Rabbi Ephraim Simon’s Kidney Donation Inspires Community


rabbi-ephraim-simonWhen the opportunity arose for Rabbi Ephraim Simon to potentially risk his life in the preservation of another’s, he paused. He wanted to give one of his kidneys to a suffering man; the problem was that he had to think about how he would communicate that decision to his nine children. So in July, Rabbi Simon, co-director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County in Teaneck, N.J., gathered his family around him.

He described the terminally-ill man he had met earlier, a father of a large family just like theirs.

“By tatte giving him a new kidney, he will live, G-d willing. This is our gift to him and you are all a part of it.”

Rabbi Simon’s journey from community leader to organ donor – the operation took place exactly one week ago – began last year when the 41-year-old rabbi opened a mass e-mail from a woman trying to arrange a kidney donation for a potential recipient. A 12-year-old Jewish girl with the same blood type as Rabbi Simon’s was succumbing to a terrible disease, and desperately needed a new kidney. The rabbi decided to respond.

“I have a 12-year-old daughter, too,” explains Rabbi Simon from his home, where he’s in the midst of a two-week recovery period. Having never considered donating an organ in the past, “I was moved to consider testing for her.”

“Let’s see what it entails, and then make a decision,” came the reply from his wife, Nechamy Simon, when he brought it up.

After a few days of intense research, and a careful risk-benefit analysis together, the Simons reached out to the sender of the e-mail, a Jewish woman by the name of Chaya Lipschutz, offering one of the rabbi’s kidneys if he matched as a candidate.

“I cannot let a young girl die, and not do anything,” Rabbi Simon told Chaya.

But the woman informed him that “a donor has already been found.”

Many people would have understandably felt relief at the realization that they wouldn’t be called upon to undergo major surgery. Rabbi Simon, however, saw things differently.

“I felt like I didn’t act fast enough,” he recalls. “I knew right then and there that if somebody else was in need, I was going to be the one to save their life.”

According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, more than 80,000 people nationwide are waiting for a healthy kidney. But last year, more than 4,500 lost their fight for life while waiting.

Rabbi Simon told Chaya Lipschutz, a former kidney donor herself, to keep his name on file and to contact him if another person was in need.

Two months later, the woman called back with news that a 35-year-old mother of two needed a kidney. Rabbi Simon immediately agreed to undergo tests at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., where the woman was being treated. He wasn’t a match.

Then in February, Chaya called yet again to ask Rabbi Simon if he would give his kidney to a single Israeli man in his 30s.

“It wasn’t for a young girl, or for a mother of two,” says Rabbi Simon, “but one cannot weigh one life over another.”

The rabbi underwent his third series of tests at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. In the weeks that followed, Chaya informed him that should he not be a match for the Israeli man, another person on her list was in dire need of a kidney.

As it turned out, Rabbi Simon was not a match, but he immediately went to another hospital to undergo tests for the other man, a Satmar Chossid from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and a father of 10.

At the kidney clinic of Cornell University, as the rabbi was on his way to have his blood tested, the critically ill man came down the hallway, heading in the opposite direction.

“Excuse me,” said the man, who had heard that a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary had volunteered to donate his kidney. “Are you the one testing for me?”

The two chatted briefly. The man showed Rabbi Simon pictures of his family and told him a little about the genetic disease that had killed several of his relatives and was destroying his kidneys. Rabbi Simon assured him that if he were a match, he would go through with the procedure.

A few hours before Pesach, both men received the news they had been waiting for. Rabbi Simon was busy preparing for the communal Seder at his Chabad House when the hospital called.

“Rabbi,” a voice on the other line began, “you are a match.”

Although he and his wife kept it between themselves, their Seder for more than 100 people took on new meaning for them both.

Immediately following the Yom Tov, Rabbi Simon called the transplant coordinator at the hospital to set up a series of examinations to assess his fitness physically, emotionally, and mentally as an organ donor.

On May 18, he received the go-ahead. In consultation with the recipient, Rabbi Simon opted to schedule the surgery immediately following the conclusion of his Camp Gan Yisroel preschool summer camp.

At Shabbos davening that week, he broke the news to his congregation. Seeing his community members as his own family, he wanted to explain to them why he was taking the risk.

Every single person is important, he told them. If an individual is lacking, it is everyone’s job to help him or her. So “in a few weeks, a critically ill Jew in need of a healthy kidney in order to survive will receive one of mine.”

Tears welled up in some of the mispallelim’s eyes. One man rushed to the front of the shul to embrace his rov.

One woman says that because of the rabbi’s sacrifice, she doesn’t feel uneasy anymore when surprise Shabbos guests show up. She now happily prepares extra food.

“I initially had a mother’s natural reaction,” reveals Judy Simon, 61, who at first was very concerned about her son’s long-term health. “But after doing research, I realized that there is no reason to be.”

After a “heart-warming” meeting with the recipient’s family at the hospital during the procedure, the mother says that it’s “incredible to have a child do this altruistic thing. I feel so honored and blessed to be part of it and to say he is my son!”

Rabbi Simon went to Cornell University Medical Center the day of the surgery carrying letters and pictures from his nine children. When the anesthesia wore off and he awoke in the recovery room, his wife read the letters to him.

In another room, the recipient was doing so well, that a doctor remarked that if he didn’t know better, he “would have said this kidney came from a brother.”

“I told my children that G-d could have easily made me ill, and I would have been the recipient,” he says. “Thank G-d, I was blessed with a healthy family. What better way to thank Him than to use my own health to help somebody else?”

Rabbi Simon’s eldest daughter, 14-year-old Chaya, says her father’s deed reminds her of a parable she once learned.

“Saving one life is like saving a starfish,” she says. “Even though you cannot save every single starfish, each one that you pick up from the sand and throw back into the sea is a life saved.”

Looking back at the ordeal, Rabbi Simon – who is quick to emphasize that his wife had as much a hand in donating “their” kidney as he did – hopes that more people will step up and give the gift of life.

“My sacrifice is just a few days of discomfort,” he says. “The reward of saving a man’s life, giving a father his life back, giving a family their father and husband back, outweighs all the risks.

“Not everyone can donate a kidney,” continues the rabbi. “But everyone can reach out to help another person.”

For more information about kidney donation in the Jewish community, please visit Chaya Lipschutz’s Web site, kidneymitzvah.com.

 {Chabad.org/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Incredible!! May they both have long, healthy lives with nachas from all their children. I am in awe of Rabbi Simon and his wife. May Ha-Shem repay them tenfold.

  2. What a fine man this is, what a model of gmilus chesed. But imagine what a kiddush Hashem it would be if NOT ONE JEW DIED FOR LACK OF AN ORGAN TRANSPLANT THAT COULD HAVE BEEN SPARED BY A DONOR! Like kidneys, bone marrow, and others.

  3. Hi – I am Rabbi Simon’s kidney matchmaker. What can I say about Rabbi Simon? He is awesome. Gevaldig

    I have made other kidney matches, but I am telling you, this was certainly one of the easiest. Rabbi Simon was so excited about donating a kidney. He made up his mind that he was doing the right thing, and that’s it. What’s the question? He kept thanking me for making this match. Imagine, he was the one dontaing a kidney and so happy that I matched him up that he kept thanking me every now and then. Unbelievable.

    When Rabbi Simon first contacted me he saw a posting I had for someone who needed a kidney. He ended up being a back-up for that person who needed a kidney. In the meantime, at times, when he saw other postings I had for others who needed a kidney, he said to me, what about me? He wanted to save the world!

    And his lovely wife here deserves tremendous credit for allowing her husband to do this great mitzvah. She is a partner in this match.

    I donated a kidney to a stranger in September 2005. After donating a kidney, I felt I wanted to do more, so I now have a project to help others in need of a kidney. My brother donated a kidney as well- to someone on my list of people in need of a kidney. I don’t get paid for this and don’t charge a fee. And if someone wants to donate a kidney – they have to do so altruistically.

    People are dying every day waiting for a kidney. I have people on my list who died. And I have others who are on dialysis who got sicker and are no longer eligible for a kidney transplant, thus they are being sentanced to dialysis for the rest of their life. Only about 20% of those on dialysis survive more than 10 years on dialysis. I recently heard of a 50 year old person who was only about 9 months on dialysis, passed away. Most people can live at least a few years, but others become sicker.

    Please, I beg of you – if you haven’t already donated a kidney, and you are in good health, please consider! You are so badly needed. About 80,000 people are in need of a kidney and thousands of people die each year waiting for a kidney.

    Hospitalization for kidney donation is 1-2 days (depending on the hospital) Most of the surgery is done laproscopic.

    I am in touch with many people who have donated a kidney, from Boro Park, Flatbush, Williamsburg, Monroe, Monsey and Lakewood. all are doing great, no one has regrets, and some of us wish we can do it again!

    Rabbi Simon – I hope more people will be inspired by your kidney donation!

    PLEASE – contact me about donating a kidney You are so despeartely needed!!!


    Chaya Lipschutz
    E-mail: KidneyMitzvah@aol.com

    P.S. A Satmar also, by the way recently donated a kidney to a Lubavitcher. “Score” even!

  4. There are many people out there who esperately need a kidney including a 37 year old woman, not frum who’s one of the people on my list who needs a kidney

    She is on dialysis for 12 years and has a 2 year old and 4 year old

    If someone donates a kidney to her – not only can you save her life, but maybe her neshama as well!!!

    Please help save her life!

    Also – a 35 year old man contacted me that he desperately needs a kidney. He is on dialysis, also for so many years. He is from Israel and came to the USA to find someone to donate a kidney to him – and still doesn’t have anyone who is a match.

    He wants to get a kidney so he can go back to Israel, get married, and learn more Torah!



    Chaya Lipschutz
    E-mail: KidneyMitzvah@aol.com
    Website: KidneyMitzvah.com

  5. What doctors have to say about kidney donation:

    “Just think people have no problem having only one kidney, so we have to ask, why did Hashem give us two kidneys? Perhaps it is so you would have an extra one to donate and save a life!

    – Dr. Stuart Greenstein, Shomer Shabbos Kidney Transplant Surgeon, Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, NY

    “We are born with approximately 4-5 times the kidney function that we need, to be healthy and stay off of dialyisis- to not have kidney failure. So by donating one of your kidneys,you are still left with with 2-3 times the amount of kidney function that you need to be healthy and lead a normal life”

    – Dr. Joseph Del Pizzo. Assistant Professor of Urology, Director, Laproscopic Surgery, New York – Presbytarian Hospital – Weill Corneil Medical Center, New York, NY. \

    Kidney donation is a relatively safe operation, and many donors will never feel the loss of their second kidney. It’s the most expendable of organs. So giving up a kidney causes no disadvantage to your long-term health. In fact, studies have shown, that kidney donors actually live longer than the general population – because donors come from a pool of people in good health”

    – Dr. Michael Edye, Adjunct Associate Professor of surgery, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, NY.

    Very Safe Operation”

    – Dr. Jay Levine, General Surgeon, St., Mary’s Health Care, West Michigan, MI

    “There’s a lot of misconceptions about kidney donation and a lot of fear. But if people take the time to get the facts, they find out the risks are very minimal. People are born with two kidneys. You only need one.”

    – Michelle Winsor, Kidney Transplant Coordinator, Sharp Memorial Hospital, San Diego, CA

  6. Quotes by people who have donated a kidney:

    “Donating a kidney to a woman I had never met was the greatest experience of my life. To give for the pure sake of giving brings the deepest joy imaginable. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity that changed my life in every way” – Lori Palatnik – Maryland – donated kidney to a stranger (Lori is with the organization Aish. I had made her kidney match.

    “I think this is the right thing to do. I don’t think anyone should fear it . They wouldn’t allow you to do this if you weren’t healthy enough’ – Larry Seidman, New Jersey – donated a kidney to a stranger

    “Giving a kidney was one of the highlights of my life. I learned so much about myself in such a short time. Rarely do we see the fruit of our labor so quickly, yet I helped save another persons life and improved the quality of their life immediately – Rabbi Steve Moskowitz, Long Island – donated a kidney to a stranger

    “The reason why G-d gave me two kidneys, was so that I could donate one” – Mordechai Hursarsky, New York – donated a kidney to his father-in-law.

    “As a result of my kidney donation, I feel richer than Donald Trump and Donald Trump combined!” – David Koster, New York, donated a kidney to a stranger.

    “Kidney donation was the greatest experience of my life. If I can do it again, I would do it again tomorrow” – Chaya Lipschutz (myself), .New York – donated a kidney to a stranger