By: Anav Silverman/TPS
Last year, when Avraham Rahamim decided to donate a kidney through the Matnat Chaim organ donor organization, the 37-year-old settler from Yitzhar was a little nervous.
“The thought of donating an organ had been on my mind for at least three years,” said Rahamim. “I had read a news article about an organ donor and had seen notices asking for organ donations – and that people were willing to pay a lot of money for a kidney,” he told Tazpit Press Service (TPS).
“Until then, I had never even given the thought that you could save a life by donating an organ from your own body to a complete stranger. I thought it would be dangerous to undergo such an operation and I didn’t have the courage to do it for a long time,” related Rahamim.
But the idea of donating an organ remained on Rahamim’s mind. After Rahamim saw that another resident from Yitzhar – a small Jewish community in Samaria of about 1500 people – had successfully donated an organ through Matnat Chaim, an organization devoted to facilitating donations, he decided to undergo the operation himself.
Rahamim met with the recipient, a man from a small community in the Jezreel Valley, and they remain in touch to this day. “If it was physically possible, I would contribute another organ,” Rahamim told TPS. “There are no words to describe the experience of saving someone’s life.”
Avraham Shapira, 33, formerly of Yitzhar and today of Emmanuel in Samaria, agrees. Shapira donated a kidney right after celebrating his 31st birthday, and said that that the recipient’s appreciation was priceless. “He feels that he got a second life. When you’re able to give the gift of life to someone, the feeling afterwards is so powerful.”
Shapira says that he was the second organ donor from Yitzhar, and lists two other couples as among the seven donors from the community. “It isn’t logical that so many people need kidneys and that there aren’t enough donations,” Shapira told TPS. “Not everyone can donate an organ but God gave us the opportunity to do good for someone — each according to his or her own unique ability.”
Rabbi Yeshaya Haber, the founder of Matnat Chaim (Hebrew for “Gift of Life”) told TPS that there are a large number of organ donors from Judea and Samaria to the organization, which connects between potential matching recipients. “The number of organ donors from Eli, Peduel and Yitzhar are significant. There is great awareness in those settlement communities for the need of organ donations,” he said.
Haber also cites Beit Shemesh and Beitar Illit as two other communities where there are a large number of organ donors. “It’s rare to find people in the world who would donate an organ to someone they didn’t know.”
“Many of the organ donors I work with come from the observant Jewish community. They view the giving of an organ donation as a mitzvah,” explained Haber, using a Hebrew word for a righteous deed.
Rabbi Haber himself received a kidney from an organ donor eight years ago when he was 43. “I was working 20 hours a day as a principal of a school with 1,200 students and teaching at another school. Suddenly, I felt a great weakness one day. I thought I was so tired because of work but the doctor told me I had suffered from kidney failure.”
Subsequently, the haredi rabbi began dialysis treatment and he met Pinchas Turgeman, a yeshiva student from Kiryat Arba, adjacent to Hebron. The two became friends and began learning together during the treatments. While the dialysis treatments stopped for Haber when a friend donated a kidney to him, Pinchas, 19, could not find a match. Following his operation, Haber searched for a donor for Pinchas, but by the time the donor was found and was given the go ahead, the young yeshiva student had passed away.
From that point, Haber and his wife took it upon themselves to search for kidney donors willing to help strangers. “I left my job as a principal and established Matnat Chaim. In the first year alone, we located four donors who saved four lives and I thought we had won the world.”
“Many people do not realize that there is minimal risk to the donor, except for physical discomfort during surgery,” added Haber.
To date, 311 organ donors have contributed a kidney through Matnat Chaim, a registered charity, which provides both the donors and recipients with medical advice and counseling and works to raise awareness of voluntary living kidney donations, through media campaigns. Successful transplants have also taken place in the United States and Europe.
In 2014, former Israeli President Shimon Peres awarded Rabbi Haber the “Volunteering Award of the President of Israel.”
While many of the donors are from the ultra-Orthodox and national religious sectors, recipients come from across the spectrum of Israeli society. “This initiative unites everyone of all backgrounds – right-wing and left-wing people; poor and rich, secular and religious,” said Rabbi Haber. “The background makes no difference when it comes to saving a life.”