Saturday, April 01, 2023

Renewal had always been a blip on my radar. The ads publicizing the need for a kidney would tug at my heart—I knew that each represented someone in dire need—but I never took action.

Five years ago, my opportunity presented itself: a Renewal awareness event in my community.

I listened to donors’ stories, learned about the risks and statistics and joined the Renewal database.

Then… five years of radio silence. Kidney donation once again receded to the back of my consciousness.

Several months ago, I finally got the call: There was a potential match. I refreshed my research—after all, it was five years out of date—and, with an enthusiastic go-ahead from my family and rav, decided to proceed.

To my deep disappointment, I was not compatible; I resigned myself to another long wait.

But just two weeks later, Renewal called again: I had been successfully matched to a 33-year-old mother of three young children. I felt like I’d won the lottery—a chance to help a young family!

After that initial call, Renewal became a consistent presence in my life. They accompanied me to full-day testing at the hospital, going way beyond dropping me off at the door: They stayed with me all day, helping me navigate the maze of the hospital through back-to-back appointments, bringing me lunch and explaining every step. Throughout the day, I was privileged to witness—and then join—the masses of Renewal staff, recipients and donors coming and going, like a hidden kidney underground! It was incredibly gratifying to meet each one and become a part of this exclusive club.

There was just one problem. As a rabbinical couple in the kiruv community in Marlboro, New Jersey, my wife and I each travel to Israel annually with a group of congregants. Our trips are three months apart; if surgery couldn’t be scheduled before the women’s trip, it would have to be postponed another six months, until after both trips.

Hospitals typically do not account for patients’ schedules. But with Renewal on my side, the transplant took place three weeks later, on the exact date I’d wanted. (An added bonus: I got out of Pesach cleaning that year!)

In the wee hours of transplant day, I received the initial communication from my recipient: heartfelt letters from her and her children that filled me with emotion and renewed confidence. Particularly touching was the note penned by her 12-year-old son:

I thank you so much for saving my mother’s life. My 12th birthday was 2 days ago and you gave me the best gift: b’ezras Hashem my mother will be healthy for my bar mitzvah. Hashem should give you and your family good health and hatzlachah in everything.

In the weeks after surgery, my recipient provided me with constant updates on her reclaimed life: Her food no longer tasted metallic, she regained the energy to cook nutritious meals, she was able to get up and send her kids off to school in the morning. I rebounded fairly quickly, resuming my schedule of classes and running programs. While I did feel pain, it was good pain—the pain of saving someone’s life.

As a member of the Renewal family, I’m awed by the lengths to which they go to help donors; there’s nothing they won’t do. Ten donors—strangers!—visited me post-surgery; one very special donor, a complete stranger from Skvere, stayed overnight in the hospital. I was half-asleep and barely able to acknowledge him when he arrived, but he remained by my side, uncomplainingly, throughout the night, helping me when I needed him and even presenting me with a big box of “mazel tov” chocolates. In the wee hours of the morning, I awoke to him departing for work—after sleeping in uncomfortable quarters for the comfort of a stranger.

Renewal’s support didn’t dwindle after the transplant was complete; they brought care packages filled with the paraphernalia that eases recovery, called me for weeks to see how they could help, and even paid for lost wages and other costs incurred during the process. I am both proud and humbled to be part of this incredible network.

The gift of kidney donation is a gift that never stops giving, and it reaches far beyond every conceivable connection. Before my surgery, my community assembled for a tefilla gathering that overflowed our shul quarters; fairly unaffiliated Jews signed up to say tehillim on a regular basis for kidney donors and recipients. My story generated a virtual adoption of my recipient and her family; the congregants ask about her well-being and she is attending our upcoming dinner.

In the wake of my transplant, quite a few people—including my own young children!—have told me that they want to give a kidney too. A friend of a friend, a new ba’al teshuva from Houston, Texas, visited me the night before surgery and is already in the process of testing to donate his own. In our crowd, the concept of giving a vital organ to a total stranger is utterly foreign, and I am thrilled to have been part of concretizing the notion that all Jews are a family.

I am eternally grateful to Hashem, Renewal and my extensive support network for enabling me to perform this once-in-a-lifetime mitzvah.

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