Rabbi Ephraim Simon of Teaneck, N.J., is a man who practices what he preaches.
“I’m constantly speaking to my children and my community about living a purposeful life, living a life to benefit others, living a life to make the world a better place,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for. Life isn’t meant to just selfishly live for ourselves and to accumulate as many possessions as possible.”
He is visiting Mt. Lebanon to speak about what almost is a unique experience: the donation of one of his kidneys and one-third of his liver to help save the lives of two people he didn’t know beforehand.
“The Gift of Life” is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at Chabad of the South Hills, with Simon sharing his story at the invitation of Rabbi Mendel Rosenblum, his longtime friend and Chabad director.
“He knew about the surgery, because we’re friendly, and he asked me, ‘Would you come and speak to my community before Rosh Hashanah?’” Simon said. “And I said, ‘Absolutely. It would be an honor.’”
The celebration of the Jewish new year begins the evening of Sept. 29, followed by the other High Holiday in Judaism: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which starts Oct. 8.
Now 50 and the father of nine, Simon donated his kidney in 2009 and part of his liver a decade later.
“It was never something that I had thought about doing,” he said about his first donation. “It was never something I was looking to do. It was never something that I even thought I could do.”
When he learned that a 12-year-old girl was in dire need of a kidney, Simon decided to look into the possibility. He and his wife, Nechamy, learned donating the organ represents a relatively minor procedure.
“It’s all laparoscopic, so it’s not an open surgery,” Rabbi Simon said. “The risks are extremely minor. You have four times the amount of kidney function you need, so therefore even with one kidney, you have double the amount of kidney function you’ll ever need. And you can live a long, healthy, happy life with one kidney.”
So he decided to make the donation, but Chaya Lipschutz, the Brooklyn woman who put out the call for the kidney, told him another person had stepped forward. Simon admitted disappointment.
“I say this all the time to my community, ‘a rabbi’s greatest sermon is the way he lives his life,’ and I had this opportunity and it slipped through my fingers,” he said. “And therefore I told her, ‘If there’s anyone else who needs, please call me.’”
After a few tries, he found a match and went through with the procedure.
“To see this man who was so sick literally be brought back to health was an incredible feeling. It was such a powerful, inspirational story to myself,” Simon recalled. “I felt like, ‘wow! If I could do that again, that would be amazing.’”
Because most hospitals are averse to a donor donating a second organ, he waited nearly a decade for the opportunity. In December, part of his liver saved the life of Adam Levitz, a 45-year-old father from Long Island.
“Today, he’s as healthy as you and I,” Simon said. “For me, it was a temporary discomfort, and now I’m completely healthy. Other than a very large scar on my abdomen from the liver surgery, you would never know it happened.”
His objective in sharing his story is not necessarily to convince people to donate organs.
“That’s not for everybody,” he said. “My message really is that every one of us can live a deeper, more purposeful, more meaningful life, and every one of us can reach out and help another human being.
“If we all did that, just imagine how the world would look. Certainly, the world would be a better place.”
For tickets to “The Gift of Life,” call 412-344-2424 or visit www.chabadsh.com/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/4443181/jewish/Registration-for-the-Gift-of-Life.htm.