A quest for the greatest gift

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As an ailing East Side resident seeks a life-saving donation, the local Chabad and a Brooklyn nonprofit are spearheading the search


  • A flyer circulated by Chabad of the Upper East Side promotes an event it is hosting next week to find a kidney donor for an ailing member of the community. Poster: Courtesy of Chabad of the Upper East Side

It is one of the most famous and striking passages in all 6,200 pages of the Talmud: “One who saves a single life, it is as if he has saved the entire world.”

The line, from the Tractate of Sanhedrin, is a cornerstone of the Jewish faith. And it speaks volumes about the preservation and celebration of human life.

That religious precept is central to a communal effort now underway to save the life of an Upper East Side resident in his 70s who is suffering from kidney disease.

Chabad of the Upper East Side will host what is being billed as a “kidney-donation awareness event” on Monday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. to help obtain a new organ for the man, who has asked to remain anonymous.

He is being described by one of the event’s sponsors as a “father and grandfather who is very philanthropic and a pillar of the Jewish community.”

Affiliated with the Lubavitch Hasidic movement, Chabad, at 419 East 77th Street, is teaming up with Renewal, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit whose mission is to save lives through kidney donations.

As part of the campaign, attendees at the one-hour event will have an opportunity, should they so choose, to get swabbed on the spot to see if they’re a potential match for the would-be recipient. If they turn out to be incompatible in this case, a willing donor could potentially become a match in future for someone else.

“We believe that every person is a microcosm for the whole world, and so, if you save just one life, you save the entire world,” said Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski, Chabad’s executive director, in explaining the Talmudic principle.

He said the event was an “experiment” for Chabad that is “definitely striking a chord.” Of course, organ donation isn’t for everybody:

“People are very wary,” Krasnianski acknowledged. “But they’re also very kind, giving and generous. This literally does save lives, and you can do it without harm to yourself. It does take a very generous soul. But there are people out there who are willing to do this.”

Can it be done halachically, meaning under Jewish law, which prohibits self-injury?

“It’s a question that all donors should ask,” said Rabbi Josh Sturm, the director of outreach at Renewal, which has facilitated some 470 transplants since its founding in 2006.

“The risks are statistically quite small, but they are still real,” he added. The surgery is performed laparoscopically, under general anesthesia, and the mortality rate averages three for every 10,000 donors.

Nationwide, roughly 96,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney, and typically, the wait to obtain an organ from a deceased donor ranges from five to seven years. About 5,000 to 6,000 people with afflicted kidneys die every year before they can receive a transplant, and the survival rate after five years of dialysis is only 28 percent.

“We take a zero-pressure approach,” said Sturm. “Some people will come to the conclusion that it’s not the right thing for them, or it’s not the right thing this year. Maybe in 10 years, they’ll feel differently.”

Needless to say, “It is no way obligatory,” the rabbi added. “But it is a mitzvah, a beautiful act and praiseworthy.”


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