Photo Credit: Renewal
Yakov Majeski with Arnold Feinblat.

Jews of every stripe packed the lobby of The Count Basie Center for the Arts in the seaside town of Red Bank, NJ on January 7. From blazers to bekeshes, a vast cross-section of Jews rubbed shoulders as they partook of the elegant buffet and wine bar. Men and women poured in by the hundreds by car, plane, and coach bus. The atmosphere at the event, dubbed Renewal Reunion, was festive, imbued with a sense of pride and communal purpose.

These kidney donors and recipients, along with their families, arrived from across the country to celebrate the one-thousandth transfer arranged by Renewal, a nonprofit organization dedicated to matching kidney donors and recipients and facilitating the transplants.


Yakov and Shanni Majeski are one of only 14 married couples to have both donated their kidneys through Renewal. The pair made the trip to Red Bank from Baltimore with two of their four children, Avi, 22, and Avigayil, 17. Shanni, a special education teacher, and Yakov, a school principal, volunteered swab samples for the registry when someone in their neighborhood needed a kidney.

Yakov was the first of the two to match, receiving a call from Renewal several months after he had been swabbed. He donated his kidney to almost-80-year-old Arnold Feinblat. Shanni’s recipient, who received his kidney in 2022, was 71 at the time of the operation. “Most older people struggle to find kidneys,” Shanni explained. “Renewal is different because they don’t discriminate based on age.”

Shanni Majeski with Lenny Berse.

Both the transplants were successful. Yakov’s recipient had both heart and kidney issues prior to the surgery, both of which have significantly cleared up. Shanni’s recipient, Lenny Berse of Plainview, NY, was on dialysis three times a week and is now in good health. Lenny’s wife, Marni, also received a Renewal kidney in 2023. “This organization is bringing Moshiach,” said Yakov.

Yakov and Shanni remain in touch with their recipients. “When someone gives you their organ, it forms an almost familial bond,” Lenny described. “Thanks to the Majeskis and Renewal, both Marni and I are healthy for the first time in a long time.”

Renewal was launched in 2006 by Brooklyn-based real estate developer Mendy Reiner when he met grocer Eli Cohen. Cohen was in dire need of a kidney and Reiner, eager to help, placed an ad in these pages to try to connect him with a donor. Reiner recognized the latent demand for a philanthropic kidney-matching service when almost 30 people replied offering Cohen their kidneys.

Renewal now facilitates over 100 transplants per year and maintains the second largest kidney donor database in the country, trailing only the National Kidney Registry. While only comprising 0.2 percent of America’s population, Orthodox Jews are responsible for a full 18 percent of all kidney donations, thanks in no small part to Renewal’s efforts.

Cindy Berman of Freehold, NJ and Caren Falco of Jackson, NJ have been friends for 23 years. When Caren, a retired nurse, heard that Cindy’s brother Howard was in need of a kidney, she was determined to help. “I want your brother to have my kidney,” she told Cindy, “And I have a very strong feeling I’m a match.”

Pamphlet in English and Yiddish at each seat.

“You’re crazy,” was Cindy’s reply. Undeterred, Caren submitted a swab sample. Several weeks later she received a call. Not only was she a match for Howard, they even shared the same rare antigens that precluded Howard from receiving kidneys from most donors.

Cindy arranged for Howard to come over so that Caren could share the news. Howard, who was in dialysis three times a week and at the end of his rope, arrived with his wife, Gina. “I have something to tell you,” said Caren. “My kidney is a match for you.”

At first, Howard didn’t understand. He thought Caren was offering to get tested. Gina gently clarified. “Howard, she’s giving you her kidney.” Howard broke down in tears.

Cindy and Caren attended the Reunion together, Cindy tightly clutching a small framed photo of her and Howard’s parents.

Following the buffet, the guests gradually made their way to the Riker Family Auditorium. The stage featured an eight-piece orchestra backed by a massive LED light board displaying Renewal Reunion graphics. The 1,543 seats were soon filled to capacity as the evening’s emcee, comedian Mendy Pellin, took the stage. After a quip about the Monsey Trails-style mechitza bifurcating the room, Pellin remarked on the event’s broad representation. “Every Jewish community is represented here tonight,” Pellin pointed out. “Am Yisrael Chai!” The crowd erupted in applause.

3 YBH donor mothers on stage with their sons.

The programming featured a series of speakers, awards, and video profiles. Reiner led off with a tribute to the late philanthropist Baruch Hollander, who rescued the organization when it was in dire financial straits. Three New Jersey-based mothers, all donors with sons in the same class at YBH of Passaic, took the stage to discuss how they, as well as the boys’ rebbe, all came to donate their kidneys. Pulmonologist Dr. Kenneth Prager and financier Ilan Kaufthal were presented with awards for their role in helping establish Renewal’s legitimacy at a crucial time in its development.

Guests were treated to a dessert table and parting gifts as the evening drew to a close at around 10 p.m. Fair Lawn’s Mordy Straus, who attended with his wife Malkie, had only good things to say about the organization. “Renewal treated me like a king,” he stated, “They go out of their way to really take care of their donors.”

And how did Straus come to the decision to donate an organ? He shrugged. “Someone needed one, and I had an extra.”

Am Yisrael Chai, indeed.


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