NEW YORK – A documentary about altruistic kidney donation is shining a fresh light on New York’s ultra-Orthodox community few have seen before.
Titled Match Made in Heaven, the film tells the heartwarming story of how two Jews from opposite sides of the world formed a bond literally through blood and greatness of spirit.
As 68-year-old New Jersey native David Solomon resigned himself to daily dialysis treatments last year, he wondered if he’d live long enough to see his daughter get married.
“Kidney disease will definitely kill you,” he said during the film, produced by the Orthodox outreach group Jew in the City. “The alternative to this was eventually dialysis, whether it be hemo or peritoneal... I was prepared to make the best of it no matter which way it went.”
His blood type made matters worse: Solomon is O positive, meaning that although he can donate to anyone, he can only be the recipient of O positive donations.
“Which means on the [kidney transplant] list, I’m the last person to get it.”
Having lost both his parents to renal failure, the Conservative Jew from Newark understood the gravity of his ailment.
Running out of options, the family turned to Renewal, a nonprofit organization based in Brooklyn that facilitates altruistic kidney donations, hoping to find a match.
“Dave came into the organization like any other patient,” Rabbi Josh Sturm, Renewal’s director of outreach, told The Jerusalem Post in a phone conversation on Thursday.
Founded in 2006 by members of the Borough Park hassidic community, Sturm said the vast majority of the donors are Orthodox, and “of the Orthodox donors, the majority of them are hassidic.
“In fact, of all the altruistic kidney donations [people donating to strangers] done in the last eight years in the US, 15% were donated by Orthodox Jews, even though we are only 0.2% of the US,” he said.
The organization noted that it facilitated 81 transplants last year and more than 400 since its inception 12 years ago.
The rabbi said that after receiving Solomon’s medical files and conducting a few tests of their own, they began searching their database for a possible donor with the same blood type.
Meanwhile, Yosef Leib Bornstein, 42, a member of the Ger Hassidic sect who grew up in the UK, had begun to hear of Renewal through its community outreach program in his adoptive Brooklyn neighborhood.
After attending a number of meetings organized by Renewal, and after overcoming some initial fears, Bornstein said that his faith and commitment to helping his fellow man finally convinced him to act.
“All our life we learned that to save someone’s life, it’s like you save the whole world,” Bornstein says in the film. “People want to do something, even if it’s really hard... It’s about saving someone’s life.”
When test results came back matching Bornstein and Solomon together, the later insisted on meeting the man who was willing to put his own life in danger to save his.
“You’re part of my family now,” the short film catches Solomon telling Bornstein just hours before the procedure.
“You’re actually going to have a part of my family in you,” Bornstein jokingly responds.
According to Jew in the City, the film is meant to break stereotypes of the Orthodox community and show its members as a real human beings instead of a reclusive, marginal group not willing to interact with modern society.
“We only see hassidic Jews abusing people and being insular,” the filmmakers told the Post in an email. “There are so many wonderful acts of kindness being done in the hassidic world that no one ever hears about. We were excited to share just one of these stories.
“When we brainstorm ideas... a couple years ago we had the idea to do a story from Renewal,” they continued. “They are doing these donations all the time, but we thought it would be the most dramatic to show a hassidic Jew giving to a non-Orthodox Jew, because it wasn’t just an act of kindness there, it would show that the perception that hassidic Jews only care about their own is not the complete picture.”
On July 7, 2017, footage from Rebecca Solomon’s wedding was added to the Match Made in Heaven documentary, with the guest of honor being Yousef Bornstein. And to show her gratitude for her husband’s life being saved, Salomon’s wife, Gail, recently donated one of her kidneys too.
You can learn more about Renewal’s work by going to www.renewal.org.