Jennifer Rothstein, a Cherry Hill resident and observant Jew, believes that doing good for others is a big part of why human beings exist.
“We are here to do mitzvot, giving without expecting anything in return. We must run, not walk, to do a mitzvah,” Rothstein said.
The part-time instructor at Kellman Brown Academy in Voorhees and member of Cong. Sons of Israel in Cherry Hill carried out one of the greatest mitzvot of all earlier this month when she gave the precious gift of life to a Brooklyn, NY, teenager badly in need of a new kidney.
On Nov. 1, the 39-year-old mother of two reported to New York-Presbyterian Hospital to donate her left kidney to Sofia Manfredi. Sofia, 13, suffered kidney damage during a traumatic birth. With her undersized kidneys no longer supporting her growing body, the seventh grader at Brooklyn Studio Secondary School began evaluation for transplant in June.
“When I heard there was a girl who needed a kidney from someone with Type O-negative blood, I just knew it was the right thing to do, especially because of the environment I work in,” said Rothstein, who returned home three days after the life-giving surgery to recuperate more fully at home. Manfredi went home a day later and will take up to two months to recover while being home-schooled.
“The kidney responded much quicker than expected. Sofia’s creatinine levels dropped immediately,” said Rothstein, referring to a waste product that is filtered out of the blood when kidney function is normal and, in high amounts, is an indicator of renal failure.
Rothstein, who is married to an assistant commander in the New Jersey Air National Guard, has lived in Cherry Hill for 13 years and is in her fifth year of teaching at Kellman Brown, where she instructs kindergarten students on how to use computers, teaches first grade, and helps students in grades one through four with reading. Her calling to teach at a Jewish day school, where the curriculum incorporates life lessons on respect for life and giving back to society and individuals, provided a natural pathway to her mitzvah.
She decided to become a kidney donor after reading about Manfredi’s plight in August. A Jewish website had put out the call from Chaya Lipschutz, a Brooklyn woman who donated a kidney six years ago and then founded an organization, SaveALife- DonateAKidney, to match donors with recipients.
Lipschutz said it makes no difference if the donor and/or recipient is Jewish, although she uses Jewish social networking to facilitate many of her “shiddochs,”—a numerous amount to date, although she declined to say exactly how many.
“Chaya means life or life-giving, so I’m living up to my name,” said
Lipschutz, who is currently seeking a donor for a non-Jewish Cherry Hill resident with Type B blood, meaning he can accept a kidney from a donor who is Type B or
Rothstein also did not care whether her recipient was Jewish, although it happens that Sofia’s mother, Tami, is Jewish and her father, Michael, is Italian.
“Type O recipients cannot receive organs from other blood types, and there were no other matches,” Tami Manfredi said. “Jennifer is a wonderful person, and this is a wonderful thing she’s doing.”
Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, head of school at Kellman Brown Academy, said there was never a question of whether to give Rothstein the time off to prepare for the surgery and then to recover.” Jewish tradition teaches us that saving one life is like saving the world. It’s like creating life anew,” Schwartz said.
She had no trouble explaining her decision to even her youngest students at Kellman Brown, allaying their worries when they learned she’d be away from school for at least two weeks.
“I told them that Hashem listens to the prayers of children very closely, and that they would help Sofia feel better by praying,” she said.
“We pray to have faith. It’s not our world—it’s Hashem’s world. We just do what He directs us to do, and He will take care of everything,” she said. .