April 20, 2024
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BPY Students Study Science and Halacha of Organ Donation

Paramus—Did you know that there are 120,000 people currently waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the U.S.? The sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at Ben Porat Yosef Yeshiva Day School (BPY) recently spent an entire school day engaged in a special “Discovery Learning Day,” where they studied the science, religious, and social aspects of blood, kidney, and bone marrow donation.

The students were introduced to the science of organ donation by their science instructor Aaron Kogut, who was one of the day’s organizers, along with Dr. Stanley Fishman, director of BPY’s general studies program, who originated the discovery learning day concept. Elementary school science teacher Jean Meyers also assisted with the day’s events. While this was the first discovery day for the growing middle school (this eighth grade is the first such grade the school has had), the elementary students have already had several such days, including one on bridge building, which took the students in depth on the engineering aspects of construction and architecture.

The unit the students are studying in science is body systems, and the discovery learning day added the additional facets of halacha and social responsibility to provide the group with a more complete and memorable learning experience. They learned in great detail what is required of individuals donating blood, bone marrow or kidneys, and spent laboratory time typing blood and doing kidney dissections.

Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Teaneck’s Chabad House, spoke to the students about his altruistic experience of donating his kidney to a stranger. The students were rapt as he described his initial response to an email containing an appeal to help a child desperately in need of a kidney donation. After deciding to go through the testing process, it turned out that a match for the child had already been found, but Simon decided to move forward anyway, because “if I was going to do it for a child, I could it for a mother or a father,” he said.

“It is pikuach nefesh, literally saving a life,” he said. Describing a year-long process of testing for matches, Simon eventually donated a kidney to a frum father who lives in Brooklyn.

“To be able to save a life, inspire my children, and my congregation, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” he said. “My only regret is that I can’t donate my kidney a second time,” Simon said.

The second special presentation came from Dana Tunick, a recipient of both a heart and kidney transplant. She provided a description of her health before and after her transplants, and punctuated her talk with some of the religious and social aspects of the donations. While Tunick’s sister was the living donor for her kidney, a more difficult part for the students to process was when Tunick discussed the complexity of her relationship with the family members of the person who donated her heart. The students asked several incisive questions about the heart donor that Tunick answered with sensitivity.

With many hard facts learned about organ donation, including the mechanics of dialysis and how one can live with only one kidney, the students moved to the study of the halakha and the religious aspects of organ donation, with text study and discussions on the considerations of the personal risk to individuals. The day ended with a lively debate of the pros and cons of organ donation, with “Judge Kogut” ruling in favor of organ donation.

BPY partnered with Gift of Life for the day and presented an opportunity to adults dropping off children, or others in the larger Teaneck community, to register as a possible donor with a cheek swab and join the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Registry.

Headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, Gift of Life is one of the nation’s public bone marrow and blood stem cell registries, which focuses on gathering donors who are ethnically Jewish.  It is a world leader in facilitating transplants for children and adults suffering from many life-threatening diseases, among them leukemia and lymphoma. Gathering donors since 2000, there are now almost 236,000 people are members on the registry. Eighteen new members signed up at BPY on Discovery Day.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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