Kidney recipient Paul (left), who asked to remain anonymous, wraps tefillin with kidney donor Rabbi Raleigh Resnick in the hospital. (Photo/Courtesy)
Kidney recipient Paul (left), who asked to remain anonymous, wraps tefillin with kidney donor Rabbi Raleigh Resnick in the hospital. (Photo/Courtesy)

Pleasanton rabbi donates a kidney to save the life of a congregant

An East Bay rabbi and one of his congregants are celebrating the one-year anniversary this week of a life-saving donation.

On Feb. 14, 2023, Rabbi Raleigh Resnick of Chabad of Tri-Valley in Pleasanton donated one of his kidneys through a program that enabled a 47-year-old congregant, who had been suffering from end-stage renal disease for five years, to receive another donor’s kidney.

“Rabbi Resnick changed my life completely,” said Paul, who requested to use only his first name to protect his privacy. “Time is the most precious thing I was able to get … time with my family, my community, the congregation, and time to give back.”

The rabbi and Paul, who lives in the Bay Area with his wife and daughter, initially publicized his search to find an organ donor in J. in 2022. At that point, Paul was undergoing hours of dialysis every other day and living on a prescribed bland diet of cauliflower and chicken. His doctors gave him a poor prognosis and said he was unlikely to make it to his 60th birthday.

A handful of people volunteered to give their kidney but weren’t deemed healthy enough to donate their organs. So Resnick decided to step in.

Resnick said he lives according to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s core tenet, which is to love all Jews in both word and deed. Schneerson led the Chabad-Lubavitch movement for more than 40 years before his death in 1994.

Rabbi Raleigh Resnick with his family. (Photo/Courtesy)
Rabbi Raleigh Resnick with his family. (Photo/Courtesy)

“What motivates me as a Chabad rabbi is the rebbe’s call to be there for a fellow Jew, whether they’re Orthodox or secular, or voted for Trump or Biden — just viewing them as a person, a brother or sister in our collective Jewish family,” he said.

Resnick, who is 42, married and the father of 10, had never been in the hospital as a patient before his kidney donation, although he serves as a chaplain to several local hospitals. Because he wasn’t a direct organ match for Paul, Resnick underwent the donation at UCSF Medical Center, which offers a sophisticated swapping program that allows people to donate an organ on behalf of a patient in need.

To better understand the process of organ donation, Resnick turned to Renewal, a Jewish organization that helps people suffering from kidney disease, to make the process comfortable for him and his family. The nonprofit provided education and everything from meals to car rides to and from the hospital before and after the surgery.

According to a 2015 estimate in the Forward, ultra-Orthodox Jews account for an outsized number of kidney donations. While they make up 0.2% of the U.S. population, they account for 17% of kidney donations to strangers.

Resnick hopes that Paul’s story will touch people and encourage them to explore the idea of saving a life through programs such as Renewal.

“One of the advantages of being a rabbi is that you can teach people and inspire people. So I thought if I really believe this and I’m calling my community to consider it, then I ought to lead by example,” Resnick said. “Whenever someone tells me that they feel their life is purposeless, I tell them to consider donating a kidney and save a life.”

Valerie Demicheva
Valerie Demicheva

Valerie Demicheva is a journalist and photographer whose work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Women's Wear Daily and Silicon Valley Magazine. She's covered culture, tech, media, restaurants and philanthropy in the Bay Area for over a decade.