Google Search Pairs Ailing Israeli With Immigrant Kidney Donor

Israel recorded 117 kidney transplants from living donors in 2011, an increase of 64 percent from the previous year.

Zev Gershon is wondering what all the fuss is about. Earlier this month he donated a kidney to a perfect stranger, and he wishes more would do the same.

"If more people would donate, there wouldn't be such a long waiting list," the 52-year-old doctor and medical malpractice attorney from Baltimore, Maryland, told Anglo File.

Earlier this month, the youthful-looking 6-foot-2 father of seven and grandfather of three from Beit Shemesh was discharged from a Petah Tikva hospital. The recipient was Dalia Weisman, a 61-year-old nurse from the Western Negev who had battled kidney problems for 15 years and who was told this year that she would need a new kidney.

"I have been blessed with a new gift and have discovered a wonderful individual, an angel," says Weisman, a diabetes educator and resident of Moshav Masloul who had been on dialysis for three months before she was matched with Gershon.

According to figures released by the National Transplant Center, 729 Israelis were reportedly awaiting a kidney transplant as of January of this year.

The nation recorded 117 kidney transplants from living donors in 2011, an increase of 64 percent from the previous year, according to the center's annual report. Industry experts generally attribute the spike to an increase in health insurance coverage for donors that went into effect the previous year.

Last April, Gershon answered an ad he saw in an e-mail Listserv that urged him to consider donating a kidney. He did a Google search for a local Israeli organization and learned about Matnat Chaim, or Gift of Life, a three-year-old Jerusalem-based volunteer organization that pairs donors with Israeli recipients.

"Why not?" recalled Gershon, a resident of Beit Shemesh who immigrated in 1997. "The Talmud teaches that 'He who saves one life is considered to have saved an entire world.'"

"The Anglo community has been extremely responsive," said Rabbi Yeshayahu Heber, founder and chairman of the organization, who says 20 Anglos have donated their kidneys to needy Israelis this year - constituting 40 percent of the transplants his organization has facilitated in 2012. Among them is Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, the Anglo spiritual leader from Beit Shemesh who donated one of his kidneys earlier this year.

Gershon, who said he did not encounter opposition from his family, proceeded with the months-long, all-encompassing testing and screening process.

Asked if at any point during the tests he thought of reconsidering, Gershon replied candidly: "Yes, I did," noting that although his personal rabbi approved the decision - as did a cadre of top poskim, or rabbinic decisors of Jewish law, whose rulings are quoted on the website of Matnat Chaim - several rabbis along the way expressed their reservations, creating some confusion. He said one close friend asked him if he was "crazy."

"Sometimes there are stumbling blocks placed in front you when you want to perform a mitzvah [good deed]," said Gershon, who said the final tipping point came after he visited a highly respected Jerusalem rabbi who encouraged him to move forward. "At that point I had my answer," said Gershon, a religious Jew who says he studies the Torah regularly. "I decided to go ahead with it."

Gershon, who did not fast during this week's observance of Yom Kippur because he was under doctor's orders to keep his remaining kidney hydrated, said he is excited about returning to the gym this Sunday after nearly a month-long break.

He urges others to do as he has done. But ignorance, he said, is what stands between donors and recipients.

"Some people think you can't donate a kidney outside of the family," Gershon said. "Or they think it's like a bone marrow transplant with a one-in-a-million chance of a match. But all you need is a matching blood type."

Gershon cites the famous Jewish idiom that "All of Israel is responsible for one another."

"I consider this as if I were donating to my own family," he said.