There are currently over 100,000 people in the United States desperately in need of a lifesaving kidney transplant. In fact, odds are you may know someone in that category. Unfortunately, around 4,000–5,000 people die each year waiting for a kidney.
Renewal is an organization that is dedicated to facilitating living kidney transplants within the Jewish community. Renewal is trying to save as many of those lives as we can. We do this by educating the public about the concept of living kidney donation and what the process entails.
As the Director of Outreach at Renewal, I speak at awareness events in various communities. When I first started working for Renewal, I asked many of our kidney donors what motivated them to donate, and to my surprise I received the same answer from almost all of them: “Someone was in need and I could help. How could I not?” It is this simple yet profound way of thinking that makes a kidney donor such a selfless person. Very often, I get asked if the donors and recipients meet each other. The answer is, most of the time they do, but it usually isn’t at the request of the donors. The donors, by and large, are not looking for any honor or glory. They agree to meet at the request of the recipients, who want to say thank you. They are selfless individuals who are simply looking to help.
Renewal believes in a pressure-free process for becoming a donor. We believe that the decision to donate is a very personal one, one that is best reached after learning about the process and discussing it with one’s family and Rav. We have found that the rabbanim who have been consulted, from yeshivish to Chassidish to Modern Orthodox, have been tremendously supportive of Renewal’s efforts and of living kidney donation. Once a decision to donate has been reached, the dedicated Renewal team is there to hold the hand of a potential donor throughout the transplant process.
I am in awe of the character of these special heroes. A donor wanted to donate his kidney, but was told that he was overweight. Not a problem. He proceeded to lose over 50 pounds in two years in order to be able to donate his kidney and save a life!
Here is a recent exchange between a kidney donor and their Renewal transplant coordinator:
Kidney Donor: Do you want to know what my biggest fear is about kidney donation?
Renewal Donor Coordinator: Yes. What? (Expecting to hear about the pain, discomfort or other concerns a kidney donor might have.)
Kidney Donor: My greatest fear is that during testing I will be disqualified from donating my kidney.
These donors are special but what I find to be the most inspiring is that they are regular, everyday people. They are teachers, doctors, bus drivers, lawyers, rabbis, homemakers and more.
Renewal has been involved in well over 300 lifesaving transplants since its inception. In fact, last year Renewal was responsible for 60–70 percent of all altruistic kidney transplants in New York State. As amazing a statistic as that is, unfortunately there are close to 300 people still on our waiting list. Children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, our list is not specific to any one demographic or age bracket.
One of the most amazing aspects of Renewal is the idea of unity within the Jewish people. Often, the staff at Renewal is invited to simchas made by donors or recipients. Recently I was at a chassidish wedding of two altruistic kidney donors. (Yes, that is correct: Both the chosson and the kallah were altruistic kidney donors.) A modern Orthodox couple from Los Angeles was also attending the wedding. They might not have looked exactly like the majority of the people there, but they had a prominent place at the wedding—the husband was the recipient of the chosson’s kidney. In fact, in addition to all of the Rabbanim receiving a bracha under the chuppa, this recipient was honored with one as well. This is something we see on a regular basis. The recipient and donor become family, even though their lifestyles are quite different. We have seen Ashkenazim give to Sefardim, a Lakewood Kollel man give to a Bucharian Jew, religious to unaffiliated etc. It is a real testament to the Jewish people that when a fellow Jew is in need, it makes no difference how dissimilar they may be.
When Klal Yisrael was commanded to shecht the Korban Pesach and smear the blood on the doorposts, the Torah tells us that they could not simply put a stick in the blood and wipe it on the doorpost. It had to be done by taking “agudas eizov” a bundle of the hyssop plant and use that as their paintbrush. Why does the Torah specify a bundle? Perhaps it is to teach us that in order to experience the real freedom that the Korban Pesach and Yetzias Mitzrayim represent we must be bundled together, united in purpose and belief.
By Rabbi Josh Sturm