The gift of life

April 2021, marked a year since the passing of the cherished Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Heber.  At only 55, his death from Corona caused great sadness in Israel and throughout the Jewish world. A very knowledgeable and learned man, the rabbi was best known for his incredible gift of giving. His life as a 42-year old busy father, husband, teacher and school principal changed in 2006 when he was diagnosed with a very serious kidney disease. Without a transplant, his prospects were very poor. He was put on a long list of people waiting for a match. Meanwhile, he traveled to a hospital in Jerusalem three times a week for dialysis which took four hours a day each time. Although dialysis could extend his life by a few years, his real hope for health was to have a kidney transplant.  It was during his times of dialysis that he befriended 18-year old Pinchas Tuergeman. Pinchas was also on the list for a kidney transplant. In hospital the friends not only shared each other’s pain and the uncertainty of the future, they also shared a love of the Bible and Talmud. 

A donor was found for Rabbi Heber and he received that long-awaited for transplant, but his joy was tempered: a kidney for his young new friend had still not been found. The rabbi thus embarked on a frantic mission to personally find a match for Pinchas, persuading people with a medical truism that its possible to live to old age even with one kidney. Tragically, by the time the rabbi found a donor, it was too late because Pinchas had passed away. The death of his young friend tore him apart. Barely able to eat or sleep, he was consumed with the question of what he could do to prevent the unnecessary death of those who need a kidney transplant. Just one day after Pinchas’ funeral, Rabbi Herber made up his mind that he would dedicate the rest of his life to facilitate kidney donations. He founded the charity “Matnat Chaim” (“the Gift of Life,”). Rather than wait until someone became seriously ill with kidney disease, he encouraged healthy Israelis to take the test to see if they could donate a kidney to strangers.

The initiative grew at an incredible rate and saved hundreds of lives. In the first year Rabbi Herber found four donors. That number doubled in the second year, and within a decade, he had astonishingly arranged for over 800 transplants. Each surgery gifted the recipient with a new and healthy life. One of the donors was Chili Tropper, a member of the Knesset. His obituary to Rabbi Herber rings true a year after his death. “This is a man who dedicated his life to save lives, with infinite dedication, exceptional humility and love for humans that is hard to come by.”