RABBI WHO HELPS ORPHANS AND DONATED KIDNEY TO SPEAK IN NEWTON
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz changes the lives of orphans. His interest in adoption grew when he and his wife Shoshana, who currently have two biological children, started trying to adopt five years ago. “We’ve always felt we wanted to give children who needed a home a home,” said Yanklowitz.
The couple recently fostered a child for seven months and continue to look for opportunities to foster and adopt. “That process has opened our eyes and hearts to how dire the need is,” he said.
He addresses the foster and adoption crisis in America with a group he founded called Yatom, which translates to orphan in Hebrew. “Yatom is incentivizing the American Jewish community to foster and adopt, and providing them with community and resources to do so,” said Yanklowitz.
“Foster care is very challenging, just like parenting is but in different ways, but also very rewarding,’ said Yanklowitz. Yanklowitz is a resident of Arizona, a state where tens of thousands of children need homes, he said. According to a recent UNICEF report, there are between 143 and 210 million orphans worldwide. “I feel that as Jews we’re called upon not only to open our hearts, open our wallets but also open our homes when we feel we can,” said Yanklowitz.
A man of many interests, Yanklowitz is working on a project to promote organ donations, in particular living kidney donations. Kidney failure is the ninth leading cause of death in the U.S. “Tens of thousands of people are dying from kidney failure and I think that one of the most important responses right now is for more Jews to step up as organ donors,” said Yanklowitz.
About a year ago in the summer of 2015, Yanklowitz donated his kidney to a complete stranger. He matched with a young Israeli man who was an orphan as a child after losing his mother at a very young age. “It was extra meaningful that he was Israeli,” said Yanklowitz. A YouTube video shows their first meeting where the two men are overcome emotionally, breaking into tears and embracing one another. “It’s a very warm and very emotional relationship and we continue to be in touch,” he said.
Yanklowitz felt an urge to donate his own kidney. “I feel that where we can make a difference we should strive to give as much as we can,” he said. Yanklowitz came to the conclusion that it was highly unlikely that he would need a second kidney and yet someone else could live if he were to give one up. “I felt morally compelled to give all I could give and the truth is I gained more out of it than I gave. It was a very spiritually rich experience for me.” He added that the recovery was very manageable.
“My main goal is to be as impactful as I possibly can in helping to build the Jewish community,” said Yanklowitz. Which is, perhaps, one of the reasons why he is coming to speak at Hebrew College on September 28. He is looking forward to studying with the rabbinical students during his visit. “I feel that it’s such a wonderful opportunity to explore, on a high intellectual level, the challenges and opportunities that contemporary Judaism brings forth to help us heal the fragmented world,” said Yanklowitz.
In his mind, it is a blessing to be able to offer wisdom and experience to emerging rabbis who will go out into the field to build the Jewish community. “I feel that Jewish values have a crucial role to play in the development of the twenty-first century drama,” said Yanklowitz, “and I’ve felt that it would be an enormous privilege to be able to be a teacher and change-maker helping to guide that process.”
Yanklowitz can relate to the young rabbis as someone who was once in their very position. After college, Yanklowitz quit his corporate job, finding it unfulfilling, and moved to Israel to study. “I felt that I wanted to live my daily life in a way that was aligned with my highest values,” he said. The prophetic voices of the Jewish tradition, according to Yanklowitz, permeated his soul. “I felt very called by these ethical voices and I felt that I had been given so much by the Jewish community and wanted to return that gift as much as I could,” said Yanklowitz.
At his grandmother’s deathbed at a hospital, he recalled for the first time trying to engage in a form of prayer with her. “Feeling blown away by the power of a healing moment with someone I loved, I felt that I wanted to create as many powerful healing moments for other people as I could,” said Yanklowitz.
Part of the work he’s doing now with orphans and organs, among other causes, is to address healing on a systemic level. But another signficant part of his work is the process, which has to be holy and compassionate, he said. Leadership, in his mind, has to understand the fragility of the human spirit. “So whether I’m doing the work for orphans or for organ donation I try to not just be impactful but to insure the process itself is compassionate.”
TURNING & RETURNING – TESHUVAH & JUSTICE: AN EVENING WITH RABBI DR. SHMULY YANKLOWITZ
During this month of reflection and repentance, we zoom inward to the soul and also outwards to all of existence. We are asked to consider our role in personal, communal and global injustice. Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is a social justice activist, educator, and author who has written extensively on Jewish spirituality, social justice, and ethics. Rabbi Shmuly is Founder of Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization and now serves as the President and Dean of Valley Beit Midrash in Scottsdale, AZ. Rabbi Shmuly’s religious journey was filmed in the Independent Lens/PBS documentary “The Calling.” Co-sponsored with LimmudBoston and made possible with support from the Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation. He will be speaking at Hebrew College on Wednesday, September 28, at 7:30 p.m. Admission $10. www.hebrewcollege.edu/upcoming-events