“Most people are here for medical reasons. But what are the chances of meeting a donor at the Chabad House?”
Rita Benisti, in her fifties, anticipated a long wait ahead when she prepared to get her name onto several lists for a kidney match. It’s been two years since the mother of three was air-ambulanced from Quebec Province, Canada, where she lives, for treatment at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Finally stabilized enough to make her eligible for a transplant, she knew the wait could be as long as three years.
But it was Rita’s turn for a Chanukah miracle, and it came early this year. She hadn’t even put her name on the lists when she met Adina, who prefers to remain anonymous, at Chabad of Rochester. Pursuing a medical training program at Mayo Clinic, Adina came to Chabad for Shabbat dinner. As always, Chanie Greene, the Chabad director with her husband Rabbi Dovid, made the introductions.
During her two years in treatment, Rita became a regular at Chabad of Rochester. “My family members and an army of nurses from Montreal all took turns to come stay with me throughout my medical adventure here,” the businesswoman shared. “When I started feeling a bit better, I started going out on Shabbat and holidays, to attend services at the Chabad House. And every time I would attend services, I would get to meet Jews in town.”
A SANCTUARY FOR MAYO CLINIC PATIENTS
More than 350,000 patients seek medical answers at the world famous Mayo Clinic each year. Many seek spiritual answers at the Greene’s Chabad House, the only such Jewish hospitality center in town. People come to Chabad, says Rita, who runs a business in Canada, “to pray, have a kosher meal, or simply not be lonely.”
Adina didn’t think she could be a donor. She tried back in 2006, but was rejected after a battery of tests showed her platelets were too high. In the meantime, the medical program she had enrolled in wasn’t working out. Adina resigned. She was getting ready to leave Rochester. Then, at Shabbat dinner with Chabad, soon after she met Rita, she had a flash of insight: “I said, hey this is a long shot, but maybe now I can donate a kidney.”
Even Rabbi Greene, who has seen great miracles and unexpected outcomes, couldn’t have predicted what happened next. Bound by a mutual desire to spend Shabbos together, two women discovered they were both foodies. Soon they began watching cooking shows and preparing meals together.
Knowing they were the same blood type and hoping more evolved donor testing was available, Adina thought, “Maybe there’s a chance I can do it for this woman. Maybe this is why I’m here.” Seven months later in September, when Adina had already transferred to Dallas, TX for her surgical assistant program, she got news that she could after all be a donor. For Rita.
A PROVIDENTIAL MEETING AT CHABAD
“Adina was not the only donor I met at Chabad,” Rita said, speaking with lubavitch.com after the kidney transplant. She met Israel, “another serious donor, who was committed to donate to me, had he been found perfectly fit to do so.” As it turned out, Israel learned that he had a heart condition when he tested. Still, Rita is amazed: “Can you imagine, meeting two donors in one small town, at Chabad house?”
Adina has come to see the silver lining in all this. Talking about her decision to come to Rochester for a medical program that didn’t work out, she spoke with lubavitch.com by phone from Florida, where she was recovering: “It was stressful. I’m single, and I picked up and went to a place where I didn’t know anyone. Thank G-d I found Chabad. You never know why you’re put in a certain place at a certain time.”
In the summer of 1988, with the blessings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and at the urging of Rabbi Moshe Feller, Director of Chabad of the Upper Midwest, Rabbi Dovid and Chanie Greene established the Bais Chaya Moussia Hospitality Center in Rochester, providing Jewish hospitality in one of the smallest Jewish communities in the Midwest. Offering hard-to-find kosher food, Shabbat hospitality, educational resources and counseling services, all at no charge, the Greenes are dedicated to serving patients who are being treated at Mayo Clinic and their family members.
“Rochester’s major industry is medicine. This city is a destination medical center,” Rabbi Greene noted. He’s inspired by this miracle that happened at the Chabad House. “Most people are here for medical reasons,” he explained. “But what are the chances of meeting a donor at the Chabad House?”
On November 11, Rita and Adina were wheeled into the OR. Rita’s recovery is taking longer than expected, but she’s filled with gratitude. The two women will stay in touch.
Rabbi Greene, who says it’s his role to help people discern Divine Providence when they are going through trying times, greets new patients with a simple, honest question: “How can we help you?”
Sorting through faxes, emails and phone calls, often originating from Chabad representatives in both nearby and far off places (one recent call came from Peru) whose community members are traveling for medical care to Mayo Clinic, Rabbi Greene becomes an important link between a patient’s time in Rochester and his or her community back home.
Rabbi Greene also provides pastoral care and counseling, acting as Hebrew interpreter at the Clinic, such as when he received a call from someone in Israel whose wife was in a critical condition. “We’re here to take the edge off so people can face their situation,” explained Rabbi Greene.
The phone rings constantly. Jewish patients or their families are calling to find out how they will manage with kosher food, Shabbat, services, etc. when they come to Mayo Clinic. Doctors, post doctorate students, residents or Israelis doing fellowships on a subspecialty who come with their families for a few years also call to find out what is available in terms of Jewish life.
Each one, says Rabbi Greene is an opportunity for sharing and caring, and for experiencing G-d in our midst.
“The love of G-d is manifested through love of a fellow Jew.”