Vayeira 5783: The Gift of Life

Posted on November 11, 2022 by Gary Cohen, president

I asked Rabbi Gluck for the opportunity to write the Shabbat message this week as tonight marks the beginning of the National Donor Sabbath celebrating organ donation, commonly called the “Gift of Life.” Organ donation is a subject near and dear to my family – in December 2003, I received a kidney from one of my sisters. This year marks the 68th year of organ transplantation and in early September the United States celebrated the one millionth donation of an organ.

Organ donation in the US is growing. In 2021, there were over 41,300 organ donations from about 13,860 deceased donors and 6,580 living donors, the first time there were over 40,000 transplants in a year. Incredibly, a single deceased donor can save or help 75 recipients through organ, eye, and tissue donations. While all of this seems impressive, as of November 6 there were 116,109 people on the waiting list. Of those, almost 1,200 are under 10 years old and over 33,000 have been waiting for longer than 3 years. Sadly, every 9 minutes a new person is added to the list, and every day 17 people who are waiting pass away.

Organ donation is not an easy subject to discuss, often due to fear or misinformation. The thought of being an organ donor led some to believe that they would receive inferior care in an emergency, or worse, that someone would knock on your door to take your organs while you are alive. This could not be further from the truth. The fact that you are a potential organ donor is not considered until every opportunity to save the life of the donor has been exhausted. If you are not registered as an organ donor, your next of kin will be consulted at a time when they are often in shock and mourning. That is why it is so important to make sure your family knows your wishes to relieve them of any added stress. If you are concerned about how your body would be treated as a donor, search online for “organ donor honor walk” to see the reverence that the donor and their family receive from the medical staff and how many people line the hallways to pay homage to them on their walk.

Jewish tradition is clear that saving a human life, pikuach nefesh, is one of our strongest obligations. The thought that a body must be whole to be buried for ritual reasons is no longer viewed as necessary, and support for organ donation is growing in all Jewish communities from Reform to Orthodox. Judaism is not alone in this belief as all major religions now see organ donation as a final act of charity and generosity.

If you wonder if you can be a donor because of your age or a medical condition, the answer to that question is yes you can because those factors will be considered in determining what can be donated at that time.

The “Gift of Life” is more than a slogan for me. It’s been the opportunity to be “normal” and not worried about feeling sick or tired all the time. It’s given me the chance to be a better husband, partner, and father and to experience the best parts of being healthy – or at least healthier. While there have been challenges from being immune-suppressed, I choose to continue to focus on the many positives in my life.

To learn more about organ donation, please visit or In New Jersey, you can register as an Organ Donor when you renew your Driver’s License. Please remember to share your wishes with your family so they know you want to be a donor if possible.

Shabbat Shalom,

Gary Cohen