For 15 weeks now, the members of Jewish Women Connected (JWC) at Chabad of Stamford have been packing housewares and comfortable clothing, water-bottles, and always a little bag containing a silver charm.
Each week, they place the carefully selected items into boxes decorated by the children of Gan Yeladim, the Chabad preschool, and ship them to a young woman in North Carolina awaiting a lung transplant.
Then the women pray together, reciting from Psalms and inserting the name of the recipient, Rivkah Bat Shifra Aviva.
Rivkah, or Rivky Deren, as she is known to the women, is the 24-year-old daughter of Rabbi Yisroel and Vivi Deren, directors of Chabad of Stamford. Since May, she and her mother have been living near Duke University Hospital in Durham, on the transplant list to receive two healthy lungs. The two women have been supported from afar by the JWC’s Connecting Stamford with Duke project.
Rivky suffers from the rare lung disease, bronchiectasis. When her case was deemed too challenging by transplant centers in New York, the family approached Duke.
“We were afraid to even realistically hope for a positive response,” Rabbi Deren says. “At Duke, they said, ‘We’ll do it and we’ll do it right.’ The fact that this surgery has happened is more than we could have ever hoped for. We are so grateful to HaShem.”
As a child, Rivky spent a lot of time in the hospital, and has since worked to help others with serious health conditions. In 2007 and 2008, she was pushed in a wheelchair in the Chai Lifeline marathon, raising more than $10,000 to help the non-profit provide activities and services to sick children and their families throughout the country. She is also involved in Kids of Courage, a similar organization.
During Rivky’s 12-hour surgery, the Derens waited outside the operating room with another family who had received a liver from the same donor.
“We talked about how, while we were all so happy and grateful to have the chance for a cure, there was another family grieving over their loss,” says Rabbi Deren.
“A single donor can save five lives with vital organs and help up to 50 with skin and eyes and tissue and bone. This is such a real way to have an impact, by giving life to another.
While Judaism sees the sacredness of the body as paramount, organ-donation is permitted to save another’s life, Deren says. “It is an incredible mitzvah,” he says. “I would encourage people to become donors.”
Rabbi Deren says that he has received hundreds of wishes from all corners of the globe. His son, Rabbi Asher Deren, who directs Chabad of the West Coast located in South Africa, reported more than 100 attendees at a men’s prayer gathering on Sunday after Rivky’s surgery, many of whom hadn’t laid tefillin since becoming bnei-mitzvah.
“I encourage more prayer and mitzvot on Rivky’s behalf and for all those who are suffering,” says Rabbi Deren. “Everyone can do just one more mitzvah,” he says. “There’s so much hurt in the world, and we look forward to seeing the opposite side of that coin.”