On May 2, Micah Kaufman altruistically donated one of his kidneys to Rebecca bet-Alkhas Irani, an 85-year-old grandmother of two. Irani had been on dialysis for nearly two years as she waited for a kidney.
According to Rabbi Josh Sturm of Renewal, an organization that arranges kidney donations within the Jewish community, 72% of people on dialysis don’t survive for more than five years, as their condition is continually deteriorating and dialysis has a slew of negative side effects. “To find a kidney for someone over the age of 80 is a very difficult thing,” explained Rabbi Sturm. “Psychologically, donors don’t like to donate to people of that age.” In other words, Irani was in desperate straits, hoping for a kidney that would probably never show up.
Cue Micah Kaufman, an active member of his community who is known for stepping up and doing kind things for others. “It’s really a wonderful opportunity for those of us who are not in the medical field to save someone’s life,” said Kaufman, who is currently recuperating from his surgery. “This was my one opportunity to save someone’s life. My father and sister are both medical doctors, and they’ve been saving lives for their whole careers.”
This surgery holds particular significance to the Renewal organization, as Ms. Irani is the oldest recipient in Renewal’s history at the age of 85. When asked why he had donated to someone over the age of 80, Kaufman explained, “My grandfather, Benjamin Kaufman, who passed away in 2010, had quadruple bypass surgery at the age of 82. He was able to see two more grandchildren get married and was able to see multiple great-grandchildren born. How could I not give that opportunity to someone else? It wasn’t really a question in my mind.”
Kaufman’s story inspired many others around him, donors and Renewal employees alike. “His idea for donation is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever heard,” said Rabbi Sturm. “He donated intentionally to an elderly person, which is very rare. Usually people want someone on the younger side.” In a video on Renewal’s website (www.renewal.org), Ms. Irani praised Kaufman: “I don’t know your name, and I don’t know him at all, but you should know: I’m just imagining the kindest man in the world. God will help both of us, but don’t forget what you have done for our family. We will never forget that.”
As for Kaufman, he never had a doubt about whether he should donate once he found out he had a match in the database. “Mentally, it helped me focus on my own health because I was trying to do something for another person. I didn’t do it to get the acclaim; I just did it because that’s the way my mind works. Once I’d submitted the swab and I was a match, it wasn’t a question of whether I should or should not. Once I was a match, I had to donate. I thank Renewal from the bottom of my heart for giving me this opportunity.”
Renewal has been in operation for 13 years and has made up nearly 18% of national kidney donations in the past eight years, most of them from Jewish communities in New Jersey and New York. Many donors become interested through events that Renewal holds. “We did a program in Teaneck about a year and a half ago,” explained Sturm, “and people overwhelmingly showed up and supported us. From that one event in 2017, we have had over 17 donors to come forward, including Micah.”
When asked about the difference Renewal has made, Rabbi Sturm continued, “Thank God, we have given more transplants each year, going back for about eight years. However, we’re still negative. For every transplant we do, we add about 2 patients to our waiting list. Currently, we have 400 patients waiting for a kidney.” Renewal, however, is expanding. According to Sturm, 75% of Renewal cases are within the greater tri-state area, but they are gradually expanding to other communities across America and the continent. “I look forward to coming to work,” Sturm said. “It’s just amazing to meet these individuals, especially these kidney donors who are doing something so altruistic and amazing. We are inspired every day by interacting with them and being a part of their orbit.”
“It was a wonderful opportunity that Renewal gave me,” said Kaufman. “I was inspired by Rabbi Rothwachs, who donated several years ago, as well as my friend, Rabbi Yair Hindin, who gave a couple of months ago. Yair and I were friendly from shul and we went through the process together. We tested in early 2018, but neither of us were able to donate at the time. We talked about it again in November, and he donated three weeks later. He came back to me in January and pushed me to do it. So, I tried again and went back to Renewal, and thank God, it worked out.” Rabbi Hindin said, “He had letters from his recipient and I was literally in tears reading them.”
Renewal changes lives, not just for the recipients, but for donors as well. “It was an opportunity to consciously look for opportunities for other people, because it’s much more fulfilling to give than to take,” said Kaufman. Rabbi Hindin extolled Kaufman’s behavior, saying, “The whole tone was very altruistic. The day before the donation, Micah told me he was very excited, that he’d been blessed to do it and had been waiting for a while. He was just so happy to be able to do it; he really was a hero. I stayed the night with him during the surgery and it was great to be connected with his donation in some way.”
By Brooke Schwartz
Brooke Schwartz is a senior at the Frisch School who is interning at the Jewish Link.