In the days leading up to the Yom Hadin; many of us put in effort to tip the scales of merit. We give extra tzedaka, daven selichos, and put more time and focus in our Avodas Hashem. These days of preparation are a time of introspection, but also a time to look outwards, at the people around us, to see what we can do to help others. Chesed opportunities abound, and there are many well meaning people who go out of their way to assist their fellow Yidden.
But how many people will make a sacrifice, will give of their time, their kochos, and their very body to help another Jew?
How many people will perform an act of supreme chesed for a person they have never even met?
We invite you to meet Zelda and Tzipora, two very different women, who met for the first time a few days before Rosh Hashana, to share a common mission. Tzipora is a mother and grandmother of a large Satmar family. Zelda is a young wife and mother of a Lubavitch family. They live in separate neighborhoods, leading separate lives caring for their individual families, conducting their jobs and daily tasks.
Until a life-threatening illness brought Tzipora in touch with Zelda, and through Renewal, they had a chance to meet. Zelda set out to perform one of the greatest acts of chesed, to be moser nefesh and give of herself to a fellow Yid: She donated her kidney.
This is her story.
I suppose when I was a little girl, I wished for the same things that other girls wish for: A pretty new dress for Yom Tov, an ice cream cone with hot fudge sauce, or a white pony. I had a happy, regular childhood, growing up in France, where my parents were shluchim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. My family was very involved in the community, my mother used to spend time teaching immigrants to read Hebrew so they could daven. Our home was a true Chabad house and I was a happy part of it.
I’m sure that some of my wishes came true. The new dress, or the ice cream sundae, for example, and that some of them did not- I never did get the white pony.
But one important thing that I did receive from my parents was a crucial lesson: the significance of giving, and doing chesed. From my parents’ examples of chesed and community activism, I came to understand that there is so much power in giving and doing.
So there have been times in my life, just like now, where instead of sitting back and saying “I wish I could”, or “If only I can”… Instead I say “I will!” or “I think I can!”
I’ve always been fascinated by the different ways a person can give to others. Money for tzedaka is of course the most basic chesed, but as I matured, I learned to give time and effort as well. Giving became a part of who I am, a part of my being, to give of myself to those in need, with chesed and hachnosas orchim. It was a natural outcome, that one of the families for whom I used to babysit, when their child became ill and needed blood transfusions, the first thing I did as soon as I turned eighteen, was go down to the medical center to donate blood.
I convinced my whole group of friends to join me on my mission. Some of them fainted when they saw the needles, some acquiesced only half heartedly, but I was fascinated. The nurse asked me if I wanted to donate blood or platelets and I was amazed at this wonderful opportunity. I could give a part of myself, a part of my healthy body without any suffering at all, to help another Jew who was ill.
After I finished school, I went to seminary in Toronto. I met my husband, Yanky, who is originally from England, and we settled down in Brooklyn. I began working as a sheitel macher and taking college courses in psychology.
My career of giving continued, with a loving relationship with Yanky and the birth of my four children, ka”h. What better definition is there for a mother, than one who gives?
When I first came to America, I noticed an ad in the Jewish Press for a woman who was seeking a kidney donor, and I was immediately intrigued. I called my parents overseas to discuss it, but they were not encouraging. “Not now”, my father said to me, “Now is not the time in your life to be undergoing elective surgeries.” I listened to his advice, but it always stuck in the back of my mind, that I did have something more to give, one more thing to offer another person.
Two years ago, I read an inspiring article about a kidney donor and I felt ready. I felt motivated to reach beyond the point of hearing that a person is sick and saying, “I wish there is something I could do!” Instead, I was ready to do something!
I contacted Renewal and went in for testing. When a match was eventually found for me, I discovered that I was expecting and had to be taken off the list. Three months after the birth of my baby, I was in touch with Renewal again, and went back for testing. They found another match for me and began preparing me for the surgery. Renewal helped me throughout the past few months, putting me in touch with other donors, guiding me through the testing process, and making sure my hospital experience was smooth and hassle free.
The preparation for my surgery is all encompassing: Physically, I have to be in a good state of health, while emotionally I feel very ready. Yanky is fully supportive of my decision, he is proud of this chesed we are undertaking. I spoke with my children, and told them I will be in the hospital for a few days. They are too young to fully understand what I am doing; my daughter’s main concern is will she have a new dress in time for Yom Tov?
It’s four days before Rosh Hashana, and I am fully prepared for the chag. My children’s clothes are ready, and my freezer is full of food for the Yom Tov seudos. After the surgery, I will be feeling weak for a few days, so my mother flew in from France to help take care of my family.
There are a few close friends who know about my upcoming surgery. Some of them are surprised, and a little nervous. “Are you crazy?” one of my friends said. “Why are you putting yourself through this?” But I don’t see it that way. I see a chance to perform a great mitzvah. I’m a little anxious, but more for my family than for myself. I need to feel OK, so that I can take care of my kids. But I have been waiting for a while to perform this mitzvah, and I feel ready.
So many times when we hear of someone who is sick, or in pain, and we think,” If only there is something I can do.” But our hands are tied and we cannot help. Now is my chance to help another Yid, and I’m going to take it.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to fall asleep tonight. I have to wake up at 5:00 tomorrow morning. Mr. Ben Weiser, a board member from Renewal, is coming to pick me up and bring me to Columbia Medical Center. I’m on my way now to go daven at the Rebbe’s ohel, and then I guess I’ll do some last minute straightening up in the house
Before I go into the operating room tomorrow, I’ll be meeting Tzipora, the recipient of my kidney. I don’t know anything about her, other than the fact that she’s a frum woman from Satmar. I don’t really need to know more. She wanted to meet me to express her hakaras hatov before the operation, so I agreed.
I am doing the chesed that I’ve always wanted to give; it does not make a difference to me who she is. I’m only glad that by helping Tzipora, I can fulfill my own wish as well.
I’ve always been handy when it comes to medical issues. I’m not a doctor or a nurse, and I never received any formal training. But I am intrigued by the healing process; and caring for patients and their families has always been an interest of mine.
I was born in Eretz Yisroel, my family moved to Williamsburg when I was a young girl. I grew up within the Satmar community, married my husband Shulem*, and began building my own family in Williamsburg. A few years after my wedding, Shulem’s cousin was scheduled for a procedure in the Mayo Clinic. At that time, no one in the family was available, so I decided to accompany her to the hospital to make her stay more comfortable. My husband agreed, it was his relative, after all, not mine! But I did not feel that I was doing anything special, this was just what needed to be done, and so I would help out.
Over the years, Shulem has learned to “lend me out” in other medical crisis situations. When his aunt suffered a stroke, I was the one to visit her and take care of her daily needs. When a chesed needs to be done, I become the number that people call. Shulem teases me, he says that I don’t know how to say no, and he may be right. I always say,” How could you say no? If someone needs you, then of course you say yes!”
I was busy doing chesed for my own family as well. Baruch Hashem, I have nine children, all boys. When my children were young, they certainly kept me busy. Shulem’s business required him to travel overseas, but he always stayed in touch and was involved in the boy’s chinuch. Baruch Hashem they are all married, but one, and I have lots of nachas from the einekelach.
Over ten years ago, I found a job at a health center in Williamsburg. I’m in charge of the billing department and I really enjoy going to work each day. I am able to help families access better healthcare. I get a lot of satisfaction from my job, and over the years have become very familiar with various medical symptoms and treatments, just from working in the health center.
About twenty three years ago, I was expecting my youngest child, (a boy again of course!) and I was diagnosed with hypertension, and toxemia. The doctors monitored me carefully and they decided that I seemed stable.
I went back to work at the health center, but eventually I began to feel that something was wrong. I was feeling unusually weak and had strong headaches. I became incredibly thirsty, and kept waking up in the middle of the night to drink. I suspected that I had a problem and I ordered a blood test for myself at ODA.
The test showed a rise in blood creatinine level, my kidneys were not filtering the toxins and waste products from my bloodstream. We began looking for a kidney donor. Each of my sons were fighting for the opportunity to donate, but none of them were a match. My brother was a match, and twelve years ago, I had my first kidney transplant.
After the transplant, I was deemed stable, but I still had my ups and downs. I suffered through many infections and other setbacks. The past few years were especially difficult, as I was in and out of the hospital with different procedures and complications.
In 2008, Renewal came into the picture and they did a lot for me. I was on their list for a new kidney and Renewal was the shliach to find me a new donor, Zelda. It is an incredible zechus, that Zelda is doing this for me. She is giving so much more than a kidney, she is giving with her heart and her soul, and she is giving me a new life. I have no words to express my thanks to Zelda, and to Renewal for helping to find her for me.
I know this is not an ideal time to undergo surgery. It’s right before Rosh Hashana, and Zelda has put her life on hold for me. We had been waiting until I was cleared for surgery, and when we finally received the go ahead right before Yom Tov, we asked the Rebbe what to do. “You need a transplant? What is the question?” “The Ribono shel olam is everywhere,” the Rebbe told us, “He is here and in shul, and in the hospital. Even over Rosh Hashana.” So we are going ahead with the surgery.
It’s the night before surgery, and I’m getting ready to meet Zelda for the first time. I told Shulem he has to take me out shopping tonight, I want to give Zelda a Shana Tova card. I wish there was a way to express my appreciation, there is no gift I can give her in return for the gift she is giving to me. So the very least I can do is to wish her a year full of bracha, happiness and good health!
Rabbi Menachem Friedman of Renewal speaks:
The meeting between Zelda and Tzipora was an emotional time. The two women sat and chatted and got to know each other for a few minutes, and then went into surgery.
Baruch Hashem, the procedure was a success, and both women are on the mend.
Although Zelda is unassuming about the chesed she has done, we felt it was important to tell her story, and the story of the life she helped save. Sharing her story offers Zelda the chance to give not just her kidney, but also the inspiration for others to consider donating from themselves.
To learn more about kidney donation, contact Renewal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-431-9831. Or visit www.renewal.org
Source: COL Live