A New Jersey rabbi’s kidney donation to an Israeli living on a secular Moshav in central Israel didn’t make news as the headline-grabbing, purportedly bitter religious vs. secular Jewish divide always does.
But on Tuesday, Jan 3, Rabbi Avi Richler, 29, co-director of Chabad of Gloucester County, NJ, underwent a successful donation of his kidney to a Jewish man suffering from end stage renal disease. Both donor and recipient are doing well as of this writing.
Rabbi Richler read about the recipient, who prefers to recuperate in anonymity, in an online article published by Ahavas Chesed Medical and Emergency Lifelines, based in Brooklyn, NY. Both men are Jewish, fathers of three children, enough of a common bond to motivate Rabbi Richler to contact the organization and sign up to be tested as a match.
“Our attitude is every Jew is our brother,” said Rabbi Richler. That sense of brotherhood is not limited to helping another Jew put on tefillin or kosher his home.”
When his wife, Mina Richler, fielded her husband’s first mention of his intention to have his side sliced and diced to save a life, she was not surprised, and she supported his decision.
“Some people are blessed financially, and they give charity. Some donate their time. We’ve been blessed with good health,” and a healthy kidney to give to another.
Did it matter that the recipient did not share their lifestyle? Not at all. Reading articles about friction between religious and secular Jews only reinforced Rabbi Richler’s commitment to “show we really mean it when we say we care about all Jews.”
They read up on the risks associated with donation. They asked Mrs. Richler’s aunt who donated a kidney to her husband about life with one kidney, and when they got the news that a match had been found – this Yom Kippur eve – they started down the road to donation.
Rabbi Richler drove up and back to New York, a six-hour round trip, for pre-donation tests: x-rays, EKGs, an MRI, CT-Scan, blood samples, psychological evaluations. A donor has to be able to handle the surgical stress and be infection free before handing over a kidney.
Few community members in Gloucester who knew about their rabbi’s kidney donation kept the Richlers’ phone lines ringing with offers to help and prayerful wishes. It wasn’t something the rabbi wanted to publicize, but when asked for permission to write about it, he agreed in the hopes that it will help encourage others to do the same.
Shai Amram, a community member born in Israel, did not find it hard to believe his rabbi was going to truly give of himself to another. Rabbi Richler “is always doing great things, the kidney is just one of them.” Nor is he surprised that the rabbi was not particular about whether the recipient was religiously affiliated.
“I once asked Rabbi Avi if he is religious, and he said, ‘No, I am just a Jew.’ I hold him in the highest regard.”
After several days in Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, Rabbi Richler returned home, taking it easier than his hectic pre-surgery schedule would normally allow. Full recovery takes about six weeks. But he plans on returning to the hospital soon. Mrs. Richler is due any day now with the couple’s fourth child.