Other than Torah learning, tefillot and our daily observances and acts that honor Hashem, there aren’t all that many mitzvot that one does on a regular basis that can, in one fell swoop, affect hundreds, if not thousands, of people. But I can easily think of one mitzvah that has affected hundreds, if not thousands, in the Bergen and greater Northern New Jersey community in the last several years. This mitzvah has been brought to us by Renewal, an extraordinary organization with a unique focus.
This Brooklyn-based kidney donor/recipient matching organization has, quietly yet miraculously, enabled 14 of our neighbors in Northern New Jersey to perform the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh, saving a life, by donating their spare kidney to a fellow Jew in need. In total, Renewal facilitated 67 donations last year and are on track to surpass that number in 2017.
Since we at The Jewish Link first came into contact with Renewal through the shlichim (messengers) of the Hain family in Teaneck, our community has seen extraordinarily ill neighbors, friends and even a beloved and treasured community rav, Rabbi Yosef Adler, recover their lives through the miracle of kidney donation. We have watched as they have come back to life, physically, emotionally and spiritually, their lives renewed, mechayeh hameitim. And they have come back to daven, learn and teach in our shuls and schools. Through the work of Renewal, we as a community have borne witness to immense selflessness, immeasurable tzedakah and, most notably, we have seen the light of Torah and mitzvot brightened by the donors and recipients who live among us.
We all know that medical miracles can and do happen in our time, and many of us believe that organ transplantation is one of God’s many overt miracles. However, even faced with the fact that one person’s kidney can now be placed into another person’s body and the two can both survive and thrive, there is doubt. The fact is, many of us are scared to undergo elective surgery unless we know the person whose life we’re saving.
I know I am. If someone came up to me on the street today and asked me to donate my kidney to a stranger, I would have a few questions, some for a doctor and some for a rabbi, and even a few more for my husband. Is it possible that I will die if I do this? Could the donor die even if I do this? What will happen to my young children or siblings, if they, God forbid, need mine someday, and I “already spent my spare?” Am I halachically obligated to donate my kidney if someone needs it right now, specifically?
The most hidden miracle Renewal performs is they have the incredible depth of capacity and compassion to answer these questions. These are important questions; they are the right questions potential donors can and must ask. Renewal knows how to answer them and they do this, all day, every day.
Renewal has shown me, since my very first phone call with Rabbi Josh Sturm, that no question is too small. Renewal’s program director, Menachem Friedman, and all the staff of this special organization, act as partners and shlichim in the process of kidney transplantation; they support each donor throughout the process, and care for them and daven for them as though they are their own family.
As I have joined the Renewal family, I too have begun to daven as soon as I get a message from Mr. Friedman, which often says something simple, like, “On way to hospital now for today’s kidney transplant,” or sometimes “Kidney transplant now. Please daven for...” As word of Renewal has spread through the Jewish world, the list of people who need kidneys desperately has grown as well. Over 300 people are on that list, including three from our neighborhoods right here in Northern New Jersey.
The more overt miracle is the effect that these donors have had on our own community. Twelve individuals being honored at the Renewal Gala this Motzei Shabbat, many of whom I have met and had the opportunity to interview or hear their stories from other sources, have shown our community what it is like to perform the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh, thus enabling a cascade of life-saving assistance to be delivered to our fellow Jews who suffer with terminal kidney disease.
Remember the names of these heroes who have saved one life, and by virtue of their stepping forward, encourage and inspire us to work together to save countless others: Zvi Adler, David Barach, Susie Fenyes, Shalom Fisch, Miriam Gitelman, Rabbi Shelley Kniaz, Shimon Kluger, Karen Orgen, Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, Rabbi Ephraim Simon, Rabbi Ari Sytner and Daniel Weber.
These special honorees, and Rabbi Yosef Adler, who was the recipient of his son Zvi’s kidney and to whom we credit with educating an entire community about kidney donation (and whose seudat hodaah [feast of thanksgiving] we celebrate on Motzei Shabbat as well), are truly our community’s heroes. Renewal has shown us that it is possible for us to save one life, and our community’s donors and recipients have shown us how one donation affects many lives. Together, we can save more.
Thanks also to our community shuls for donating and partnering with us and Renewal on this event and for hosting the many Renewal Shabbatot and events in our community over the course of the last three years.
I look forward to greeting you at the Renewal Gala this Motzei Shabbat, November 11, at 8:30 p.m. There is no cost to attend, but I urge you to join us and learn more about what we can give to this special organization that is a powerhouse for mitzvot, and miracles. Learn more and donate at https://www.renewal.org/teaneck-shabbaton.
By Elizabeth Kratz