A historic milestone was marked Sunday evening as the venerated Renewal organization celebrated the incredible occasion of 1000 kidney transplants.
One thousand gestures of selflessness and sacrifice emanating from every walk of Jewish life. One thousand gifts of life from one to his fellow. One thousand attestations to what Klal Yisroel can accomplish was on vivid display.
This was an evening of reuniting this incredible One Kidney Family—a family bonded by, yes, the fact that they all carry one kidney- having sacrificed one for the sake of their fellow, but moreover, they’re tethered by bonds of overflowing ahavas Yisroel that has enabled them to sacrifice in the heroic way that they did for an individual that in many cases, they’ve never met.
Riding the bus from Boro Park to Red Bank, the energy of the joy of giving is already felt among this mix of heroes from the One Kidney family.
I’m seated beside kidney donor # 430. “I donated my kidney seven years ago… and when did you give yours?” he asks. I’m almost ashamed to say that I haven’t had the zechus or the courage—as of yet, at least.
But between the lines of what he said lies an incredible fact about Renewal, Klal Yisroel’s vehicle for so much goodness and life in recent years- while it took many years to reach the #430 milestone, in the ensuing seven years, they have facilitated the incredible number of approximately eighty five transplants a year—culminating in this incredible number of 1000 in the winter of 2024. In fact, in 2023 they were involved in 133 transplants.
A Sea of Sacrifice
Walking into the enormous ballroom, one is confronted with the sight of 1500 Yidden from every stripe of Jewish life, united in their pride at being part of such a unique class in Klal Yisroel.
Old friends meet up, memories of individual and unique kidney journeys are evoked, and donors from nearly twenty years ago—when the medical breakthroughs in organ transplants had not yet been made—are united with those may have given a year or two ago. The sense of pride and purpose, though, is the same.
Sitting amongst this sea of heroes, one feels small and inadequate. Where does one draw the courage to part with an organ for the sake of a stranger’s life?
Every single one of these 1,000 heroes seated here tonight represents a life saved— a life given the opportunity to continue with Torah and mitzvos, a life that gets to enjoy seeing their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren grow up and raise families of their own.
It is a sea of life-givers that I’m seated among tonight.
One Thousand Worlds
Introducing Rav Elozor Nisson Rubin, a featured speaker at the event, was R’ Baruch Rozinger, who noted the greatness of the sacrifice of these Yidden who’ve taken this step, changing the world in such a meaningful way. “You’ve saved one thousand worlds,” he said.
Speaking to the spellbound audience, Rav Rubin noted that many accolades are overused today, bringing them to lose their meaning. The term “mesirus nefesh” is overused. “You,” he said, addressing the donors and their spouses, “have literally given life and years to your fellow Yidden.”
It used to be that doctors would say to patients in kidney failure, your lives cannot be any better. “One thousand times, you—the donors and the Renewal organization— transformed ‘no’ into ‘yes.’”
Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum recalled when Reb Mendy Reiner—founder of Renewal—first came to his home with the idea of founding Renewal, asking him to serve as a Rabbinic advisor. “I recall thinking, ‘how many transplants are they going to do anyway.’ Today, I stand here in awe as you’ve reached the incredible milestone of one thousand transplants.
“While most people are busy going about their lives, Renewal is going about saving lives. Not only have they given a new lease on life to one thousand recipients, but they have enriched the lives of one thousand donors,” Rav Oelbaum said.
An Evening of Stories
Like every Renewal event, the evening was filled with inspiring stories of giving.
David Greenfield, CEO at Met Council- America’s largest Jewish charity dedicated to fighting poverty, spoke about how much hope and inspiration he got from joining such a celebration. Especially in dark times like our people are experiencing, it was a moment of tremendous light.
Dr. Massimo Mangiola, world renowned immunologist noted the incredible breakthroughs that Renewal has presided over in the world of transplants. He mentioned “next-gen matching,” a process that ensures that the kidney will remain viable within the recipient for many years. Renewal has a potential pool of kidney donors unlike anything else.
Supporting this assertion is the fact that Renewal swabbed an astounding 3000 people last year… 3000 potential donors willing to give their kidney to someone in need!
Mendy Reiner, Renewal’s founder and chairman of its board, told the story of the dedication of Renewal’s staff who “work from 9 to 5, but volunteer from 5 to 9… imagine working in an office where the background noise is all about getting people kidneys,” Reiner said. “There’s no better club to be a part of than Am Yisroel.”
A number of prominent doctors who work with Renewal were recognized as such a vital part of the kidney stories.
While this evening was dubbed “The Reunion” for bringing together many of the one thousand donors, no Renewal event can go without an emotional reunion between a kidney recipient and the one who gifted them life.
Mendy Reiner invited onto the stage kidney donor # 1, Chaim Alter Berger, and kidney donor # 1000, Ezreal Spitzer–who in turn met his recipient, Rabbi Shlomo Uzhansky, for the very first time in a highly-emotional moment.
As close to fifteen hundred people filed out into the crisp winter air, heading home to a wide range of cities and communities, it was with a renewed resolve to spread the message of kidney donation to an even wider audience—proclaiming over and over that there is no nation like Yours, Hashem.