Meet the woman promoting organ donation in Israel

“My new goal is to make the organ donation card a default process when people obtain their ID.”

DVORA SZERER, founder and CEO of Nehishut: Climbing together toward a solution. (photo credit: COURTESY DVORA SZERER)
DVORA SZERER, founder and CEO of Nehishut: Climbing together toward a solution.
When Dvora Szerer lost her sister, Zehava Feldman, to breast cancer in 2001, she also lost her singing voice.
“I have always enjoyed Israeli folk music and dancing,” she told the Magazine, “and before Zehava passed away I used to dance and sing. After her death people would approach me and say, ‘We noticed that you are not as you once were.’ I was devastated. She was only 36 years old.”
Szerer founded Nehishut (“Determination” in Hebrew) in 2005 and has since been its CEO, working with the National Transplant and Organ Donation Center (NTC), Amos Gazit Ltd and the Health Ministry’s Emergency Medicine Association (Malrad) among others. Even before moving to the public health sector, she was a highly respected manager and public relations expert working as vice-head of marketing for the University of Derby Israeli extension.
“In my professional life I sometimes walked into a conference room where only men were present,” she said. “A woman, I think, should never feel as if she is somehow less than a man. Even if I am the only woman in the room I feel as if I am in the majority.
“I do not accept no as an answer,” she explained, “I do not start a meeting by asking the other side to explain to me the reasons they object to this or that idea. Instead, I offer them climbing hooks so we can all climb together toward a solution that is good for everyone.”
Once a family agrees to donate the organs of a loved one through the NTC, Szerer will reach out to them. If they grant their consent, she then shares their story with the world to encourage others to do the same.
Her radio and television appearances have made her well known among healthcare workers and the general public.
One widower who made such a decision stayed in touch with Szerer for years, as have dozens of others. Szerer recently learned that the widower was having difficulties obtaining a drug he needed for a difficult medical condition.
“I did not accept this situation,” she recounted, “and I turned the earth upside down until he got what he needed. Saying no is easy. What I do is, I come up with solutions. Very often the people on the other end also want to say yes and are happy to encounter my metaphorical hooks. When they do, I tell them we all won due to their goodwill.”
Before Szerer was approached by the NTC she used to “black out” when entering a hospital, she joked, and needed to meditate to be able to set foot inside.
“Today I can see a heart transplant and see the beauty of it,” she shared, “but I still can’t see how organs are removed. That is too much for me even today. In that sense what I am doing now is true tikkun [healing, correction].”
SHE POINTS to her late father, Ze’ev, as a source of her powerful commitment to the healing power of love.
“To this day when I am dining at a restaurant and a beggar asks me for a handout, I call the waiter and say, ‘Sit this man down and let him order anything he wishes from the menu and I will cover it,’” she says.
“At times the beggar will eat and shed a tear because he is used to being unseen by the world.”
This is why a close friend once told her she is a “one woman’s superpower of compassion.”
“I cannot ignore human pain,” she stressed. “I speak with the families during their greatest sorrow and I weep with them over the phone. Many of them stay in touch with me through the years, and so do the organ recipients. Some of them have given birth to children since they got the organ donation. Can you imagine what that feels like?
“Twice a year, on Rosh Hashanah and Passover, I call my friends and we arrange for thousands of food deliveries for families who decided to share the organs of their loved ones with people in need and are now going through material hardships,” she said.
During her years of work with NTC, she has been able to sign up Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, President Reuven Rivlin and hundreds of other public figures as part of an ongoing effort to make people more aware of the great value of donating their organs as their last act.
While some people might think there are religious restrictions against donating organs, Szerer is adamant that most rabbis today accept brain-death as final, even if the heart is still beating. Families facing such a decision can contact “any rabbi they wish to speak with” through the NTC, she explained, before making a final decision.
“My new goal is to make the organ donation card a default process when people obtain their ID,” she said. “I would like the issue of organ donations to be present in our public discourse as part of our social solidarity.”
She supports the digital outreach program that now enables anyone in the country to sign up online to obtain an organ donor card. 
“Online, the process is fast and easy,” she explained. “People can do it in a minute and finish the whole process in a flash.”
A resident of Holon, Szerer initiated the creation of a special story garden that uses the sculptures of Meir Trosman to educate children about organ transplants.
“This is the only garden in the world devoted to organ donations,” she pointed out.
The park is based on the 2009 book by Ephraim Sidon, A Tale from the Heart.
As Szerer sees it, “Love and showing empathy toward the other means to love them as they are, without judgment, and without criticizing them.
“When I take my grandchildren to play, I notice that they can spot when another child is sitting by himself and understand that he would love to play,” she said.
“The fact that my grandchildren can walk up to this unknown child and ask, ‘Would you like to play together?’ makes me feel I was able to show my children and grandchildren the importance of these values.”
She concluded, “We need to educate the children of this nation not to live in a world based on the ego alone.” 