultaneous. I just stood there in awe, and I silently said, ‘God, if there’s anything I can do to unite people in peace and save lives, may it be your will.’”

On her return to Toledo, her rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel gave her a news article about an intrafaith blood drive in Detroit. She developed a mission statement for an interfaith blood drive in Toledo, came up with the motto “unity through acceptance,” and started to make the blood drive a reality. She said that the American Red Cross Blood Services in Toledo had never held a blood drive in a house of worship, so it took many meetings for acceptance of the interfaith idea.

The first two years, the drive took place at her congregation before moving to the Hindu Temple of Toledo for two years. In its fifth year, Grace Lutheran Church was the location. The blood drive has been there ever since, and the closing religious service, which moves to different congregations, returns to Grace every five years, including this year.

Last year, the blood drive was canceled because of a Red Cross strike. This is the 25th year of collecting blood for the Interfaith Blood Drive, which is a partner of the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio.

Bob Haaf, Grace Lutheran’s council president, said that the interfaith tie “puts us in the position that we ought to be. Christ said to love your neighbor, and he didn’t say love some of them. There are very few things that most everyone can do, and giving blood is one of them.”

Tracy Duncan, communication manager for the American Red Cross, said that blood donations are important now because there are fewer donors when school is out and people are on vacation.

“We are hoping to get at least 200 donors,” Ms. Shulamit said. When the blood collection is finished, “we have closure [with the evening service]. Bring everybody together from all diverse backgrounds, ethnicity, religion, faiths, and we have so much talent here in northwest Ohio and it’s not tapped enough as far as I’m concerned.... [Singer] Jean Holden is going to be performing, and we have Hindu dancing and faith dancing, we have a choir,” and there will be prayers from many faiths.

Soon after Grace Lutheran is cleaned up, Ms. Shulamit will start her vacation. She dedicates 11 months a year to the blood drive, she said, and she takes July off. Even though she gives so much time, “one thing I stress is this is a we, not a me, organization.”

Contact TK Barger @ tkbarger@theblade.com, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.



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