“Mom, I had fun! Rolling the matzah dough was my favorite!”
Four-year-old Jayden Roll beamed up at her mother in the lobby of the YM-YWHA (Young Men’s-Young Women’s Hebrew Association) in Montreal. In many ways, she’s just like the 5,000 other toddlers and children who ground wheat, rolled dough and baked matzah at the Chabad-Lubavitch Living Legacy Model Matzah Bakery. Yet she’s also very different; sometimes, she’s too tired or weak to do anything at all.
Jayden has pre-leukemia, known as MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome), which is very rare in children. The little girl’s doctors predict that it will most likely progress into acute myelogenos leukemia, or AML. At that point, she will need to undergo chemotherapy and, ultimately, depend on a marrow transplant to survive.
A month ago, Jayden, a bouncy child with blond hair and an easy smile, was enrolled in JPPS (Jewish People’s Peretz School), which she attended with her younger brother, Joshua. A bright student, she was looking forward to learning all about Passover.
When she began complaining about aches in her legs and showed signs of lethargy, her mother, Kelly Goodman, took her to the doctor. But she became even weaker, to the point of falling asleep during the day. A blood test confirmed that she was suffering from a form of pre-leukemia so rare that the Montreal Children’s Hospital had never treated it before.
From 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., between one school group and another, Rabbi Dovid Weinbaum set aside time for Jayden and her guests.
Suddenly, the family’s life was turned upside-down. Jayden started going twice a week for blood tests and has undergone two blood transfusions, which explains why, for the moment, she looks and acts healthy. To avoid infection, she stopped going to school—in fact, stopped going out at all. Goodman even quit her job to be able to care for her daughter.
“Since Passover is probably the last holiday that she will celebrate before she goes to the hospital, I have been trying to teach her as much as I can at home,” says her mom. “But the other day we dropped off Joshua at school, and she saw the other kids going to the Model Matzah Bakery at the Y. She so wanted to join them, and we were torn. At first, I considered joining the school group, but my husband, Warren, reminded me how careful we needed to be.”
So Goodman contacted Aviva Miller at the Y, and a wonderful thing happened. Rabbi Dovid Weinbaum, program director of Living Legacy, who operates of the model matzah bakery, offered to hold a private program for Jayden, Joshua and a few family members.
According to Marlene Jennings, executive director of the YM-YWHA, “when the rabbi came to me with his request, I thought, ‘This is exactly what the Y is all about. We have to make sure that no one at all is left out.’”
From 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., between one school group and another, Weinbaum set aside time for Jayden and her guests. The staff first made sure to sweep the floors, wipe down the counters and put fresh paper on the table where Jayden would roll her matzah to minimize chances of infection.
Once there, Jayden giggled as she pretended to drive to a farm, then kneeled down as separate wheat from the stalk and, together with her brother and cousin, turned the crank on the miniature well as she drew water to mix together with the flour. She then rolled the dough into matzah—the thin cracker-like wafers eaten on Passover to commemorate the biblical Exodus—when the Israelites left Egypt in such a hurry that they had no time to allow their bread to rise.
The rabbi said that getting a hug from Jayden and hearing about how much she loved the experience define his work. “We are here to make sure that every child can experience the beauty of Judaism, no matter the situation,” he said.
As for Jayden’s mother, she is realistic about what the future holds: “We just found out this week that neither of her brothers is a match, so we are starting to look for a donor.” The family has set up a page on Facebook called "Cure for Jayden," she noted.
While a full marrow donation drive is not yet in place, the little girl's parents have encouraged everyone to contact local blood and marrow drives, and to sign up as potential donors, or to contact Rabbi Dovid Weinbaum at the Living Legacy.
The staff made sure to sweep the floors, wipe down the counters and put fresh paper on the table where Jayden would roll her matzah to minimize chances of infection.