A New Level of Interfaith Understanding

By Elisha Sauers

Published February 02, 2007, issue of February 02, 2007.

Though Reform rabbi Andrew Bossov and Methodist reverend Karen Onesti may have their theological differences, they can now claim at least one vital bond. Bossov, 47, successfully received one of Onesti’s kidneys during an urgent January 23 organ transplant at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. Both patients are now back in their hometown of Mount Laurel, N.J., recovering.

“Needless to say, we’re very close now,” Bossov told The Shmooze.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the fateful conversation that would begin their journey to the operating room. At a Greater Mount Laurel Interfaith Association meeting, Onesti, 49, noticed that several other clergy were asking how Bossov was feeling. Wondering if her colleague had been ill, she inquired about his health. He told her he was on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.

“She said: ‘Well, you know what? I’ll give you one of mine.’ I wasn’t asking, because, at the time, there were more family members to exhaust who had not yet been tested,” Bossov said. “Later that night, she had a discussion with her husband, and the very next day she called me and said, ‘Okay, what do I need to do?’” At best, Bossov and Onesti were friendly acquaintances. But over the course of the year, after overcoming some setbacks — the reverend underwent a hysterectomy during the summer, which temporarily complicated her ability to get clearance for the surgery — they would become friends as well as partners in the effort to educate the community on live-organ donation.

Bossov has worked to convince Jews that, according to some halachic authorities, organ donation is permissible. Indeed, Bossov’s congregation, Adath Emanu-El, was active in drawing attention to the issue even before its rabbi’s need for a transplant arose.

The clergy have been amazed by the media response to their situation, but they are more than willing to exploit the attention to help deliver their message. “Despite hearing about so many conflicts about religion in the world, there are positive things, too,” Bossov said. “And as long as we have our five minutes in the spotlight, we want to promote donation as much as possible.”



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