What motivates a person to donate an organ to a perfect stranger? What motivates him to do so twice? In conversation with Rabbi Ephraim Simon and his wife, Nechamy, we enter the hearts and mindsets of an inspirational Chabad couple.

As the busy director of Chabad in Teaneck, N.J., and the father of a large family, Rabbi Ephraim Simon was already making an active contribution to the community. Even so, he was always on the lookout to do more.

Donating an organ, however, was not on his bucket list. Even though he occasionally received e-mails from Chaya Lipschutz, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based kidney shadchan (matchmaker), he didn’t give them too much thought.

Then in 2008, a request came his way, and it made him pause.


A 12-year-old girl is sick and needs a kidney ... it hits me like a thunderbolt! I have an 11-year-old daughter and another 13, so close to her in age. I can’t get the thought out of my head: How would I feel if she was my daughter?

I pray that someone will offer her a kidney.

Someone? Which someone? Why not me?

Rabbi Simon reached out to Chaya to make some inquiries, but they were nothing more than tentative. Kidney matches are like bone-marrow transplants, he thought? What is the chance of my kidney being compatible with the sick girl?

A few hours later, Chaya called back Rabbi Simon, telling him that kidney transplants are not like bone-marrow transplants and, in fact, the chances of finding a match are fairly high. Should he share the same blood type as she, there was a real possibility it would work.

Their blood types were both O positive.

What next? It was time to do some homework.


My husband’s sudden interest in kidney donation is unexpected, but this doesn’t stop me from sharing in his search on the Internet for everything we can find about kidney transplants. The results surprise us: A regular person has four times the kidney function he needs, and the procedure is laparoscopic; there’s little risk, recovery time is short, and the success rate is high.

That, of course, sounds great when it comes to other people. The thought of my husband being a donor is another story. We’re talking here about my husband and the father of my children. And what about his responsibilities to his thriving congregation?

But the obstacles fall away, one by one; we speak and then speak some more until, 24 hours later, there is nothing left to say.

There is an unmistakable gleam in my husband’s eyes!


I am a Chabad shaliach (“emissary”) who has committed his life to bring love and life and healing to others; the opportunity to save a girl’s life sounds like it will do all these things at once.

When I report to Chaya that I’m ready to move forward, she tells me that someone else got there before me.

I’m disappointed (although I sense my wife’s relief). I mention to Chaya that if she has any other children on her list, please reach back out to me. Chaya doesn’t hear me say “children”...!

A few weeks later, she informs me about a mother of two who needs a kidney.

A mother? I originally got into this because I could relate to the plight of a young girl about the age of my daughters, but now I rather like the idea of saving a mother.

When this fails to materialize, Chaya tells me about a single Israeli man.

So why not? At this point, I’m willing to donate a kidney to any human being. I want to save a life!

And I earnestly yearn to be a living example to my children of Jewish values and to show them that we’re not a family that just “talks the talk.” We stand by our values and we’re not going to let anything get in our way!

For Rabbi Simon, the time for a transplant hadn’t yet come, however. The Israeli man and he were not suited. A few more months passed, and he was informed that his kidney would be an almost perfect match for an ailing man from the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

When in the summer of 2009, the 41-year-old father of nine donated a kidney to the 51-year-old father of 10, even the secular press called him a savior. Not that this meant anything to Rabbi Simon; for him, the only thing that mattered was that he had helped return a dying man to his wife and children, and given him the opportunity to lead a full and healthy life.

He was exuberant! And so was Chaya, the selfless transplant advocate who has devoted her life to facilitating kidney transplants since she made her own altruistic donation in 2005.

Like many kidney donors, Rabbi Simon joked that if he had the chance to be a donor again, he’d do it. As they both knew, this wasn’t possible.

Or was it?

Eight years after his kidney donation, Rabbi Simon called Chaya to say he wanted to donate a portion of his liver. He’d done some research and knew that when a person makes a partial liver donation, the liver of the donor and the recipient regenerate to their full size in a matter of months.

Rabbi Simon wanted to be that donor, and he wanted Chaya to find him a recipient.

Was this man for real? Chaya was dumbfounded. “Live” liver transplants are painful, risky and have a long recovery process. Although admittedly they’re more successful than the more commonly used cadaver transplants, who would subject themselves to such an ordeal if it was not for a family member? It was unheard of, and here was Rabbi Simon who was actually asking to become a liver donor. The hospitals wouldn’t take him seriously. They’d surely think he was being paid or cajoled—or maybe they’d simply assume that he was crazy!

On top of that, as far as Chaya knew, there was not one hospital in New York or around the country that would even consider Rabbi Simon as a donor. Liver transplants are known to have extra risks for someone who has already donated a kidney.

End of story? Actually, no. Rabbi Simon was not at all deterred by Chaya’s “brush-off” and continued to email her periodically to ask her to find him a recipient. “Don’t forget about me! I still want to do this,” he wrote on one occasion. “Please, please, please don’t give up on the liver,” he wrote on another. “There must be someone we can save!” he wrote on a third.


Even though Chaya insists that liver donations are not her line of business, I know she has my back. When it comes to saving lives, we’re on the same page.

Weeks turn to months and then to years, but Chaya does not let me down. While reading a book about transplants, she discovers that the acclaimed Cleveland Clinic in Ohio is willing to allow a prior kidney donor to make a liver transplant if he is fit enough to do so. And not only donations to children, who require a smaller liver portion. In its overwhelming quest to save a life, the Cleveland Clinic allows donations to adults. too.

The words jump off the page.

I’m thrilled, but Chaya quickly puts the record straight. If we want to take this route (and naturally, I do), we first have to find a suitable recipient that’s registered at the Cleveland Clinic.

And this is not as easy as it sounds.


Do I really want Chaya to find a recipient? Shouldn’t my husband be satisfied that he’s already saved one man’s life and inspired many others to do the same?

In the midst of my deliberations, Chaya finds a man in need of a liver transplant; he lives in New York, but he’s also registered at the Cleveland Clinic. We both fly to Cleveland at our own expense and he passes an intense battery of tests with flying colors.

Then the man backs out of the transplant because he decides to look for a transplant nearer home.

Another suggestion ... and another let-down. I am amazed that my husband does not become deflated. He’s literally begging the clinic to find him a recipient. They can’t believe it, but they are swept up by his unceasing enthusiasm and want him to succeed.

People wonder why I’m not discouraging my husband. I know the pitfalls of liver transplants and yet I don’t try to stop him. Am I doing the right thing?

He has such a burning passion for life, that I don’t think of saying “no.” I have my fears, but I know it’s my role to help him to attain his goal, and I know what I have to do. While not exactly asking him to do it, I give my whole-hearted approval.

Time appears to move slowly, but if this suggests that Rabbi Simon’s search for a liver recipient was a random journey, nothing could be further from the truth. The eventual “match” between Rabbi Simon was part of a Divinely orchestrated plan, with his intended recipient waiting in the wings until the most propitious time arrived.

That person was Adam Levitz, a 44-year-old father of three from Long Island, N.Y., who was suffering from an acute disease of the bile ducts that was causing his liver to shut down. Adam needed a liver transplant, and he needed it fast.

After two cadaver livers were considered in Philadelphia and neither worked out, Adam was crestfallen and desperate. With his situation quickly worsening, it wasn’t long before he was told that his situation had deteriorated too much for a cadaver transplant; only a live liver donation could save his life.

But where could he find a donor? Adam was not on Chaya’s list. According to the “natural order,” the likelihood of Chaya hearing about Adam and connecting him to Rabbi Simon was minimal.


As observant Jews, we live our lives with the unwavering belief that there is no “natural order” in Creation; everything is up to G‑d! If a person should G‑d forbid doubt this, he has only to see the miraculous manner in which I am granted the privilege of donating a portion of my liver to Adam Levitz to see the inscrutable workings of the Divine Hand.

Why else does an article about the work of Chaya Lipschutz “just happen” to appear in Ami magazine in December 2017, and this article “just happens” to be read by Mrs. Chanie Wilhelm, a Chabad shlucha in Milford, Conn., who “just happens” to have befriended Joel Levitz, the president of her shul, who “just happens” to have a son in critical need of a liver transplant?

This wondrous chain of events continues on, with the article prompting Chanie to contact Chaya to ask her if she knows of a liver donor, even though Chanie is well-aware that Chaya is primarily a kidney matchmaker. Upon speaking to Chanie, Chaya realizes she might have just the person she’s looking for.

Chaya immediately contacts Adam Levitz and, and then calls me to tell me the breathtaking news: She (or, more correctly G‑d) has found me a recipient …

My heart overflows with joy!

With everything falling into place, a flurry of further testing, insurance arrangements and copious prayers ensued until finally, all the pieces were in place.

On Dec. 23, 2018, Rabbi Simon and Adam entered the operating theater at the Cleveland Clinic while Jews around the world prayed fervently for their success.

Nechamy Simon, who had been working intensely to strengthen her emunah (“faith”) in preparation for the transplant, recalls that she experienced an uncanny sense of calm throughout the procedure. She was aware of the prayers being said throughout the world and was sure they could not fail to receive the answer they sought.

Tracht gut vet zein gut (“Think good, and it will be good”). It was going to be OK!

The transplant that ensued was truly “Heaven sent.” The doctors who performed the eight-hour surgery commented later that Adam’s liver was hard and shrunken, and in far worse condition than they anticipated. If they had waited any longer, it may have been too late to operate.

Rabbi Simon’s liver, which the doctors described as being “like that of a baby,” was astonishingly youthful and healthy for a man of 50. For Adam, it was the ultimate gift of life.

Two days later, Rabbi Simon went to visit Adam in his room and was amazed by the changes in his appearance. His skin color, the light in his eyes, his movement; everything was new and fresh. “You could tell that he was a different person,” says Rabbi Simon. “He was really alive, and now had a life to look forward to. I felt so privileged that G‑d had allowed me to be a part of his rebirth.”


After a stay of only eight days in the hospital, Rabbi Simon was discharged from the hospital. Adam remained longer, but he, too, was allowed to return home before long. In the three-and-a-half years since the transplant, he has regained his health and enjoys a normal life with his family.

Or perhaps we can say a deeper life because as the result of meeting Rabbi Simon, Adam has come to greatly admire the lives of observant Jews and has developed his own connection with his heritage. When his son was of bar mitzvah age, the family chose to celebrate the occasion in Rabbi Simon’s shul.

The Simon and the Levitz family remain in friendly contact several times a year.

Rabbi Simon, meanwhile, has good reason to be proud. He has saved the lives of two very sick men.

And when Chabad.org published the story, it was picked up by dozens of outlets around the world, inspiring others to follow his example and donate kidneys and livers.

They too, in the manner of a ripple effect, have served—and continue to serve—to provide still others with the inspiration to do the same. He nevertheless bears no trace of pride in his achievements; rather he views them as a privilege for which he deserves no credit. While his ultimate gratitude is obviously to his Maker, the Source of everything, he is effusive in acclaiming the virtues of his life partner, Nechamy who has been his pillar of strength and trust every step of the way.

“It’s one thing to suffer physical pain, but watching the suffering of someone you love is far worse,” he says, in reference to Nechamy, who stayed at his bedside throughout his second transplant. “It’s incredible that she had the spiritual stamina to do it. I don’t think I could have done it myself. She is not only my Eishet Chayil; she is my hero who made all this possible.”