May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Kidney Donation Inspiration Moves From Teaneck to Bergenfield This Shabbat

Teaneck/Bergenfield—Did you ever consider that a presentation at shul could save a life? It can, and it did. A 54-year-old Jewish emigre from the former Soviet Union, who lives in Queens, is off dialysis and recuperating today because of a chain of events that started right here, last winter.

In February, David Barach, 61, a father of five and grandfather to seven, joined his wife Judy in the audience at his shul, Teaneck’s Congregation Beth Aaron, on a cold Friday night while Rabbi Ephraim Simon, of Teaneck’s Chabad House, eloquently shared his inspiring journey to kidney donation to a fellow Jew. The next day, Barach kept listening as Rabbi Larry Rothwachs discussed the halachic permissibility of living organ transplantation during Shabbat morning services (Rabbi Rothwachs later donated his own kidney). Barach also heard from fellow Beth Aaron members Shalom Fisch and Susie  Fenyes, who both donated a kidney. During the course of the weekend, Barach also met and spoke further with Rabbi Josh Sturm, director of outreach for Renewal, a Jewish organization that matches kidney donors with recipients, which organized the event. “That was my inspiration,” said Barach, in an interview with the Jewish Link.

Renewal was established in 2006 and has facilitated 327 kidney transplants. It pays for any expenses the recipients might incur during or after their donation, including lost wages. The Brooklyn-based organization has only been working with the Teaneck community for the past year, but in that year, Renewal has facilitated three kidney donations for Teaneck-area residents. Three recipients have also come from the community. There are still, however, 286 people on Renewal’s waiting list. “Renewal’s donors share a common bond in that they are all regular people who decided to save a life,” said Chaim Steinmetz, Renewal’s director. “Their one regret is they can’t do it again,” he added. Amazingly, today, about one in five altruistic kidney donations in the United States is facilitated by Renewal.

But Barach talked to us about what he learned during that Shabbat in February. “There was medical information about what’s involved. It breached the walls of ignorance and uncertainty about kidney donation. I hadn’t previously known the challenges for being a match, or what the post-operative statistics were, so it was a big eye-opening experience and also important for the larger community to learn about this. One [major] thing I learned was that there were people in my own community who needed transplants,” said Barach.

Barach went home and talked it over with Judy, a teacher at Yeshivat Noam. “We looked at each other and said ‘yes.’” It was something Barach could do, that Judy could wholeheartedly support.

After a multi-step process lasting approximately eight months, the right match was made for both Barach and the intended recipient of his kidney.

On the morning of October 20, 2015, Barach was admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital as a kidney donor. He was met by Rabbi Sturm and Rabbi Menachem Friedman of Renewal, and asked to meet his recipient. “It was a very emotional time bonding together,” said Barach. The recipient’s family was appreciative and effusive. The recipient had been on dialysis for one year, and living with kidney disease for the past five years.

Barach explained that since the donation was a coordinated event, the operating rooms were right near each other. Barach’s operation began, and as soon as the surgeons were sure there would be no trouble with the kidney, they started the recipient’s operation. The kidney was carried into the recipient’s operating room and sutured into his body, where it started working right away.

Barach stayed in the hospital for just two days; the recipient went home on Sunday. “We were just a few rooms away at the hospital convalescing. Our families visited each other. We developed a close connection,” he said. “We are brothers now. I call him my new brother Solomon.” The two have spoken by phone since Barach went home, and they plan to remain in touch.

What is Barach’s takeaway from this experience?

“This was something I could do to save someone’s life with very little sacrifice to myself,” he said, “There are very few ill effects, just a few weeks of discomfort. I’m just taking things slowly right now.”

Sometime during this process, after discussions with Rabbi Rothwachs and others, Barach also decided he wanted to be as public as he could about his kidney donation, with the aim to motivate other people and educate others about this opportunity to help a fellow Jew.

On Thursday, after the Jewish Link went to press, Barach was set to be the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps honoree for Teaneck’s Chamber of Commerce gala. “The award pre-dates my kidney donation, but when I heard they were giving me the honor, I decided I wanted to use the award and the publicity as a platform to discuss kidney donation,” he said.

And right across town, in Bergenfield, Rabbi Josh Sturm is organizing donors and recipients to inspire a new community this Shabbat. Bergenfield’s Renewal Community Shabbat will start Friday night, with an oneg at the home of Rabbi Steven and Rachel Burg, at 43 Frederick at 8:45 PM, with presentations by recipient Dr. Howard Levine and donor Rabbi Ari Sytner, and will continue Shabbat morning, with donor Rabbi Sytner speaking at Congregation Ohr HaTorah (36 Rector Court). A Shalosh Seudos will take place after mincha at 5:20 PM at Congregation Beth Abraham (396 Newbridge Road), with further presentations by donors and recipients, and a Q&A featuring Rabbi Sturm answering “every question you ever wanted to know about kidney donation but were afraid to ask,” he said.

Also as part of the Renewal Shabbaton, Congregation Beth Aaron will play host to musical guests Rabbi Avrohom Willig, and his brothers, along with special guest (their father) YU Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Mordechai Willig, shlita, at 8:30 on Motzei Shabbos. Susie Fishbein will also perform a cooking demonstration at Grand & Essex Market, on Sunday evening at 7. There will be two $250 gift cards for the store given away, as well as some special gifts from Teaneck retailer On the Table.

Learn more and find out how to see if you match someone in the Renewal database at

By Elizabeth Kratz

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